High application fees are deterring solicitors from applying to take silk, the body representing solicitor-advocates has warned.
The Solicitors’ Association of Higher Courts Advocates (SAHCA) said solicitor-advocates who self-fund a QC application end up paying £3,264 more in real terms than the independent bar, after taking into account income tax and VAT.
This delays or deters some solicitor-advocates from making an application, it said. And despite the disproportionately high cost to solicitors, they often get fewer commercial benefits than the independent bar from gaining the title, the body added.
According to the association, the number of applications from solicitor-advocates and the employed bar was one to every 14 from the independent bar, despite a two-to-three ratio of solicitor-advocates to members of the bar.
Firms employing solicitor-advocates are unlikely to support QC applications, the body said, leaving many with no alternative but to self-fund the £1,800 needed for their application.
For these self-funded solicitors, the real cost of their application would be £3,024, including income tax at 40% and VAT, while the subsequent appointment fee of £3,000 would cost self-funded solicitors £5,040, it said in response to a consultation from QC Appointments.
This would put the total cost at £8,064 for solicitors, the body said, 68% more than the costs faced by the independent bar, which can claim back the VAT and claim fees as a tax-deductible expense.
It pointed out that the QC mark is also much more beneficial to a self-employed barrister, and also gives considerable benefits to chambers as it is often used in marketing to solicitors.
Meanwhile for some areas of work, such as civil legal aid, solicitors gain no commercial benefit from taking silk.
SAHCA said that fees should be levelled to address this issue.
Leslie Cuthbert (pictured), the chair of SAHCA, said: ‘SAHCA has been working for some time to make the QC Appointments panel aware of some of the specific barriers that stand in the way of solicitor-advocates wishing to be appointed as QCs. While the level of fees is only one part of the problem, it is a significant one for the reasons that our response identifies.’
The association also highlighted other difficulties solicitors face gaining silk, such as the lower number of solicitor-advocates working in the higher court, meaning that they have little engagement with judges.
It said: ‘There is a very significant disadvantage to [solicitor-advocates] in obtaining work in the higher courts and secondly [to them getting] the same number of interactions with judges to obtain the references needed to establish the high level of work. This in turn means that the [panel] are receiving less applications from diverse and inclusive [solicitor-adovcates] compared to the bar.’
It said a ‘bold initiative’ is needed to address this issue.