New Beginnings

We have done our best. The threat to our profession has unleashed an avalanche of creative response, literary and practical. Our finest have produced exceptional analysis and our supporters, notably A Barrister’s Wife, the vivid truth – a million miles from fat cat caricature. The two branches of the profession are united as never before.

And then what?

This blog is not easy. Trying to think beyond D Day. It may make me no friends, but if only it starts a proper debate, it will have served its purpose.

So fast forward 9 months, perhaps more.

Our combined efforts have produced some amelioration, but well short of our hopes. A version of BVT is going to happen, but the opportunities of bar-solicitor contracting parties exist. There have been modest changes in the fee proposals and perhaps tapering has gone, but they remain a swinging cut in our living standards and any silk differential will be largely meaningless. Opportunities for the best of our young still very thin on the ground. Gloom and the fear of doom remain.

Something must be done if we are to survive.

And let me be utterly clear – even at the taunt of hope over reality. A profession as talented and inventive as the working Criminal bar WILL survive. These are my suggestions to start the debate.

1. Chambers Membership

We need to explore now the expansion of our traditional model to incorporate criminal solicitors in house. A legacy if you like of the unique cooperation in the present fight.

2. Chambers and the Common Good

Deep breath. Chambers should agree to pool a significant percentage of its joint earnings to produce an agreed salary structure, with still the opportunity for the best and busiest to earn more.

I visualised in an earlier blog a chambers bank paying a sum per tenant at the beginning of the year – based on previous years turnover. But that contemplated a modest minimum payment. Yet the percentage is as large as your faith in the collective spirit of good chambers.

So partnership and a Marxist solution in a single breath? No, not quite. It is a ship to weather a terrible storm, at least until a sounder career structure returns.

3. Joint facilities and purchases.

A simple example. All the chambers in a given city, area, even circuit should combine to share hardback and online library facilities. Or a very special deal with Ford or Audi – take your choice -to supply 50 or 250 local barristers…..you have the point. All it needs is the initiative and imagination to join forces to survive.

Those small examples can be multiplied in many areas. But surely barristers are individuals to a fault….they would never agree. I wonder. Faced with desolation, we can take our lives into our own hands. Incidentally it could also breathe new life in the Circuits, already provoked and inspired in equal measure to fight the current fight.

4. Buildings

Nothing startling here, for the debate is ongoing, forced by Temple and City rates. But hard choices must be made and a desk in chambers forfeited for more conference rooms and fewer desks. Already many circuiteers work from home…

5. Technology expanded

Does it even need explaining? The opportunities are there and the bar is leading the way. In time you will be able to sit in front of a screen in chambers and conduct nearly all preliminary hearings. And I rather fancy being instructed from Winchester to make a video plea in mitigation in Manchester.

That will do to start that debate. I simply ask my wonderfully talented profession to develop a strategy to survive. We can and we must. Soon.

Nigel Pascoe QC