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Leaving the Bar: Is Dissatisfaction Among Criminal Barristers an Opportunity for Law Firms?

  • April 10, 2024

It may be several years since members of the Criminal Bar Association (CBA) voted to end strike action, but the underlying dissatisfaction among criminal barristers has not entirely gone away. That dissatisfaction could prove to be an opportunity for solicitors’ firms and corporate legal departments in an ongoing war for legal talent. If they can position themselves as an attractive alternative to criminal practice, they could reap the benefits of barristers leaving the bar.

Why are Criminal Barristers Leaving the Bar?

For many barristers their profession is a calling, something they have invested in heavily both emotionally and financially, in preparing for. However, there are several factors that may be pushing barristers, particularly junior and mid-career advocates into leaving the bar.

Low pay is perhaps the biggest factor, and the main driver behind previous strikes. Pupillage can be expensive, yet early career barristers can expect to earn as little as £12,200 for the first three years of work. And, despite a 15% uplift in legal aid fees in 2022, low criminal barristers pay is still a major push factor for those leaving the bar.

Poor mental health and wellbeing combined with a poor work life balance is also pushing barristers to reexamine their careers. In the latest Barristers Working Lives Survey, over 32% of those working at the bar reported a low level of overall wellbeing, with criminal barristers having lower levels of wellbeing than those practicing in other areas of law.

A lack of career progression and skill development opportunities is also affecting young barristers. A global study by the International Bar Association found that 38% felt that there weren’t enough opportunities in criminal practice to level up their careers, and a further 25% were looking to leave the profession because of limited professional development and training.

There is also a widespread feeling that the criminal justice system in its current state is failing both victims and defendants. For barristers, many of whom enter the profession to help those who need it, this lack of ability to do so may lead to them choosing to move away from criminal law.

Benefits of Hiring Former Barristers

The expertise of criminal barristers extends beyond the courtroom, meaning they have skills that could be invaluable in various areas of law. Here are some benefits of hiring criminal barristers for other areas of law:

  • Transferable Skills
    Criminal barristers possess a diverse skill set honed through their courtroom experiences, including effective communication, analytical thinking, and persuasive argumentation. These skills are highly transferable and applicable in civil litigation, family law, and other legal areas.
  • Strong Underlying Knowledge
    Thanks to their rigorous legal training, barristers develop a deep understanding of legal principles, statutes, and case law. This foundational knowledge means they are adaptable, versatile, learn quickly and are equipped to navigate complex legal issues across different practice areas with ease and precision.
  • Critical Thinking and Problem-Solving
    Dealing with criminal cases requires barristers to think critically and devise strategic solutions to complex legal problems. This ability to analyse evidence, anticipate opposing arguments, and develop effective strategies translates seamlessly across all areas of legal practice.
  • Effective Advocacy Skills
    Criminal barristers excel in advocacy and are adept at presenting compelling arguments and persuading judges and juries. These skills prove invaluable in civil disputes, where the ability to articulate a client’s position convincingly can significantly influence case outcomes.

By being open to hiring former barristers as solicitors or in other roles in legal practice, you can significantly enhance the services you offer and improve your ability to achieve favourable outcomes for clients.

Attracting Criminal Barristers to Other Areas of Law

To attract barristers considering leaving the bar, employers can take proactive steps to showcase the benefits of transitioning from independent practice to roles in law firms:

  • Offer support for barristers to reskill by providing training programmes or resources to transition smoothly into different areas of law or roles within the firm.
  • Highlight the advantages of working in a law firm, such as paid holidays, being part of a supportive team, regular client interaction, and additional employment benefits like healthcare and retirement plans.
  • Encourage barristers to apply for positions within the firm by demonstrating a willingness to consider their unique skills and experiences.
  • Showcase the diverse range of legal work available, from corporate law to environmental law, emphasising opportunities for barristers to explore new areas of interest.
  • Emphasise your commitment to purpose-driven work, particularly in areas like family law or environmental law, where barristers can make a meaningful impact and practice in ways that align with their values.

Clayton Legal has over 25 years’ experience helping clients attract and retain legal talent across practice areas that include Property, Personal Injury, Family, Criminal, and Costs law as well as Legal IT and Civil and Commercial Litigation.

If you are building your legal team, we can help. Call us on 01772 259 121 or email us here.

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