Myth #1 – The fat cat lawyer

The vast majority of criminal defence lawyers do not earn anywhere like the amount of money that the government and media would have you believe that they do. Sure, my husband earns more than the national average, but it is hardly pots and pots. Not as much as a consultant doctor in the NHS, for example.

We’re all in it together

One thing that has been kept very quiet is that barristers’ wages have gone down a lot since 2010. Some might say they have already done their bit for the deficit. We always know more cuts are coming because we start seeing “fat cat” lawyer stories  appearing in the gutter press. Rather than try to get the true facts some lazy journalists simply regurgitate and spin the lies and nonsense that they are fed by the government. And the public swallows it. Heck, I swallowed it! When we first got together I was like the cat that got the cream. I thought I’d bagged myself a rich guy and would never work again. I soon realised I was living in fantasy land.

I work full time too, we couldn’t pay the mortgage if I didn’t. We don’t have any children as yet, but if we did I would have to go back to work, and they would go to state schools. We go skiing once a year, flying Ryan Air, and when we get there we stay in youth hostels or go self catering.  We food shop in Lidl and only go to Tesco for things like spices and teabags. We have two cars, mine is 12 years old, his is 7. I have one designer dress that I bought in the House of Fraser sale 18 months ago. We live in a two bedroom house in the London commuter belt. There is no room for an office so when he works from home he sits at the kitchen table.

All work and (little or) no play

Most people work a fixed number of hours per week. Sure, everyone has to stay late from time to time or take a bit of work home at the weekend. My husband does some work most weekday evenings and I can count on one hand the number of weekends where he has not had to work so far this year. When we first moved in together I used to ask him if he had work to do every night. Now I don’t ask anymore. Sometimes he’ll text me on the way home and say he doesn’t have any work to do and would I like to watch a DVD.

Because of how the court system works, and because the Crown Prosecution Service love to dump on them at the last minute, he can’t always plan when he will be working late. I’ve lost count of the amount of times we have had to cancel something at the last minute. Or just refuse it outright. We’ve been invited to a wedding abroad later this year. We’ve had six month’s notice. Still I may have to go on my own because he’ll be in the middle of a big trial, and we can’t afford for him to turn the work down.

When he is in a big trial he will wake up, commute two hours to London, be on his feet talking or sitting down listening and making notes all day, commute two hours home, eat, and start work again. He may not go to bed until after midnight, then the next day he will wake up and do the same again, and again and again until he’s given his closing speech and the jury are out. While he is in a big trial he’s not really present when he is at home. It is like his brain can only cope with the trial and tending to his basic physiological needs, eating, washing, sleeping. There is only limited capacity for idle chat.

Special skills

I’ve never been to see him in court. But I know that when he’s doing a closing speech he might speak non-stop for a couple of hours. I often do presentations at work, for 15-20 minutes, sometimes to groups of 100 or so people. But because of the nature of my work my audience is usually on side already. They want to hear what I have to say and I have no fear of public speaking. But I couldn’t speak coherently and persuasively on a complicated topic for over an hour. Could you?

The work that I see him do is usually reading. Piles and piles of paper. Folder upon folder. Sometimes the house it littered with it. Or he is watching CCTV video nasties. Over and over again. When he’s reading he’s not reading like you or I read a novel. He is scouring every word of the text for some detail that might help the case. Assimilating huge amounts of information, weighing it up and working out what it all means.

Much has been made of barristers being paid by page count. It is the Crown that decides on what evidence is going to be used and therefore that part of the fee. There might be hundreds of thousands of pages of evidence available but only a portion some of it will be “used”. The rest is “unused” and doesn’t contribute to the page count. Defence lawyers have to read, consider and be able to recall ALL of the evidence, whether the Crown have deemed it “used” or “unused”.

Emotional fallout

Last year he was on a murder. It was caught on CCTV. He had to study that over and over again at home, frame by frame. Then watch it again and again at court. For days on end. I happened to see the sequence once. I saw the young lad get shot and die once. I found it upsetting. So much more harrowing than watching a shooting on film or tv. Because there is no music, no dialogue to build up the anticipation. One minute they are one of thousands of groups of young people having a great time out on the town. Next one of them is lying dead on the floor and all of their lives have been changed forever. Perhaps you could watch something like that over and over again and not be bothered by it. I couldn’t. Then there are sexual offences…and sexual offences involving children. They too come with still picture and video evidence which has to be studied.

He never complains of being disturbed by it all. But that doesn’t mean he isn’t troubled – when he is doing a nasty trial he will talk about it in his sleep. I’ve had many an unpleasant wake up call. It is bad when his client says he is not guilty. It is worse when he is convinced he is innocent.  Can you imagine the stress of holding the course of someone’s life in your hands? Whether they go back to their law abiding lives or get found guilty and go to prison?

The bottom line

Most legal aid lawyers get paid an awful lot less than you think they do, for doing very long hours of intellectually and emotionally challenging work. Oh, and they don’t get paid a regular amount every week or month, like you and I. They only get paid after they have been working on a case for months and months, after the trial is over.

Next time I’ll tell you about a few of the “criminals” he has represented recently, some of the “scumbags” who have entered our lives.

62 comments

  1. Thank you for this article. As the wife of a Criminal Barrister, there are few people who understand the life they or indeed us lead. If anything good can come out of these Grayling proposals it should be an understanding of the life of a Barrister.

    This is brilliantly written.

    1. Thanks for your comment Jilly.

  2. d3putydog · · Reply

    Thank you for posting this, an enlightening article!

    1. Ah say ah say ah say thankya for your comment Deputy Dawg.

  3. Barbara Scott- Brunger · · Reply

    An insightful and thought provoking article. Thank you for sharing your experiences. It is so important that the general populace have an understanding of the realities of the work that lawyers such as your husband undertake. Let us hope that it changes opinions and allows informed decisions to be made. Decisions that are based in fact and reality.

    1. Thanks for your comment Barbara.

  4. [...] I intended to do a bit more on this and was reminded to do so by this new blog [...]

  5. Great article – the public would be the first to complain if people were not competently prosecuted or defended and yet they fail to understand the pressure and hard work involved for both defence and prosecution barristers. Equally, many criminal solicitors are in the same position. Going out to police stations at 1am when you are defending in a trial the next day is no fun. People do not resent paying for the Police so why do they think the criminal court service should be run in to the ground? We have a criminal justice system admired throughout the world. Time to fund it appropriately and stop relying on the good will of Barristers and Solicitors who have butt of major cuts during the last ten years.

    Thank you for highlighting the emotional stress of seeing the results of violent crime and sexual crimes.This is totally unrecognised by anyone and it is assumed that Judges and criminal lawyers ‘are used to it’ or ‘should just have a stiff upper lip about it’.

    A superb piece of writing.

    1. Thanks for your comment Rhona. We need to keep spreading the word.

  6. While this article is well intentioned i feel that it will not have the desired effect. You make some valid points (barristers are not massively paid, have to deal with traumatic cases etc), however read as a whole the public are unlikely to have much sympathy for you.
    Your comment about ‘bagging a fat cat barrister’ sounds very mercenary, and you appear disappointed that barristers are not fat cat lawyers. Also you probably live in the home counties outside London in a larger than average house.
    A friend who is an ex soldier, who read this, commented on the trauma soldiers have to deal with (actually killing people and having their friends killed or blown to bits next to them) and they get relatively less pay than your husband.
    If your husband is as busy as you describe, doing the cases you describe, then he should be earning a decent wage.

    1. Thanks for your comments Toby. To clarify, I am not looking for sympathy. I did not suggest that my husband doesn’t get a decent wage. He does. But he is not a fat cat. If you check my first post it will put this one into context for you. The comment about bagging a barrister was firmly tongue in cheek, intended to illustrate that I used to be as ignorant as most members of the public are now. I’m in no way disappointed with my husband, despite not being loaded he managed to win me over in the end (again, tongue in cheek) and we are very happy. I could give you chapter and verse on our love story, so that you might think me less mercenary but a) that is outside the remit of this blog and b) I don’t think many people would be all that interested. I think it would be very hard to try and construct a hierarchy of jobs based on the level of trauma involved, where would you rank different kinds of nurses, for example? The public are more informed about being a solider than they are about being a lawyer. Our armed forces are pretty good at publicity these days. But most people still won’t ever know what it is really like to be soldier. My husband does.

      1. I’m glad you clarified that your comment “I thought I’d bagged myself a rich guy and would never work again” was said tongue in cheek. My best friend was until very recently a criminal lawyer, so I can sympathise with you – but your comment did throw me a little (because you also compared your husband’s pay with a consultant doctor’s! which smacked of jealously). But now that you have confirmed that this was said tongue in cheek, I can say that I totally sympathise with you. My best friend worked non-stop for (relatively) little pay. He took his work home with him. I believe it was very tough on his wife and kids, who struggled to see as much of him as possible. He has recently moved out of criminal law, so hopefully things are on the up for him and his family. It is terrible that criminal lawyers are treated so badly.

  7. As a family law barrister who deals exclusively with children’s cases (who showed this to my partner whose reaction was “Oh my God, I could have written that”) I just wanted to say how accurate this account is. It is not sympathy or “poor me” that this blog is designed to elicit. It is simply a realistic understanding that most barristers and solicitors who do the type of work currently being undermined and attacked are not ‘fat cats,’ rarely get paid any where near the amount most people think they do and work hard for diminishing returns. There is no gravy train, I do not spend my afternoons (or weekends) on the golf course, the standards expected of me are very high and I do the job because sometimes, just sometimes, I feel like I can make a difference to people’s lives.

    I do not expect an outpouring of public sympathy because I know that there are people less fortunate than me but I cannot abide the perception that pervades the media coverage on the issue that all lawyers are rich ambulance chasers who only look out for themselves. The current proposals, which will have direct and indirect consequences for all lawyers who do ‘tax payer’ funded work threaten to put many tax payers out of work, reduce further the availability of help for the most vulnerable in society and reduce our legal system to little better than mass-produced facade of justice.

    1. Thanks for your comments Clive. Perhaps you’ll get a round in this weekend.

  8. Charlie Chancery Esq · · Reply

    You obviously should have married a Commercial Barrister like me. I’m only 28 and earned £265,000 last year. The Criminal Bar deserves all it gets. Most criminal barristers have 2.1s from crapholes like Exeter and Leicester. I went to Oxford and deserve every penny I’m paid. I save clients millions rather than keeping scrotes out of jail to do more harm to society.

    And oh woe is me…you only ski one per year?!

    1. Mohsin · · Reply

      # Charlie Chancery Esq

      And i bet most of your clients don’t even have a GCSE let alone a 2.1 from crapholes like Exeter or Leicester, hey?

      Just you wait until one of your clients is wrongfully accused of a crime, his accounts are frozen and he has no choice but to be represented by a lowly paid barrister employed by the one of the Big Boys who by some miracle manage to get him off………do you know that he won’t have the right to ask for his money back?

      Or does that not matter to you?

      1. Thanks for your comment Mohsin. I think perhaps Charlie is not quite yet who he says he is. My husband says most people have grown out of comparing degree classifications by the time they finish pupillage. They’ve also developed a sense of judgement and learned how to behave in a gentlemanly fashion, at least in public!

    2. M Lewis · · Reply

      Very elitist and cruel comment. The two greatest evils today are materialism/globalism and hypocrisy. The materialism is self evident in your comment. The hypocrisy is hidden, as I dare say if you were accused of a crime you didn’t commit, you would seek out one of these sub-standard 2:1 lawyers to defend you. How do your save you clients millions? I hope the word tax isn’t in the answer.

    3. Mohsin · · Reply

      This is brilliant, even Charlie Chappie will like it…….

      1. That is a good one! Thanks for sharing it Mohsin.

  9. Nathan · · Reply

    An excellent piece from a point of view that is understood by few. Thank you. (I fail to understand why any one would bother to leave a critical comment when they hadn’t even read the whole article.)

    1. Thanks for your comments Nathan. I don’t understand either but each to their own.

  10. An excellent article! It’s like if someone has written an article about my life (am married to a criminal barrister myself) Only difference is, that we have 2 kids on the top all the stresses and joys, of course :)))

    1. Thanks for your comment Jana. If I had kids I wouldn’t have the time to write this!

  11. The criminal bar needs more voices to be heard, so thank you so much for your honest insight. It amazes me how such an articulate profession hasn’t already made more of a fuss about all this and shown more backbone. Perhaps they simply do not have time, or if they do, they are too exhausted. Thank you again and please keep it up. (I am also the wife of a criminal barrister and we have a young daughter – the whole system is infuriating and it has such a damaging effect on family life, especially when you feel really proud of what they do.)

    1. Thanks for your comment Lucy. I find it amazing too. My personal opinion is that they need some guidance in public relations and self promotion. Also they are naturally inclined to reason things out like they do in court, rather than play dirty like the government does. Perhaps I’ll do a mini post on this in future.

  12. Leanne Rafati · · Reply

    I too am a Criminal Barrister’s wife. Thank you for your article. You have described so simply what might have taken me days upon days to write!
    I wish that everyone would read this, really read it and understand life as it now is at the Bar and could well be if things continue as they are.
    A great read.

    1. Thanks for your comment Leanne. It has indeed taken days and days, but the next post is now up. Do share with any sceptical / uninformed people if you think it might help them understand and perhaps persuade them to sign the Save UK Justice petition.

  13. Good post, good blog. I used to worked as a criminal duty solicitor for over 20 years until the hours and stress took its toll on my family and my health. Surrendered my Legal Aid contract 3 years ago because it was already almost impossible to survive on the rates. Even worse now.
    Plus got really sick of answering “how can you defend someone you know is guilty?”. Firstly (as you say elsewhere in this blog) most guilty people plead guilty straight off. Secondly, I’m not omnisicient, I don’t know if someone is guilty or not. Was involved in one case that really taught me you can never know that someone is guilty. Everyone who states they are not guilty deserves a good defence advocate. That ensures that those who really are innocent have a fighting chance.
    Sorry, rant over.

    1. Rant away Irene! This blog is born out of years of listening to ranting lawyers. No one ever asks the question “how can you prosecute someone you know is innocent?”

      1. No one ever asks the question “how can you prosecute someone you know is innocent?”

        Ha!

        I’m a Criminology lecturer; I used to teach a course about the criminal justice system, contrasting the “conveyor belt” and “obstacle course” models of how the system works & should work (Packer’s two models, for anyone interested). For twenty years or more people have been arguing that the system is far more of a conveyor belt than it should be, or than most people realise (arrest, interrogate, caution/guilty plea, job done). If anything like Grayling’s reforms go through, we ain’t seen nothing yet.

        These are really valuable posts. I wish more people were reading them.

  14. interesting read… especially the comment thread! you’ve given me a newfound appreciation for my long-suffering (non-barrister) husband!

    i have a theory about why we (and i really mean family and criminal barristers by that) are so inept at ‘showing a bit of backbone’. yes, we do work hard and have little spare time as a consequence. the problem is that the majority of us are self-employed. that brings with it the constant nagging fear that if you turn down this piece of work, you will never, ever work again. throw in the tendency of the laa (formerly the lsc) to randomly defer payment for work done for weeks, months or even years on end (or, worse, pay you and inexplicably recoup it in vast chunks years later when you’ve already paid tax on it and, i dunno, used it to feed and house yourself) and most of us work ourselves ragged at the expense of our social lives and families.

    second, the very personalities that draw most of us to the bar seem less than ideal for a mobilisation of the masses, as anyone who has ever had the experience of (or had relayed to them the drama of) a chambers’ meeting will know.

    third, and this is really the most important point, most of us do what we do because we want to make a difference to peoples’ lives. actually, i have an excellent degree. i was privileged enough to receive a fantastic education and be availed of many wonderful opportunities… i chose family law, not because i’m too dumb to play with other peoples’ money, but because i feel a very strong sense of duty to use that privilege and opportunity to assist those who did not receive the same advantages in life. that is why the government knows it has us over a barrel; it knows that we know that we will keep doing what we can to make sure our clients don’t suffer.

    if i understand the point of your blog, it’s to raise awareness, not to engender sympathy. my non-legal friends are often horrified at what we put up with as a profession. of course you mention the working hours and the emotional strain, but what about the pension levy on our practicing certificate fee when most of us can’t afford our own pension? what about the afore mentioned recoupments? people should know the justice system they rely on in their hour of need is under such serious strain. not so they can pat us on the back and tell us what awesome people we are, but because if they don’t speak up for justice now, there may well be no one left standing to advocate for justice for them later.

    1. Thanks for your comments monkeymuesli. As you say, it is not about sympathy. We try not to think about the pension part ! When I run out of “exhibits” I might take a look at that aspect. Keep spreading the word to your non-legal chums.

  15. Excellent article – I am also a criminal barrister’s wife. We have 2 children. I am utterly exhausted by the relentless demands placed on my husband and us in turn. We are crushed as a family. My husband has devoted himself to his work – he cares about the quality of his representation. He deserves every penny he earns – although actually being paid by the Govt would be nice. Yes, he earns less than an NHS Consultant – the other difference being they actually get their money regularly. We are still waiting to be paid for work completed months ago. We haven’t had a holiday for 2 years. We plan nothing, I have given up as I know he will not turn any work down. We cannot afford to. His car is an 02 plate, mine is also old. I am crushed by the ignorance of the
    general public and don’t have it in me any more to shrug off the hurtful jokes about fat cat lawyers.
    But no-one has any sympathy for a lawyer….

    1. Thanks for your comment Loo. As I’ve said before I wouldn’t have time for this if we had children. I’m not looking for sympathy for myself, but you have mine. The jokes sting, don’t they? Just the other day my father in law emailed us a stupid joke about lawyers screwing people. You start to wonder, if friends and family don’t always understand what hope for the general public? Stand strong and keep your chin up.

  16. The potential cuts in Legal Aid issue has two spheres:
    1) The implications for a fair trial for defendants and the risk of miscarriages of justice – this requires serious debate and deliberation.
    2) The fairness to barristers and their wives and the risk to their life styles..
    It would appear to me that at heart this blog is concerned with the latter.
    There are of course many hard working solicitors out there doing their best, and human rights lawyers fighting for the oppressed, but public sympathy for the legal profession in general is low and for valid reason – no one likes unfairness and the present system in terms of consumer protection for the clients of lawyers is woefully inadequate. Lawyers charge several multiplies of an ordinary wage however should a client of a lawyer not receive the service they expect (I.e alleged negligence) there is zero, rien, b – one can do about it – however much a client may have lost due to the alleged negligence. Apart from legal proceedings which by the very definition is not a level playing field, a home game for the city firm. I tried to stand up to a giant city law firm and this resulted in such mental anguish that I had to discontinue proceedings.
    The Legal Ombudsman only deals with ‘poor service’. One can complain to the SRA . A member of the call centre staff will collate your information – and possibly if enough people complain at some point in the future a judgement may or may not appear on their website (if you still have the heart to keep logging on in hope).
    Is there any other profession which can charge so much but remain so unaccountable, so utterly untouchable?
    Websites such as Solicitors from Hell are not (as the legal profession and those who are supposed to regulate it would have the public believe) unhinged nutters – the contributors are ordinary people, members of the ;public who have paid substantial fees to law firms and not received the goods they expected. The disenfranchised, powerless, voiceless and oppressed at present have no other avenue to express their justifiable rage.
    Historically the legal profession has been mainly self regulated – a ‘gentleman’s agreement’ Sufficient in today’s culture aggressive litigation culture? I think not.

    1. Thanks for your comments Helen. You don’t state the precise nature of the axe that you wish to grind, but from your tone it would appear to be a civil or commercial matter. This blog is concerned with criminal law. Like many others, you appear to have fallen into the trap of conflating all of the different branches of law. The government is counting on people who hold opinions like yours to allow them to slip this legislation through without any debate. If you have read the consultation paper and / or any of my “exhibits” and you still believe that this campaign is about wages I’m afraid I can’t help you.

  17. I’m not asking for your help. I’m pointing out that this issue has two strands. One that of the issue of possible miscarriages of justice which is a valid one. Some but not all of your blog is concerned with this. The other is the impact of Legal Aid Cuts on the wealth of barrister’s wives such as you. and how unfair you feel this is. You are entitled to your opinion and I wouldn’t be so impolite as to accuse you of ‘grinding an axe.’ You appear to be complaining of the fact that public opinion of the legal profession is poor – you are correct it is. and I am pointing out one of the reasons why this is so. Whether or not the public’s poor image of the legal profession is a justifiable reason for cuts in the Legal Aid budget does not form part of my comment.

  18. Hi, I think you would have more of a point if you stated what your husbands earnings actually are. You say they are less than some doctors but that still leaves scope for pretty high earnings. I know that lawyers who mainly do legal aid work are by no means fat cats, but barristers still earn relatively well compared to other legal professionals, such as solicitors, who do most of the work!

    1. Chrism · · Reply

      I’m a data analyst by trade so I will use that skill for you…
      Hospital consultant gets about 60k a year so let’s assume a gross wage of approx 55k
      From the previous postings I posit a usual work week of 60 hours
      That means an hourly rate of about £17.63

      This is the gross rate and doesn’t include any expenses that a self employed person (which for want of a better word these criminal barristers are) so based on that and the fact that commuting to London (3-5k for a season ticket) and a house in that area will be significant means that the image of a ‘fat-cat’ lawyer sort of recedes into the background…

      1. Thanks for sparing me from some sums Chrism!

    2. Thanks for your comment Paul. I refer you to the calculations by Chrism, he is not far off the mark. The only other things to factor in are having to wait up to 6 months to get paid for a piece of work, and sometimes not having any work at all.

      1. I find the numbers are useful too – until you explain, people assume they’re still earning a minimum of £40,000. But I know a couple criminal barristers, in perfectly respectable chambers in London, who are working a lot, mostly on legal aid, and who earn in the 20s of thousands, with large expenses. One didn’t pay tax last year and was working hard enough to be working most weekends.

      2. Thanks for your comment Rob. It is a shame that the MOJ chooses to spin the numbers as they do. Have you seen today’s Daily Mail article http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2336003/15m-just-firm-legal-aid-gravy-train-Scale-taxpayers-revealed-Coalition-vows-save-200m.html ? The figures published include VAT, there is no mention of how many clients were represented, what sort of hourly rate the earnings amount to etc.etc. It is not cricket.

    3. Aussie Barrister · · Reply

      ‘Solicitors do most of the work.’ You are shutting me!!!
      Here in Melbourne Australia a client walks in the solicitor’s door they take his name and charge sheets and write a 2 paragraph memo then wrap a pink ribbon around it and send him off to see the barrister. Often they give you a red rubber band like the postal service used to use. Oh, and the solicitor has the temerity to actually charge the client for ‘preparation.’

    4. for those interested in the numbers, the flba commissioned kcl to conduct research into the work of the family bar. i believe the contribution of the profession to the research was significant, especially for a study of this type (if i recall correctly, something like 65-70% of the family bar). the research looked at the family grad fee scheme and proposed cuts, so predates recent legal aid changes. nonetheless, it remains an interesting insight into life at the family bar. i don’t know if any similar research has ever been conducted of the criminal bar. you can read the report here.

  19. What a wonderful read – and I have only just found your blog this evening! I was called to the Bar in 2009 and then cross-qualified to be a solicitor. Early on I realised that the Criminal Bar was not for me due to 1) Criminal Barristers advising me not to and 2) because I am more commercially-minded anyway. The current situation re: funding is wholly questionable anyway and the proposed changes are absolutely dire for the Criminal Bar and those wishing for access to sound justice. I very much heart your husband for his perseverance – it is such talent that the Criminal Bar must continue attracting and keeping. You must be very proud indeed.

    1. Thanks for your comments Andrew. Well done for avoiding crime!

  20. Elizabeth · · Reply

    I am an Australian Criminal Barristers wife and this blog could’ve been written about me.

    Except that I am a stay- at- home mum, not by choice but because I am a full-time carer for our severely Autistic, non-verbal, 11-year-old son. I also homeschool him because the education system in Australia has failed him. And Autism is sending us broke.

    On a Barristers income we should be living it up with our brand new Audi’s parked in the driveway of our luxurious home in inner Melbourne and we should be enjoying every week-end travelling to our beachhouse. “YEH RIGHT!” Although my Barrister husband does drive an Audi- it is only 15 years old!

    We have the Australian Taxation Office breathing down our necks for payment.

    Bills are starting to stack up and whilst we wait in anticipation for the next payment from the clerks to process into our bank account. Whenever or how much that will be is the question and if I had the answer then I will be racing out to buy a tattslotto ticket.

    AAAAAHHHHH! the life of a Barristers wife is bliss!

    1. Thanks for your comment Elizabeth. So, like me, you are not actually swanning around like Marie Antionette, all smug and content and suggesting people eat cake, as the public imagine lawyers’ wives do (see a new post http://abarristerswife.wordpress.com/2013/06/03/whats-abu-got-to-do-got-to-do-with-it/)?!. Best wishes to you and yours.

  21. My wife thinks a Barrister’s life is pathetic and I think that has rubbed off on me. I was a criminal defence Barrister – work, work & more work, every night and most weekends. That is something we accept because most Barristers are highly driven individuals who never want to do anything less than their absolute best. Pride in our profession is very important. I grew up watching all the legal shows, Rumpole and my favourite John Thaw in Kavanagh QC. The respect of the professions and in particular the respect between Solicitors, Barristers, the Law Society, Bar Council and the Legal Services Commission has slowly eroded. Kavanagh QC is a bygone era. Getting paid months down the line, arguments with Legal Services Commission about fees, reduction in fees, increased competition between Solicitors & Barristers and a reduction in volume of work is leading to ever increasing disillusionment with the career. The respect for Solicitors and Barristers has dwindled in the eyes of the public but also there is an increasing lack of respect between Solicitors and Barristers leading to direct competition between the two professions. My observation is that this has led to a reduction in the quality of lawyering, in terms of paperwork, advocacy & presentation of cases. I am not living in England and Wales but rather in Northern Ireland. We are several years behind the cuts in England and Wales but those cuts are coming our way too. Over the last number of years, several Barristers I know have left England and relocated to NI to work simply because it was uneconomical to continue trying to make a living in England. Very recently the PPS (the Crown Prosecution Service in NI) appointed an English Husband & Wife couple to their panel – do you think they were moving to NI for the weather or scenery? No but for economic reasons. This is just the realm of the criminal defence practitioners. I no longer practice criminal defence work but even in civil work, the area of law in which I now practice, on average I am in court 2 days per week! Going to court is now a fiction of the imagination. The impact of insurance firms, claims companies, Solicitors settling cases early & the recession have led to a drastic downturn in the volume of work. Recently a Solicitor was telling me that he had no more personal injury cases as there was no longer any manufacturing in his local area and therefore no work accidents. And getting paid for cases…on a yearly average I do not get paid for 30% of the work I do. Can I do anything about it? No, because of the archaic system where Barristers legally cannot sue either the lay client nor the Instructing Solicitor, you simply take it on the chin and notch it down to experience.

    Am I complaining about my current lot? No (you might think I am but really I’m not, just setting out what life as a Barrister is really like. Simply the public don’t understand the stresses and strains affecting both sides of the profession and the impact it has on their families). Solicitors are finding it very tough out there at the moment and many are struggling to make it from month to month. With me, I only have myself to worry about – Solicitors are paying for leases, secretaries etc. and their professional insurance indemnities have gone through the roof.

    Is it a great job? Yes.

    Do I love my job? Yes.

    Does my wife hate the workload, the unsociable hours and the fact that I work all day Saturday & Sunday when I am busy? Yes.

    Is my car 11 years old? Yes.

    Is my wife’s car older than mine? Haha…it is!

    Do I avoid telephone calls from the tax and VAT man? Yes.

    Do I borrow money from the bank to pay a tax bill because I haven’t been paid by LSC or Solicitors? Yes.

    Do I have a massive overdraft? Unfortunately yes.

    Do I worry every month and I mean every month about paying the mortgage? Yes.

    Have I cut off all the fat from the bone just to make ends meet? Yes …this includes stopping paying into my pension plan.

    Do I accept change? Yes, accepting change is tough but if I don’t I will just get left behind.

    So what changes am I making?

    Simple, I am leaving the profession, a job that I love to do because of a lack of work and a lack of payment. I’ve no complaints – I’ve had a good time, great colleagues and know that the legal profession in the UK & Ireland is peopled on the whole with professionals of great integrity. But life at the Bar is a hand to mouth existence and whilst that existence suits me as an individual, it does not suit family life, my wife or children. Barristers will always cope because that’s what they are programmed to do, dealing with adversity & conflict on a daily basis inside and outside of court. I’ve come to realise that family life married to a Barrister is a trial…and I’ve known countless colleagues who have committed suicide, had affairs, are alcoholics and whose family lives are shattered. Is it worth it? Only you the reader can come to that conclusion.

    Recently a QC of 30 years experience was telling me that he was actively discouraging his children from following in his footsteps. He’s made his money but it’s sad that this is the advice he gives to his teenage children.

    Great blog.

    But ask yourself the question, if you keep doing what you are doing, will it get better for you, your husband and kids?

    1. Thanks for your comment Joe. We don’t have any kids at present, things would have to change if we did. Anecdotal evidence suggests a lot of people are looking to get out right now. More will be forced out if the proposals come in. The job is hard enough without the government briefing against you all the time and all the hatred from the public. I’m thinking to do a post on careers for rehabilitated criminal lawyers in future. Do let me know if you have any tips to share.

    2. joe, finally, we can sue!!

      although, it remains to be seen how many at the bar would risk potential future instructions for themselves or their colleagues in chambers by taking heavy handed action!

  22. engineer · · Reply

    Consider if the prosecutor had been a hardass who really wanted a conviction– they have a motive to convict of course.

    He could have refused to let the defense see the actual photos as best he could (Sounds like he did in this case– that a lone in america is theoretically a crime under the constitution, though it happens a lot.)

    He could have gotten the photos excluded from the trial, forcing a jury to just hear the descriptions, using any number of arguments, that a compliant judge (in america judges want to be seen as “hard on crime”) might accept.

    If things had gone a different way, this guy could have been convicted!

    This is why we need criminal and financial liability for cops, prosecutors and judges in cases such as this… and a separate system not controlled by the government to determine their guilt or innocence.

    Otherwise we must admit that the system is set up for the benefit of the government is answerable only to the government and couldn’t’ give a damn about justice.

    Excuse my passion about this– but it’s just unacceptable that such a case should get that far, and the reasons behind it are criminal.

    Yet most people go around mindlessly believing the propaganda that government gives them justice.

  23. Helen Thomson · · Reply

    The leaked SOCA report from my understanding states that so called reputable law firms have been using criminal means to obtain information and data in order to pervert the course of justice. As you and your follow supporters in the legal profession have stated that your campaign is underpinned not by concerns over your salaries but a genuine commitment to democracy and the constitution of the law I would be interested to hear what your views are and how you intend to address this.

  24. Helen Thomson · · Reply

    Any particular reason my comment of over 24 hours ago hasn’t been published other than it being too tricky to answer?

    1. Apologies for the delayed response. I’ve been in hospital. Having surgery. This blog has not been top of my list of priorities.

  25. Helen Thomson · · Reply

    I’m sorry to hear you’ve been in hospital. I wouldn’t have sent a comment had I been made aware of this fact.

  26. […] that the CPS have been so cack-handed with their disclosures. However, given all we’ve learned recently about the over-worked defence, is it likely that a barrister would dwell too much on these 300 […]

  27. Barrister’s wife…I hardly think you should be comparing your husband’s pay to that of an NHS Consultant. Are you actual aware of NHS pay scales or do you write in pure ignorance? In any case, I know which profession I find to be the more noble of the two…

  28. Barbara · · Reply

    Ugh! Anyone who describes themselves as somebody’s wife needs to get a life. Clearly you people have no idea of how most people live in the real world – so you only go skiing once a year? P’lease – most people don’t even get to go on holiday in Kent – so sorry, no sympathy for your sickening sad anti-feminist housewifey diarrhoea – so revoltingly middle class and removed from real people.

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