Letter: Why the Bar must change if it is to survive

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The Independent Online
Sir: Robert Seabrook QC somewhat minimises the crisis facing the Bar ('A change in paradise', 29 April). Four elements combine to make fundamental change unavoidable. These are:

1. The Government's higher education policy, which is rapidly increasing the numbers with expectations of a career in the legal profession. The Bar has, in consequence, swollen from just over 6,500 in 1990 to around 7,700 in 1993.

2. The restriction on legal aid spending, which hinders any consequent increase in turnover to feed these additional hungry mouths. The Bar's expansion since the early 1970s has been fuelled by legal aid, which accounts for about one third of its total income.

3. The increasing preference of solicitors for instructing other experienced solicitor-advocates rather than newly qualified and untried barristers, because they are more flexible in their work practices and less arrogant in their manner. This trend has been documented in a recent report by the Bar itself.

4. The increasing numbers of solicitors who will have full rights of audience in all courts.

The Bar has little choice. Up to 1,000 of its current members probably have no economically viable future. Furthermore, to survive as an identifiably separate branch of the legal profession, the Bar will have to accept that its main route of entry in future will be solicitors with 10 or so years' experience who wish to practise full-time as advocates. This will require a whole raft of reforms, for which the Bar should now be preparing. Unless it does so, the future existence of independent specialist advocates with any sense of separate identity within the legal profession is in doubt.

Yours faithfully,

ROGER SMITH

Director

Legal Action Group

London, N1

29 April

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