Criminal barrister's pay... Is it true that it is dire?

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#1
Report Thread starter 1 year ago
#1
How much are criminal barristers paid?

I recently attended an e-event and a criminal and also a family barrister there both from the publicly funded bar said they're personally paid well and one was on £100k by his 3rd year. Another said there have been pay reforms so now trainee criminal barristers at the publicly funded bar can begin on £22k in London.

What is the ranking of pay for the legal areas, at the bar?

(Please don't just give an opinion, substantiate with facts, links etc.)

Thanks!!
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Crazy Jamie
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#2
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#2
There is no ranking of pay for legal areas at the Bar. The reason being that you'll be self employed, so pay even within the same practice area can vary wildly from barrister to barrister based on a whole range of factors including a barrister's ability, connections you have and maintain with solicitors, the quality of your clerking, the business model of your set and how well it is run, the quality of the work that naturally comes into Chambers, specific opportunities that have fallen your way, and more besides. Even the income of an individual barrister can vary significantly from year to year depending on the cases they've done.

It is possibly to make very good money at the criminal Bar. The problem is that it will generally take time to get the opportunities to do better cases and increase your income, and in the mean time the net pay can be very poor. I'm not sure where the £22,000 figure has come from. The minimum pupillage award in London has recently been increased to just under £19,000 for a London pupillage from 2021, but of course some criminal sets may be able to offer more than that. But that is minimum income during your pupillage year only. In the years after that, whilst it's broadly unlikely that you will make less than that minimum, how much you actually make can vary significantly. You should also bear in mind that that pay is not a salary. It's self employed income, so you are responsible for paying your own expenses out of that money (including travel, chambers expenses, professional fees such as insurance and so on). It's why on many days criminal barristers can effectively lose money, because they're paying travel expenses to go to court for a low fixed fee. When combined with the cost of London living, the minimum pupillage award as self employed income is still far too low.

All of that said, I have already said that you can make good money at the criminal Bar, it will just generally take time and you will need to be in the right situation. The barrister who earned £100,000 at three years practice will be in a small minority at the criminal bar and shouldn't be taken as a typical example, but there is capacity to earn that sort of money in crime. There's a good friend of mine who practises in crime outside of London who is not only very good, but also took steps to put himself into a good situation in terms of his capacity to receive good work and improve his practice, and I know that he earned between about £100,000 to £150,000 at around 10 years call, albeit he did work in some other more niche areas related to crime as well as the traditional criminal practice that you would associate with a criminal barrister. But that is one individual example. I have another friend who is a similar level of call but not in as good a situation who earns comfortably less than that, probably around the £70,000 mark (I'm estimating, but it certainly isn't nowhere near as much as the other friend). So again, because everyone is self employed the income can vary wildly.

In terms of comparing crime to other areas of practice, I have said that there is no ranking, but there are areas that generally speaking have more opportunities for higher pay than others, again depending on the wide variety of factors that I've stated above. Crime and family are usually lower paid because so much of the income in those areas is based on legal aid rates, which are clearly lower than a lot of other rates in other areas. They're certainly lower than privately paying clients will be expected to pay. At the other end of the scale, commercial and chancery practices are often the most lucrative because the clients are often private paying and the work attracts much higher fees. The work also has more of a chance of being niche and specialist, which also tends to attract higher fees. Other areas of civil work fall somewhere in between depending on the nature of an individual's practice. But there is so much variance that it is difficult to make any sort of definitive hierarchy. It's also worth noting that many barristers have practices that don't fit neatly into one area of practice. I am ostensibly an employment barrister, but I actually do a lot of work outside of the employment tribunal because I work in other niche areas of practice as well, including the County/High Court and the First Tier Tribunal. To give another example, another good friend of mine is personal injury barrister but does a lot of inquest work, and that is also a completely separate area of practice. So it's not always the case that barristers can easily be defined as working in just one practice area, and in fact many barristers cannot be because of other areas they have diversified into or particular specialisms that they may have picked up. Again, that is all consistent with building a career and a practice as someone who is self employed.

I appreciate I haven't substantiated any of that with links, but hopefully it helps to some degree.
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Kessler`
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#3
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For the vast majority, and for those that actually do the job properly and care about it, the work you put in and the time you put in is 'criminally' unmatched by the pay you recieve. It is in fact quite upsetting. There are those that do work in admiralty or commercial which I'm sure is important in its own way, but they are paid huge amounts and (I might add) don't usually have to fight over getting paid at all or in decent time. By contrast, criminal law which - in my view - is one of the (if not THE) most important area of law and need for advocacy is underpaid. I've lost count of the people I've met who never thought they'd need a lawyer so don't give a damn when people talk about the need for legal aid increases/reform etc then find themselves in a bad situation and are then stupidly grateful that a) legal aid exists and that b) there are advocates that can help them.

However, the bottom line nowadays is that if you do criminal law you don't do it for the money you do it because you either love it, feel the moral obligation and/or both. Plus, jury trials can be really really good fun, exciting and the buzz you get when you win a case (including as prosecutor, even though you aren't strictly meant to) is like nothing else. I remember a case, few years old now, fairly young lad, in his final year at uni, who I successfully defended on a charge of possessing drugs with intent to supply (the truth, as the jury correctly understood, was that they had been planted on him by a well-established dealer in an underground rave event when the police did a raid following a tip-off. The guy saw them coming and hid them in a nearby rucksack which happened to belong the young lad. They didn't know each other at all. Had he been convicted, his life would have been awful and he would have gone to prison for sure given the amount of pills and money. That's before even thinking about his degree, employment prospects etc. After we came out of the courtroom, he could barely stand but he dropped to his knees and kept saying "thank you thank you thank you" until his embarrassed parents pulled him off. The feeling I had from that was amazing. It was like being in a TV show! By the way - in the very unlikely event that you're reading this and recognise yourself - I'm sorry for using your case as an example but I've been careful to not give any identifying details. I hope you finished your degree successfully after that trauma!

You see, the police do (more often than not) get it right and they need people to ensure that society is protected and people are punished for breaking the rules of our society. But they also - as they themselves would probably admit - can get it wrong. Sometimes really wrong. And you need people to protect others against the forces of the state when they want to punish the wrong person. You see, in that case I mentioned, nearly all the evidence pointed at my chap. Yes, it was out of character, but the drugs and money were in his bag and they even had his fingerprints on because when he opened his bag as the police were lining people up for searches etc, he put his hands all over them then stupidly tried to hide them (you try thinking straight in that situation!). But, and I'm not going to give the secret away because that prob would identify the poor chap, the police missed something when they were gathering evidence and it took the digging through of disclosure then cross examination and then a very forceful speech to change the course of an otherwise 'open and shut' case. Unfortunately, they didn't get the ratbag who actually was the dealer!
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Crazy Jamie
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#4
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Kessler is absolutely right when he talks about the pay not matching the hours and effort put in as regards criminal law. That is particularly true in the first few years of practice, but there can be some very stark examples later on as well. But there is a point there that applies to the Bar as a whole. This is a demanding, stressful job regardless of the area of law that you work in and the amount that you get paid. I am sure there are some barristers who put in relatively little work and get paid relatively well for it, but those are in a minority (and honestly, a lot of them worked in PI before recent and upcoming changes, and there are no more tickets available for that gravy train). In reality most barristers work very hard even if they are well remunerated, and even when earning a lot of money this job still has a high potential to mess with your private life and mental health. That's why I say constantly that if you're wanting to come to the Bar for the money, and money is your driving motivation, you should look elsewhere. Not because you cannot make a lot of money at the Bar. You can. But you can make money in more accessible roles. The thing with the Bar is that as well as a desire to make money you also do need to have an affinity for the work, and fundamentally you have to enjoy and get satisfaction from what you do. If you don't, bluntly, this job will crush you. I genuinely could not imagine doing anything else other than being a barrister. I genuinely enjoy this job, but it is hard, and you will make sacrifices to do it properly. So by all means do take money into consideration when deciding between different practice areas. But practising in an area that you enjoy, and where you have motivation and drive to do the work, is really important regardless of what you end up doing.
Last edited by Crazy Jamie; 1 year ago
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Kessler`
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#5
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Jamie's reply should be written on a stone tablet for all aspiring/wannabe barristers to read before they commit themselves. The toll this job takes on your personal life and mental health is extreme. Internally, we all joke about it with each other but that's a way of coping. It really helps if you have a wife/husband/partner who is prepared to be hugely supportive and understanding. Doing it on your own - like me for example - the demands are extreme and you can get into trouble very quickly and easily.
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merbibi
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#6
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#6
(Original post by Kessler`)
Jamie's reply should be written on a stone tablet for all aspiring/wannabe barristers to read before they commit themselves. The toll this job takes on your personal life and mental health is extreme. Internally, we all joke about it with each other but that's a way of coping. It really helps if you have a wife/husband/partner who is prepared to be hugely supportive and understanding. Doing it on your own - like me for example - the demands are extreme and you can get into trouble very quickly and easily.
Just curious -- if you could go back in time and re-live your higher education, would you still study law or would you work towards a less stressful career?
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Crazy Jamie
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#7
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(Original post by merbibi)
Just curious -- if you could go back in time and re-live your higher education, would you still study law or would you work towards a less stressful career?
Kessler can answer for himself, but I would still want to be a barrister. It's hard work and it is stressful, but I enjoy it and, at this stage at least, couldn't really imagine myself doing anything else. The one change I would make is that I wouldn't have done a law degree; I would have done a non law degree and then done the GDL. I didn't enjoy law as an academic subject at all, but wasn't well informed enough when I chose my degree to know that a non law degree followed by the GDL was a viable option. Other than that, I expect my career path would largely be the same.
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Kessler`
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#8
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I can't imagine doing anything else. It's been an awful long hard slog and it still is at times. But I love it. Like I said, there's no thrill like a jury trial.

I studied English Lit. I benefited for it.
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SSTV
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#9
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#9
(Original post by Kessler`)
Jamie's reply should be written on a stone tablet for all aspiring/wannabe barristers to read before they commit themselves. The toll this job takes on your personal life and mental health is extreme. Internally, we all joke about it with each other but that's a way of coping. It really helps if you have a wife/husband/partner who is prepared to be hugely supportive and understanding. Doing it on your own - like me for example - the demands are extreme and you can get into trouble very quickly and easi
Could you explain what the kind of toll is on your relationships, please? As in you never see your partner and are always stressed? Low enthusiasm? Thanks!
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