The Student Room Group

How much do QC's earn?

How much would a civil barrister (both junior and QC level) earn (in areas like negligence, employment, disciplinary, product liability- that type of stuff)?

Edit: apologies, the title said QC's but I meant juniors as well!
(edited 1 year ago)
No one can give a definitive or even broad answer for this. You've named four different areas of law (tort, employment, regulatory, consumer) and asked for earnings for a barrister at literally any stage of their career within those four areas. Let me just highlight some of the issues with the question, which will hopefully go some way to giving you an answer, even if it's not the one you wanted.

First, this is something of an aside but it's not clear what areas of practice you're talking about. You've identified four areas and said "that type of stuff", but they're really different things and it's not clear what you mean by the individual words. By negligence do you mean personal injury? Clinical negligence? Professional negligence? Something else? By disciplinary do you mean regulatory (as I have assumed), which is more related to crime but also comes up in other areas such as sport or are you talking about something that you think is related to employment? When you say product liability, do you mean broad consumer law which can be part of a commercial practice, or do you mean something more related to a personal injury practice? This may come across as facetious but I'm actually making a serious point. Out of the areas you've mentioned you can probably pin down a specific area with employment, but the others could relate to a lot of different areas. The point is simply that if you're interested in "that type of stuff", make sure you're as clear as you can be as to what it is you're talking about, mainly for your own information more than anything else. It may be that you are and have just put those individual words down for the purposes of this post, in which case that's fine and you can probably clarify. But if not, dig a little deeper for your own purposes.

Second, and this is in many ways the main point, even if you had only identified one area (employment, say) all barristers are self employed, so there is huge variation in individual practices and earnings based on a range of variables. That includes how good the individual barrister is, but also how good their set is, how good their clerks are, and a range of other factors. For employment law in particular, even if you are very good you're naturally going to get fewer opportunities and earn less if you're practising at a smaller regional set that doesn't have a strong reputation in employment law but has small team who do it compared to if you're practising at somewhere like Littleton or 11KBW, which are elite employment sets. But I can't narrow it down even to earnings within an individual calibre of set, because even if you're at a regional set that is good but not elite when it comes to employment, there will be significant variation in the earnings of individual practitioners too. The same applies to QCs. You obviously expect QCs to earn more than juniors, and for the most part they do, but there is individual variation among QCs based on the usual self employed factors just as there is for juniors.

Third, a lot (of not the vast majority of) barristers in these sorts of areas do tend to cross over into other specialisms and/or will specialise in particular areas within their main area of practice. For example, if I was to describe myself in the context of one specific area of law then I am an employment barrister, but within employment most of my cases involve allegations of discrimination and there are certain areas of employment that I basically never do (I haven't done a TUPE case in years, for example). But I also do discrimination cases in other areas of law, and in one of those areas I do other cases that are completely separate from employment and which very much count as a distinct specialism. So I could tell you my earnings as an employment barrister, but would that actually help you? Probably not.

Most barrister will be able to say something similar about their own practices, particular in the areas you've mentioned. Plenty of barristers have employment practices that also cross over heavily into areas of commercial law, for example cases involving restrictive covenants and injunctions (because with restrictive covenants you're very often applying for injunctions) involve both. There's a friend of mine in another set who does employment work, but specialises in TUPE and she also does insolvency work arising out of TUPE cases. Another friend of mine is a personal injury practitioner but also specialises in inquests. Another friend is a criminal practitioner but he has also carved out a niche for myself doing a range of sporting disciplinary cases, including doping cases. And so on and so on. Just about every practitioner has these sorts of caveats. The same applies to QCs. You can take any two as an example, but let's compare Sean Jones and Julian Milford. Both are from 11KBW, an elite employment set. Both are employment silks. But their practices are clearly very different, which is easy to see just from looking at their specialisms. And as I say, as a result of this every individual practitioners' earnings will vary depending on a range of factors, including what they actually practice in.

If it helps, in civil practice (which obviously is what you're talking about) you should be able to make a decent living at the vast majority of sets. At the top end sets you'll obviously make much more much quicker, but very broadly if you're at a set with an established specialism in one of these areas and are working your way into some sort of civil work in particular (as opposed to being at a set that may be predominantly crime and/or family but has bits of civil work here and there) you should be making around £50,000 pretty quickly and £100,000+ within probably four or five years. That is, I will stress again, a very broad answer, and at many sets you'll make six figures faster depending on the set and the practice area. Basically, around one third of barristers make between £90,000 and £240,000 gross per year, and that is the area that you should settle into with this sort of practice once you're established. You should be making comfortably more than nearly all barristers of equivalent call who are doing crime and family, for example, hence falling pretty quickly into what only a minority of barristers make. Hopefully that helps to some degree, but one last time, it's a very broad answer. This job by definition is highly unpredictable when it comes to earnings, and it's a job that you should be attracted to in the first instance by factors other than money, because you're motivated by money, they are other industries where you can earn more. If you're attracted to a civil practice as a barrister on its own merit, you should find that you can make a comfortable living financially in that sort of area.
Most of the areas mentioned are the lower paid end. The bar really divides into commercial law (such as Erskine Chambers, Brick Court etc kind of places) and low paid areas. A top QC in commercial type law could earn well over £1m a year. Many barristers do much less lucrative work - some who have been protesting recently about low legal aid pay are on about £10,000 a year (they are self employed to the minimum wage is not relevant to them).
Original post by 17Student17
The bar really divides into commercial law (such as Erskine Chambers, Brick Court etc kind of places) and low paid areas.


To a degree this is a matter of perspective, but I don't agree. Clearly practising at one of the elite London sets is lucrative, but putting everything else into the 'lower paid' category doesn't make sense to me, for a few reasons. First, on any reading the elite London sets are a tiny minority of this profession. It is not, in any respect, representative of the vast majority of the practising barristers. Even if you extend that to all commercial sets, the same applies just to a lesser degree. Second, in a lot of areas of law (including, for the most part, the ones mentioned in this thread) you can, on any reading, earn a very comfortable living making a six figure sum. I don't quite see how anyone could seriously define that as a 'low paid area' of anything. Third, there is huge variation in different areas beyond the elite sets (or commercial practitioners generally) when it comes to earning, most notably between areas where income is based on legal aid rates and where it is not. Crime is the obvious example, but it can affect areas such as family law too. To put a junior employment practitioner in Manchester, Leeds or Birmingham in the same category as a junior criminal practitioner in those cities doesn't make an awful lot of sense because there will be a significant difference in the level of earnings. The same will apply in most civil areas when compared to crime. So yeah, don't accept that the Bar divides into commercial law and low paid areas. To conclude that I think you have to view earning a six figure sum as low paid, and I expect the majority of people would not agree with that view.
That might well be so. I certainly don't think £100k is low paid. It is just that as with commercial law for solicitors the biggest differences are often not between being a solicitor and a barrister but between doing high paid commercial work and lower paid work in some areas of law.

It is a particularly important difference for young people who watch criminal law TV shows to understand too that you might silo yourself into a low paid area if you are not careful and just look at all the figures before making decisions which can be hard to reverse later.
Original post by 17Student17
That might well be so. I certainly don't think £100k is low paid. It is just that as with commercial law for solicitors the biggest differences are often not between being a solicitor and a barrister but between doing high paid commercial work and lower paid work in some areas of law.

It is a particularly important difference for young people who watch criminal law TV shows to understand too that you might silo yourself into a low paid area if you are not careful and just look at all the figures before making decisions which can be hard to reverse later.

That's all fair. There are certainly factors that are not widely known or appreciated among pupillage applicants that can restrict your earnings. The focus tends to be on securing pupillage and not necessarily the variables of what comes after, which is understandable. I don't think the same risks that you identify here with training contracts, which I appreciate even though I don't have first hand experience of them, map over particularly well to the Bar though. I think that's partly because the comparative earnings to tend to be higher among barristers so there are fewer poorly paid areas. You're really going to struggle to find any barrister properly specialising in commercial law who has an issue with earnings, for example. But the other reason is that for the self employed Bar we do have flexibility to change sets and either change or evolve our practice areas (both early on and as we become more senior) which solicitors may not have, or at least not the same way. I'm not saying it isn't possible to find yourself trapped in an underwhelming practice (whether financially or otherwise), but I don't think it's an issue in the same way.
Reply 6
Original post by Crazy Jamie
That's all fair. There are certainly factors that are not widely known or appreciated among pupillage applicants that can restrict your earnings. The focus tends to be on securing pupillage and not necessarily the variables of what comes after, which is understandable. I don't think the same risks that you identify here with training contracts, which I appreciate even though I don't have first hand experience of them, map over particularly well to the Bar though. I think that's partly because the comparative earnings to tend to be higher among barristers so there are fewer poorly paid areas. You're really going to struggle to find any barrister properly specialising in commercial law who has an issue with earnings, for example. But the other reason is that for the self employed Bar we do have flexibility to change sets and either change or evolve our practice areas (both early on and as we become more senior) which solicitors may not have, or at least not the same way. I'm not saying it isn't possible to find yourself trapped in an underwhelming practice (whether financially or otherwise), but I don't think it's an issue in the same way.

I highly endorse everything Jamie has said. There is a gap between Commerical law and other areas for sure, but that's a gap if you like between the top 1% and the top 5% - there are plenty of areas where you will earn very well, it's just the commerical law outstrips them signficantly. They are however, still very well paid by any objective basis. The reality is that commerical law clients are just willing to pay really quite insane sums. They do also have some fairly insane expectations, but I wouldn't want to say it's "harder" because of that since I don't know enough about the other areas to tell whether they have similar challenges.

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