Monday, 3 June 2013

Getting the message right - the V word...

I am always surprised at the poor press that barristers get. The public's perception of a barrister in my fantastically unscientific survey (i.e. I asked those friends who weren't lawyers) is that lawyers are posh, articulate, and usually very highly paid.

I'm not sure where that last perception has come from. Yes it is true that some barristers - usually commercial lawyers - are very well rewarded for the work they do. Most, however, work to generate a comfortable (and no more) existence. My surprise, however, is that the barristers' union (for want or another work), the Bar Council, seems to have been unable or unwilling to change the perception.

I was struck again by this since I am again acting as Interim Chambers Director - this time for East Anglian Chambers, based in Ipswich (but throughout the region). I am working there three days a week and had briefly forgotten that barristers seem to do the business of chambers after 8pm or before 7 am.

Let's do a quick calculation. Assume that our barrister earns £100,000 a year. That sounds a lot doesn't it? But our barrister is self-employed (as they mostly are - certainly almost all the good ones) and so that is a turnover figure. We need to take off VAT - leaving £80,000. Next come overheads - chambers will take a percentage. Let's say that's 17.5% (that's about average). Suddenly our barrister has only £66,000 left from which to pay other costs (including travel) and tax. It doesn't seem like quite such a huge number any more, does it?

Assuming that travel is about £1,000 per month I will take a figure for other costs of £20,000 - which is probably very light. So - now there is £46,000 left. Let's say that they put in ten hours a day - which is about right  - and then another ten hours over the weekend (probably a vast under estimate). That's a 60 hour week. Being self-employed, most barristers will be looking at about a 280 to 300 day year. Being generous and taking the lower figure, this comes down to a daily rate of £164.29 or £16.43 an hour.

I'm not trying to act as an apologist for barristers. They are well paid in comparison to many people, but it still isn't the sort of money that the Ministry of Justice has been slinging around.

Many criminal barristers will be earning much less that £100,000 too.

My point is this. Barristers generally work long and hard for what turns out to be a good but far from generous salary. Their representative body should be shouting about this from the roof tops. Yes, of course some barristers earn millions - but so do some doctors and we rarely begrudge them.

It is important that the message - the right message - is got across. Barristers are good value - that is the word we should all be using.

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