On Friday night, in Middle Temple Hall, I was lucky enough to listen to two speeches from those who are the present and the future of our profession.
Marilyn Vitte, (a second six pupil at 25 Bedford Row) and @DanBunting, (renowned blogger, barrister and cat herder) first stunned their audience into silence, and then finished, each of them, to standing ovations.
They are not fat cats, nor do they ever wish to be. They are dedicated young professionals who want, in Michael Turner’s words to “Do Right And Fear No-One.”
If The Secretary of State, and his Civil Servants at the MoJ could actually take the time to read these two speeches, we can only surmise that rather than picking up the phone to the CBA, their more likely reaction would be to throw yet more taxpayers money at their spin doctors to plant still further misinformation in the public domain, via their sycophantic admirers in Grub Street.
Marilyn and Dan, you have done us proud. Thank you both.
“My Lords, Ladies and Gentleman,
My journey to pupillage was a well trodden path.
After the 3 years it took me to complete my law degree – a further year was spent completing the Bar course. I spent 10 weeks completing unpaid mini pupillages. I and probably all of the candidates considered for pupillage, will have also undertaken unpaid or low paid roles interning, paralegalling or doing some other socially worthy and relevant work to gain pupillage. All this study, all this work experience came in for me at the bargain cost of £33,000.
So you can just imagine, when I received that call from my joint Head of Chambers at a leading criminal set of chambers – I was delighted. The 7 years and hard work had all paid off.
I immediately phoned every barrister who had helped me on my path – Not one thought I had an ounce of sanity. Most were distraught that my life had taken such a downward turn in pursuing a career at the Criminal Bar.
I didn’t actually know what they meant. But then, Six months later, the consultation paper was published.
On that day I was at Bromley Magistrates Court, now in my second six months of pupillage. One may have expected the atmosphere to be subdued and for the talk amongst pupils to consist of ‘plan B’s’ and so on. On the contrary, while the pupils I spoke to were concerned about the proposed changes to the profession – they were infinitely more concerned about their client’s bail applications.
I wasn’t sure if it was just those pupils whose determination to see justice done outweighed their personal concerns until later in chambers.
There, I came across some junior tenants engaged in their own heated debate about the proposals. Each had clearly read the consultation paper from cover to cover and each was proffering their own view on where they saw the Bar in five years time. I remember thinking at that point, that the concern expressed wasn’t for a career denied – but for a society where justice may not be done.
But I know, from speaking to junior barristers both at 25 Bedford Row and those I meet in court, that many who have invested so heavily both emotionally and financially in their chosen careers, are determined to fight for their profession and for their futures in this profession.
In the face of these imminent changes, I was forced to ask myself what I believed my future should and could hold.
What has caused me personally to be resolute and to stand firm is pretty close to home; in fact it is actually something on my doorstep.
Some years ago, I became involved in a number of projects with young people – some of whom were involved in gangs. Some of these young people had found themselves before the magistrates’ and the crown courts. All of you here this evening will be familiar with such young people. Their literacy is often limited. Their backgrounds make for tragic reading and their only support in life is the peer group which led them towards the criminal justice system in the first place.
When these young people told me about their experience of the courts and their representatives, their stories make me proud of the criminal justice system of which I am a part. Whilst some of these young people may deserve to spend time in prison – some may have done terrible things, but many are hard working individuals and these young people are deserving of representation, in my opinion, by the best we can offer – as is every and any individual charged with a criminal offence. They spoke of being heard, of being defended fairly and without being prejudged.
I aspire to become the highly competent and skilled member of the Bar that our profession may rightly be so proud of. I, and many others in my position will continue will work hard to achieve that goal.There is no way I would walk out of my profession, leaving a criminal justice system that risks not being fit for purpose on my understanding of the proposals.
Ultimately, I do not intend to walk away from my vocation unless I am dragged from it. So after asking myself the question ‘what could the future hold’, for me the answer is still ‘a career at the Criminal Bar’.
I would like to say that as summer approaches, my diary is becoming filled with glamorous fixtures, but as it is, this Monday I will at Camberwell Green Magistrates’ Court. No doubt I will be covering five first appearances, two committals, a breach of bail…. and a youth court trial. My clerks tell me that the last person to secure tenancy regularly undertook such a case load. My supervisor tells me that I won’t be able to afford my travel without such a case load, and my parents say they have found me an opening at a fantastic supermarket legal service.
My optimism, determination and passion for my chosen career path are not waning even now. I speak for many pupils of my generation when I say that we intend to remain steadfast in our future aspirations and we look to our respective chambers and professional organisations for guidance and support.
What is obvious is that without fresh blood, the Bar will wither on the branch and die. Those choosing to enter this profession choose to be here because we believe in it. As pupils we are committed, we are passionate and we hope – along with our colleagues to whom we look for guidance….to achieve long and successful careers at the Criminal Bar.”
And then came Dan. A hard act to follow, but follow it he did
My Lords, Ladies and Gentlemen,
“I didn’t join the criminal bar to make money, which is just as well. I didn’t however come to work for free, and I’m sure that I’m not alone in that.
We all know the problems, but the problem is that this job has stopped being fun. Last Wednesday I was sitting in the robing room, waiting for a trial to start, when I got an email from the Bank saying my £4,000 overdraft limit had been hit and, if I wanted to pay my Chambers rent, I would have to transfer some money in. I was then in the slightly awkward position of having to ask my other half, a trainee social worker, to lend me some money for a few days.
I’m not generally in the habit of reading EU Directives, but I did find myself wishing that the Government would hurry up and make sure that the LAA (as it’s now known) complies “Directive 2011/7/EU on Combating Late Payment in Commercial Transactions”. Starting with the three grand I’m still owed for a trial three years ago, to the fact that the LAA seems to be constitutionally mandated to refuse to pay a bill in full, or in time.
The conversations around me last week were all in the same vein. The woman who, after 15 years, is leaving the Bar to look after her two children because the money she can earn as a barrister cannot cover her childcare costs. The senior clerk who had to leave his desk to go to the train station and pay the fare of a junior tenant because her credit card was declined and her bank account was empty. [And the barrister of five years call who is having an effectively indefinite career break to look after the children as his wife, a nurse, earns more than he does.] The junior tenant who is working part-time in the evenings and weekends, just to make ends meet.
Why does it sometimes seem that the job has lost its lustre? We “must promote and protect fearlessly and by all proper and lawful means the lay client’s best interests”. That is something we all do, something we all do well, and something that we all take pride in doing well. No-one is asking for a Bentley, but it is harder to stand up to the CPS, to the state, even to a difficult judge, when you are worried how you can pay the bills and whether you will even have a job in a years time.
I don’t want to be the eeyore voice of doom, but it is important that we all understand what is happening to the bar, to the rank and file. The cuts that have been imposed in the last few years are not a question of trimming the fat, but cutting too close to the bone to comfort. We cannot take a further 20% reduction. The Bar has done excellent work in the last thirty years in throwing open the doors of the Inns to those who have the talent, regardless of
their background. The message from the Government is that the legal profession is open to all, provided your trust fund is big enough.
Listening in the robing room, you could be forgiven for thinking that at times this job sounds less like a noble profession, and more like the conversation you would hear from a group of call centre employees with zero hour contracts and a precarious working existence. We often joke that a hearing, or sometimes a whole case, pays less than the minimum wage, but that is sadly the truth. And as a joke, it’s not funny. Most Judges, but sadly not all, understand that when that is the case motivation may be a problem.
I’m just over 10 years call. Many people at my level thought that by now we would be ‘sorted’. We had made our way into a profession and had hoped that after, 5, 10 or 15 years, we would have been settled in it. Some have bought houses or started a family. I am sure that I am not the only person in this hall who has yet to pay off their student’s loan and still carrying debts from university. The only consolation being because I graduated at the turn of the millennium I left university with far less debt that those who are currently studying.
But whatever our personal circumstances, we are all finding our position very dicey indeed. And a worried lawyer is not a good lawyer. Reading the consultation paper makes for bleak reading indeed. Whilst Mr Grayling is fighting for a headline, we are fighting for our professional existence.
No-one owes me a living, I understand that. We all understand that, but we’re not asking for that, all we’re asking for is the chance to make a living doing the job that we love.
There are no more words…