Bar right to set its sights on the future

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 12 May, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 12 May, 2010, 12:00am

The public image of barristers commanding fat fees from high-profile cases is one generally enjoyed by the more experienced and successful members of the profession. Life for new entrants seeking to build a good reputation in a competitive environment is not so easy. Proposed reforms which could provide young barristers with better training are, therefore, a positive development. The Bar Association has set up a committee to look at changes to the system of 'pupillage' with a view to improving standards. It is likely that any reforms would also make it more difficult to qualify or practise. Aspiring barristers now go through a year of training with various barristers - or pupil masters. It is a time-honoured, but somewhat old-fashioned system. It is a bit like a trade apprenticeship in that whether new barristers get good training can depend on the chambers they go to and the pupil master who takes responsibility for them.

Many of the best law students train to be barristers. But so do those who fail to land training positions with solicitors' firms and who may join the Bar because of the need for work, rather than a commitment to this branch of the profession. Consistent and comprehensive training procedures will help maintain professional standards. This may result in fewer - but better prepared - barristers.

A move to ensure standards are maintained is to be welcomed. The Bar, after all, plays an important role in upholding legal integrity and the rule of law. It is also in the best interests of new entrants. Lucrative work is not as plentiful as it was in the past. Some young barristers are doing well, but others struggle to find work.

Now, suitably experienced solicitors have won the right to apply to appear before the High Court and up - traditionally the preserve of barristers - with the first candidates expected to be assessed by the end of the year. This will improve access to the law, but not make it any easier for new barristers to make a living. The Bar Association is right to look to the future. It must find ways of ensuring the profession adapts to meet changing conditions, while ensuring that the finest traditions of the Bar are maintained.