Barristers are undoubtedly very well paid, but what are the exact details? Social and economic changes are cyclical in nature and competitiveness is the order of the day in any field or area. As in most professions today, the time spent at work can be unpredictable for barristers.
How many hours will I work as a barrister?
Professions that provide services can require 24/7 attention; a barrister’s lot will often be no different. Barristers depend on solicitors for the bulk of their instructions and being available on demand means more income, exposure and experience. In addition to meeting clients’ expectations, barristers are also bound by court procedure and timetables. Juggling between the two is often an onerous and complicated task. How well you do it is what will make you a great barrister.
Most barristers spend a lot of time in meticulous preparation for their cases; however, it is entirely possible that clients may pop up with last minute changes in instructions, or that material issues in the case will change or take a turn for the worse. What this means to the barrister is the complete breakdown of their well-prepared strategy: tasks already completed may need to be redone, or changed in ways that involve additional tasks and with very little time in which to implement these actions.
Litigation is a cyclical phenomenon and there is almost always a ‘famine or feast’ situation. You will find yourself rushed off your feet for some period of time, multitasking constantly; at other times you may not have any pending work at all.
Changes in court schedules, continuances delaying the trial or the absence of crucial witnesses are commonplace events in a barrister’s life. It is important that you are agile and flexible, both mentally and physically, to cope with the constant seesawing of circumstances. Some barristers delegate tasks to their junior colleagues, especially tasks involving research or writing.
One advantage of being a part of a chamber with a reasonable number of juniors on board is the ready labour available to take on such jobs. Not so lucky are those practitioners who go solo. Thus, even though the hours at work may not get crazy like those at solicitors’ firms, especially in commercial and corporate practices, you can find yourself putting in considerable overtime on weekends and holidays.
What's a barrister's salary like?
Like solicitors, barristers’ income depends on their area of practice and their experience. The economic situation will also largely dictate their income. A difference will also be apparent between barristers who are salaried and those who are self-employed. There are pros and cons to both sides, as in any job. Barristers working for the government (through the Crown Prosecution Service) or on legal aid cases in public law and criminal defence funded by the government, will earn considerably less than their counterparts in private practice.
Frequent cutbacks, loss of grants or budget freezes directly affect the income of salaried barristers. For barristers in private practice, several factors can affect their earning potential. Reputation and experience, area of specialisation and location of practice are crucial elements. Self-employed barristers with a good clerking system who are working in London will earn much more than those based in regional centres or working for the government.
Additionally, barristers working on their own or renting a place in chambers have overhead costs such as office infrastructure, equipment, rentals and staffing costs to be factored in. In such cases, a barrister with three or four years in practice could be earning a lower net income than a solicitor with similar experience.
Also, there will be a time-lag between work being completed and the fees for the work coming in. Given the lengthy nature of legal proceedings and final judgements or settlements coming in after a lot of time has lapsed, you may have earned quite a bit on paper, but not much of it will be liquid. The silver lining here is that the percentage increase in earnings over a significant chunk of time is actually higher for barristers than it is for solicitors, unless they get to the highly unlikely position of an equity partner.