Chief Executive Blog - 19 March 2015

19 March 2015

Bang for your buck - £9 a month goes a long way for the Bar

All eyes have been on the Chancellor of the Exchequer this week as he makes his annual Budget announcement, revealing savings, future plans and what our money is spent on. So it is fitting for the Bar Council to do the same, especially as we near the deadline for practice certificate fees with the opportunity to sign up to the Bar Representation Fee (BRF).

It is clear to us at the Bar Council that not all of our members know where the money they pay each year actually goes. Every paying member deserves to know where their money is spent.

The lion's share of the finances raised from Practising Certificate Fee (PCF) goes to the Bar Standards Board to pay for their role in regulating you, the profession.

However, there is a wealth of other work going on at the Bar Council, away from the BSB, to ensure the Bar is relevant, visible and able to function in the current and future legal services markets.

The BRF costs just £100 per year, less than £9 a month. Cheaper than a cinema ticket, a hair-cut, a small round of drinks and considerably less than a week's supply of coffee. But what exactly does the BRF fund?

The Bar Council's Representation, Policy & Services Group promotes the interests of the Bar as well as our wider public interest campaigns. All of the funds raised from the BRF are used exclusively for this work.

'Fighting fund'

The Bar Council campaigns and lobbies on behalf of the Bar as a whole, self-employed as well as employed barristers, and on issues in the wider public interest, such as ensuring fair access to justice.

In recent months we have campaigned against restrictions on judicial review, increases in court fees and legal aid cuts. Through the media and through our direct lobbying efforts with policy makers - government ministers, MPs and Whitehall - we ensure that the voice of the profession is heard and that justice and the work of the legal services sector remain high up the policy agenda.

Some of our activity in this area can be found in the Campaigns section of the Bar Council website.

Sustaining the Bar

Our BRF-funded work is not just about the profession today. We aim to promote a vibrant and successful Bar for the future. One initiative is the Bar Mentoring Service, which helps barristers develop their careers and secure Silk aas well as judicial appointments. Its early success means that we are now poised to extend this service more widely.

Our award-winning Bar Placement Week provides experience of the Bar to those youngsters who might not otherwise have the opportunity to see what life as a barrister entails, but who have the potential to succeed in a career at the Bar. Following its success in London, we have been able to take the scheme to Manchester and Leeds.

Promoting the value of the Bar

Last month, a report from TheCityUK showed the value of legal services to UK plc stood at 22.6bn in 2013, or 1.6% of GDP. The Bar's efforts are clearly documented in the report, which also shows the strength of our legal sector on the global stage. The Bar and wider legal services in England & Wales has a major international presence, and the Bar Council has a full international programme aimed at not only maintaining our high standing globally, but expanding it further.

This year, our International Policy team has a number of inward and outward programmes aimed at linking up the Bar with overseas markets, Kazakhstan and South Korea. In May, a group of junior barristers will be heading to Brazil on an exchange programme set up by the Bar Council, to strengthen ties with the Brazilian legal market.

None of this work in cementing the Bar's reach and reputation in the international arena would be possible without the BRF funding.

In addition to all these benefits, those members who pay their BRF also receive discounts on all training courses and conferences run by the Bar Council, along with a monthly subscription to Counsel Magazine as well as a number of commercial opportunities.

Where we draw the line

Contrary to a fairly widespread misconception, the BRF does not fund the commercial activity of the Bar Council. Our commercial activity is a valuable source of additional income that funds campaigns and support for the Bar, and also helps us to take the pressure off the need raise more money through the PCF. Nor does it go towards the regulatory work of the BSB, Fees collection or the Bar Council's Ethical Enquiries Helpline. It is reserved purely for representing, promoting and supporting the Bar.

I have given only a few examples here. We do much, much more - including promotion of direct public access practice and work with the junior Bar. £100 a year goes a long way at the Bar Council and in today's money, £9 a month is real value for money.

You can pay your BRF membership through Barrister Connect, or by calling our records department on: +44 (0)207 242 0934

 

Stephen Crowne
Chief Executive of the Bar Council