The Bar has confounded decades of critics and doomsayers through fearlessness and competition for excellence, Chair of the Bar Andrew Langdon QC told the 32nd Annual Bar and Young Bar Conference today.
Read the full speech here.
As over 500 guests and speakers gathered in central London today for the Bar's flagship event, including Sir Keir Starmer QC MP, Lady Justice Hallet, and terror-law watchdog Max Hill QC, Langdon explained why the Bar is such an irrepressible profession.
He said: "Our professional opportunities are limitless if we are prepared to stick to our core ethos whilst being intelligent about how we should adapt. Our international work increases and not only for the commercial Bar: the overall size of the Bar and its earnings continues to increase, confounding those who predicted our demise.
"Our demise has been prophesied since I was called 31 years ago, since which time we have tripled in size. Why? Because you can't keep a good idea down. The idea of independent referral advice and representation from fearless individuals who compete for excellence, is an idea that not only refuses to die, but gains traction wherever it is given the chance. It is highly prized, here and abroad and rightly so.
"Our great strength as a profession is that we are motivated by acting in the public interest. We should put our collective effort into turning the tide which has been running against those who, without legal assistance, are unable to make a case for themselves."
The Chair warned that the pace of change on diversity in the profession has been "too slow", and said that predecessors had "underestimated the conscious effort and depth of change that is required."
"We still do not have a profession that sufficiently reflects the society we serve and we must continue to tackle that deficit."
Langdon also hit out at proposals to introduce later and earlier court sitting hours, claiming they could wind back the clock on the work done by the profession to achieve a more equal gender balance at the Bar.
He said: "We do not like the sound of so-called 'flexible operating hours'. Sitting intermittent early and late shifts will deter those with caring responsibilities. Diversity is a recognised problem not just for the profession but for the judiciary largely drawn from our ranks.
"Instead of making it harder for women with caring responsibilities to remain in the profession, we want to achieve the opposite - to bring more consistency to the court day."
With speakers at the Conference including Professor Richard Susskind OBE, whose work has focused on the likely impact of AI on the legal profession, the Chair made clear that the Bar was no stranger to technology and would lead, not stand in the way of progress.
He said: "Our ability to adapt to the challenge of technology is not in doubt.
"We have taken to digital working much more readily than many, with their homely but outmoded Rumpolian caricatures, believed possible.
"I have suggested not merely that we can adapt to digital working but that we can lead it and help shape it."
Morale of the judiciary
Echoing concerns raised this week by the House of Lords Constitution Committee, the Chair of the Bar warned of low morale in the judiciary.
He said: "It isn't just about money. The morale of judges and of the Bar is affected by the way we are treated by officialdom in many guises. Sometimes, frankly, it borders on contempt. There are symptoms of low morale not merely amongst judges and lawyers but also critically, amongst court staff."
The young Bar is shrinking
The Chair advised that the Bar is shrinking at the junior end. He said: "We are currently losing young barristers who see how hard it will be to pay back the debts they incur in training.
"Although the research is incomplete, most believe the lack of confidence in public funding is partly what has caused chambers to recruit fewer junior members."
Notes to Editors
- Further information is available from the Bar Council Press Office on 020 7222 2525 and Press@BarCouncil.org.uk.
- The Bar Council represents barristers in England and Wales. It promotes:
- The Bar's high quality specialist advocacy and advisory services
- Fair access to justice for all
- The highest standards of ethics, equality and diversity across the profession, and
- The development of business opportunities for barristers at home and abroad.
The General Council of the Bar is the Approved Regulator of the Bar of England and Wales. It discharges its regulatory functions through the independent Bar Standards Board