Junior bar’s prospects harmed by solicitor referral fees, says Bar Council

Junior barristers are failing to rack up experience and suffering financially due to an increasing trend for solicitors to pay each other referral fees and use solicitor advocates for work, the Bar Council has said.

The council’s Professional Practice Committee (PCC) identified the problem in an advisory note on the Prohibition of Referral Fees, which is a blanket rule imposed by the Bar Standards Board.

The advisory note, the contents of which were first reported by Legal Futures, warned that the trend could ultimately damage the quality of the judiciary as the diversity of the Bar became endangered.

The note read: “The payment between solicitors of referral fees and the consequent increased use of solicitor advocates has diverted work away from young practitioners at the family and criminal Bars.

“As a result, young barristers are losing valuable experience at an important stage in their career, are suffering financial hardship and, in crime, are finding difficulty in establishing a crown court practice. This has affected not only those barristers who are currently at the Bar, but is likely to discourage the brightest and best applicants from coming to the Bar.”

It continued: “Pupils typically begin their career at the Bar many thousands of pounds in debt. An effect of referral fees is ultimately likely to be to dissuade those from less privileged backgrounds from a career at the Bar.

“The junior Bar will not only see the quality of its new members diminish, but also its diversity. In time, this will impact upon the quality and diversity of the senior Bar and the judiciary.”