It is true that a career as a barrister is a more precarious prospect than one as a solicitor, but probably less true than it used to be. Obtaining a place as a pupil barrister, though still difficult and very competitive, has been rationalized so that there is an application portal which covers most barristers’ Chambers. Barristers’ Chambers must now to pay a salary to pupil barristers, at a minimum rate of 1,000 per month, so that subsistence at least is covered for the one year period of the pupillage. After that, the new barrister’s earnings will depend on the amount of work he manages to attract by impressing solicitors and the clerks of the Chambers who are the solicitors’ point of contact, and who allocate work as between barristers.
It is the clerks who deal with all financial matters at barristers’ Chambers. Unlike solicitors, barristers will never discuss the costs of a case with a client. The clerks negotiate a fee with the solicitor, and the barrister keeps himself quite separate from that side of things, generally speaking. Not having a direct relationship with the client, but instead usually communicating via the solicitor, the barrister should be able to take a more objective view of a case, without the danger of emotional involvement coloring his advice. Also, he will specialize in a relatively narrow area of law, enabling him to bring a depth of knowledge to his advice, which a solicitor may not have, occupied as he is with the personal and administrative demands of running a large and often diverse caseload.
The barrister will not take over responsibility for a case: he will advise on the specific aspects which are referred to him, and he will represent if briefed to do so, at court hearings. He will then hand the everyday nitty-gritty conduct of the case, process serving, letter writing and all the rest, back to the solicitor, with the benefit of the expert arms-length advice which he has been able to give.
As befits the rather academic atmosphere of the bar, Chambers tend to be situated in a pleasantly cloistered environment. In London, the Inns of Court, Grays Inn, Lincolns Inn and the Temple are little oases of calm and peace near the center of a noisy metropolis. They are a stone’s throw from the High Court in the Strand, one of the busiest thoroughfares in London, but once through the gates, one finds the labyrinth of gardens, courtyards and fountains which is the setting for the learned labors of the legal eagles in their beautiful but faded buildings. One can imagine how the atmosphere is conducive to a certain calm objectivity with regard to the struggles of the barristers’ lay clients.
Barristers have ‘rights of audience’ in the higher courts as of right; but whereas this used to be their exclusive privilege, solicitors are now able to take a course to qualify as advocates in the higher courts, giving them equivalent rights to those enjoyed by barristers. So with the easier route to qualification as a barrister provided by paid pupillages, and the higher rights which can now be enjoyed by solicitors, it seems that the divide between the branches of the legal profession is steadily narrowing.