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Wednesday 17 September 2014

Lawyers now leaving Bar in record numbers

Dearbhail McDonald Legal Editor

Published 30/05/2014 | 02:30

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RECORD numbers of barristers are leaving the Law Library as a surge in new lawyers and the downturn in the economy takes its toll.

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The exodus is affecting the younger end of the Bar, where 25pc of the Law Library have less than five years' experience and are "struggling to make ends meet".

More than 650 barristers have left since 2007 and 80 on average are taking a leave of absence from the Bar each month – twice the figure in 2009.

But the numbers leaving for good are believed to be much higher than the official figures as many barristers are still paying their library subscription fees to maintain their status – even though they are no longer in practice.

Experience

Ireland has one of the highest numbers of barristers per capita in the world, with 2,273 practising barristers.

But almost half are under the age of 40 and have less then 10 years' practice.

Some juniors are earning less than €12,000 to €15,000 a year and many barristers are in arrears on their annual subscription fees.

The number of barristers rose by almost a third during the boom years, but 35pc of all barristers now have less than seven years' experience post-qualification.

The Bar Council, the ruling body for barristers, has warned that the bar will "remain in a most precarious position" despite a series of initiatives introduced to shelter younger colleagues.

The representative body said that the number of members who are leaving the Law Library for financial reasons had "increased significantly" over the last number of years.

One hundred and fifty-six barristers left the Law Library in the 2012-2013 legal year and between last October and March a further 69 have left, mostly for financial reasons.

Senior Counsel David Nolan, chairman of the Bar Council, said the challenge for young barristers was "simply finding work".

Writing in today's Irish Independent ahead of the council's biennial conference in Westport, Co Mayo, Mr Nolan said that the world of the Bar had changed.

"The average profile of an Irish barrister is now female, under 40 and struggling to make ends meet, often after years of study and further years trying to make a living at the bar," said Mr Nolan.

"As with the other professions, the new economic reality has long set in," he said, adding that the ruling body must work hard to support the profession "and younger members in particular".

The conference will be attended by Taoiseach Enda Kenny, Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald, Attorney General Maire Whelan and Data Protection Commissioner Billy Hawkes.

Supreme Court Judge Mr Justice Frank Clarke and High Court President Mr Justice Nicholas Kearns will also attend the two-day event.

The conference comes ahead of plans by the Government to finally pass the Legal Services Regulation Bill, three years after it was presented by former Justice Minister Alan Shatter.

Aspects of the bill, including the creation of multi-disciplinary partnerships and alternative business structures – that could see lawyers form businesses with other professionals, including auctioneers and accountants – have met with strong resistance from the Bar.

Irish Independent

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