Barristers not working in 'sheltered' profession – law chief
THE head of the Bar Council has insisted barristers are not operating in a "sheltered sector".
And the country's 2,300 barristers are now working in a profession that has the highest dropout rate in its history as they deal with the economy, a lack of work and falling fees.
Senior counsel David Nolan, chair of the Bar Council of Ireland, the representative body for barristers, said the high numbers entering and exiting the Bar were "testament" to the fact that it was not a "sheltered sector".
"There is a perception gap about the reality of the profession, however, of that there can be no doubt," he told members of the Bar at the chairman's annual dinner at the King's Inns in Dublin.
Barristers are facing major changes, with Justice Minister Alan Shatter's controversial Legal Services Regulation Bill aimed at overhauling the sector.
Mr Nolan stressed that they felt the changes could help "bridge" the gap, and were in agreement with many of the proposals, including ensuring all legal costs are transparent.
The council backed the Competition Authority's proposal to bring in a regulator – independent of the legal profession and Government – as the best low-cost solution to regulation.
The initial cost of putting in place the regulatory structure outlined in the bill would amount to up to €7m, and it would also cost up to €7m a year to maintain, the council estimated.
"The reality is that many newly-qualified members are already struggling with library fees.
"Additional regulatory costs may well be the tipping point that heralds their departure," said Mr Nolan, pointing out that regulation currently costs €58 per head.
Since 2007, the council required all barristers to provide fee estimates which would allow people to "shop around" for the best price.
Barristers have had their fees cut by a third for civil and criminal legal aid cases, and fees for work for the Office of the Attorney General have been slashed by up to 60pc.
"Costs are falling significantly," said Mr Nolan. "When we highlight concern with aspects of the bill, it is not for self-serving vested interests."
He pointed out that international experience had shown the partnership of barristers with solicitors, as outlined in the bill, does not work and reduces the amount of pro bono work carried out.