Barristers 'struggling to survive' as 180 quit in a year
ALMOST 180 barristers – many of them "struggling to survive at the bar" – left the Law Library in the last year.
New figures obtained by the Irish Independent show a sharp increase in the number of barristers leaving the bar, many in search of more secure employment.
The vast bulk of those who left – some 179 barristers – did so for financial and family reasons or to take up other employment.
Two members died and nine left to become judges.
Just 77 barristers left during the 2009-to-2010 legal year.
Senior counsel David Nolan, chairman of the Bar Council – the representative body for barristers – said the insecurity of life as a barrister meant the profession was not as attractive as it once was.
"The bar has always been competitive, even in the good times," said Mr Nolan.
"But now barristers, many with up to 10 years' professional experience, are leaving because they cannot survive.
"Increasingly barristers are looking for more full-time employment as well as more secure, pensionable employment."
Junior barristers say the figures could be much higher as many colleagues have left the bar but may have retained their membership to avoid the stigma of no longer being an active member .
Many others are struggling to pay their annual fees, which range from €1,500 a year for newly qualified barristers to up to €9,000 a year for senior counsel. Barristers must be a member of the Law Library if they wish to practise.
Their fees also entitle them to desk space and access to research facilities.
The boom years saw an unprecedented surge in the numbers of young people training to become lawyers.
In 1998, there were fewer than 5,000 solicitors on the roll, but now there are just under 14,000.
The number of practising barristers rose from 1,112 in 1998 to almost 2,500 during the boom years.
Today, there are 2,255 barristers who are members of the Law Library.
At its peak, more than 200 newly qualified barristers were joining the library each year, but those numbers have dropped to around 140.
Solicitors too are feeling the brunt of the recession, with 1,000 unemployed, many of whom have progressed into long-term unemployment.
Of the 14,000 on the solicitors' roll, 9,000 have active practising certificates.
The remaining 5,000 are retired, on career breaks, have emigrated or are job-seeking.
This figure excludes additional hundreds of solicitors who are working in the full-time service of the State and by law do not require practising certificates, together with in-house solicitors in commerce or industry.
The Law Society, the ruling body for solicitors, said that "very regrettably" there was no drop in the number of unemployed solicitors.
The society has an active Career Support Service, which delivers a range of services designed to help unemployed, short-term contracted or otherwise job-seeking solicitors to find career opportunities.
"For many years now, there has been a far greater supply of solicitors in Ireland than demand for their services," said Ken Murphy, director general of the Law Society.
"The market is characterised by more and more solicitors competing intensively for less and less work," Mr Murphy added.