Friday 15 December 2017

Women barristers set to outnumber men in decade

Dearbhail McDonald Legal Editor

FEMALE barristers are set to outnumber their male counterparts in less than 10 years.

And if current education trends continue, the law library will be "predominantly female" within a decade, according to the new chairman of the Bar Council of Ireland, the representative body for barristers.

Currently 60pc of the country's 2,361 barristers are male, but women make up 45pc of all barristers with less than seven years of practice.

"The figures debunk the concept of the bar being an old, male-dominated, cigar-smoking profession," said senior counsel David Nolan, in an interview to mark the beginning of his two-year tenure.

Four of the most senior justice positions are, for the first time, now held by women including that of Chief Justice, Director of Public Prosecutions, Attorney General and Chief State Solicitor.

Irish lawyer Patricia O'Brien holds the top legal post at the United Nations and two of Ireland's 'magic circle' law firms are headed by female solicitors.

The Irish bar is heavily oversubscribed, with 321 senior counsel and 2,040 junior counsel -- and its new chief says the challenge for young barristers, 52pc of whom are under the age of 40, is finding work.

"Every single member of the bar is hurting at the moment, barristers have been subject to dramatic cuts in their income," said Mr Nolan, who warned that large Dublin law firms were becoming "monolithic".


Barristers have had their fees cut by 33.3pc for civil and criminal legal aid cases, the State Claims Agency has slashed fees by 25pc, and fees for work on behalf of the Office of the Attorney General have been reduced by up to 60pc in some cases.

Private client fees have fallen in line with state fees -- which account for more than half of barristers' work. Mr Nolan has cautioned young students about entertaining hopes of becoming a millionaire by joining the bar.

"It is not going to happen now," he said.

The biggest challenge facing the legal profession is Justice Minister Alan Shatter's plans to overhaul the legal sector.

His controversial Legal Services Regulation Bill could see lawyers forming business partnerships with other professions.

After a bruising start to Mr Shatter's campaign, the Bar Council has adopted a conciliatory approach to the new laws.

Mr Nolan said barristers would have to become more businesslike and accountable for the fees they charge.

The Bar Council has welcomed plans for independent regulation, but says many barristers will be put out of business if the costs of the new regulatory body are too high.

Irish Independent

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