City law firms are making concerted efforts to capitalise on the collapse of the criminal justice system by hiring disgruntled barristers into their firms, recruiters and law firms exclusively told City A.M.
Legal sector recruiters said they’ve seen a sharp uptick in law firms approaching them seeking to bolster their teams by hiring criminal barristers hoping to exit the profession due to low pay and poor conditions.
Martin Poulter, director of barristers’ recruitment firm Chambers People, said a number of big firms have begun approaching his agency with a view to poaching criminal barristers looking for lucrative jobs in private practice.
“Certain law firms have been approaching Chambers People seeking counsel to join their teams,” Poulter said.
He noted big law firms are able to offer better money and greater stability than is available to most of those working as criminal barristers.
The recruiter said he had seen a particular uptick in barristers taking up new private practice jobs in the Cayman Islands and the UAE, as he said the ongoing barristers’ strike had accelerated the exodus that first came into force during Covid-19.
Clerks are also exiting barristers Chambers for better paid jobs in law firms and litigation funders, Poulter said.
The uptick in interest from law firms comes as companies working in the private sector have been forced to offer increasingly outrageous perks and salaries in their efforts to recruit and retain top lawyers, amid a battle for talent amongst the UK’s top firms.
A spokesperson for legal sector recruitment firm Douglas Scott said the agency had seen “an uptick in law firms looking to recruit Barristers and even re-train into other practice areas as they seek to tackle skills gaps.”
DWF’s head of advocacy Stephen Pritchett said he had seen an “increasingly large number of barristers” moving over to private practice due to the “current professional and economic climate”.
He noted that DWF is “always looking to broaden and increase our skill set and capacity” by employing those exiting the Bar as he explained the firm “have long recognised both the practical and commercial benefits” of employing in-house barristers.
“The benefits to barristers are obvious and clear,” Pritchett said, as he noted that “the advantages to the employer are… also substantial.”
The comments come as criminal barristers are this week set to vote on plans to escalate their industrial action, by running a continuous strike from 6 September, after members of the Criminal Bar Association (CBA) first voted to strike in June.
The Douglas Scott spokesperson said the agency had seen “what was until recently a drip” become a “steady trickle of barristers approaching us to break into private practice.”
He explained that better job security is the main factor motivating those leaving the Bar, as he explained that “the self-employed nature of the Barrister profession” can make it difficult to get a mortgage.
Kirsty Brimelow QC, chair elect of the CBA, said: “The longer that government delays answering the reasonable demands of criminal barristers, the faster the drain of barristers and the harder it will be to put the criminal justice system into recovery.”
“It is understandable why criminal law barristers are moving to work in a different part of the legal profession. Sadly, it is the victims of crime, witnesses and accused who suffer at the loss of barristers available to prosecute and defend.”
“Government putting £450 million into victim support is a waste of money when there are not enough barristers prepared to prosecute and defend the cases. Barristers have had enough of being taken for granted to keep the system going.”
The MoJ refused to comment.