Want to qualify as a barrister? It will cost you £127,000

Chantal-Aimée Doerries QC, the new chair of the Bar Council, has said that students thinking of qualifying as a barrister will have to spend up to £127,000.

Her calculation of £127,000 is based on an undergraduate who, as many do, initially takes a non-law degree from a London university then goes on to a graduate diploma in law conversion course followed by a bar professional training course (BPTC) qualification, also in London.

The overall figures include costs for accommodation, subsistence and tuition fees over five years. The equivalent for those studying outside London is likely to be only slightly lower, the Bar Council estimates, at about £111,000.

She said the huge sums required for training as she voiced concerns that progress on diversity and social mobility within the profession could be thrown into reverse due to the high cost of training. “For students starting at university this year, the cost of qualifying as a barrister could approach £127,000,” Ms Doerries told The Guardian.

Ms Doerries is a member of Atkin Chambers in London and specialises in commercial disputes in the construction, engineering and energy sector. She studied in the US before attending Cambridge University.

She is a keen supporter of providing pro bono help to litigants who cannot afford a lawyer but is anxious that barristers’ generosity should not become a substitute for legal aid funding, which has progressively been withdrawn. “Pro bono work should never be seen as replacing what was provided before the reforms introduced by the 2012 Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders (Laspo) Act,” she explained. “You can’t expect the profession to pick up those substantial cuts. It’s about the obligation of government; society should expect to pay for access to justice for the vulnerable and needy.”

Since Laspo, which removed the right to representation in most family law and many other areas, the number of litigants in person has soared. The number of new cases funded by legal aid has plummeted.

Ms Doerries is also critical of the steep rise in court fees introduced by the government, particularly “enhanced court fees” which are higher than actual costs and cross-subsidise the justice system. “It is very worrying because [the government] assumes that people end up in the justice system by choice rather than recognising that, like health and education, it should be a fundamental entitlement in the way our democratic system works.”

Ms Doerries is also worried about proposals for online justice being developed by the Ministry of Justice that would enable disputes of less than £25,000 to be processed by non-legal experts. She said: “The online system for the lower valuation claims may not be less complex or less important for the claimants involved – but we are assuming they don’t necessarily need lawyer input. There’s a risk or potential for building up a two-tier justice system. What will that say to society?”

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