Family Law Bar Report – the lowdown

Although most of the professional press have failed to grasp the concept of ’embargo’ I, out of politeness, have waited until today to post about this report, which in essence tells you everything that you could hope to know about the family bar. You can already read about the report in the Gazette and Times as posted yesterday. Also see the interview with Desmond Browne QC (Chairman of the Bar) on Today on Saturday.

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It’s a long document (200 odd pages) and I’m not going to cover it all here. But here are some of the key items for me,  some of it not detailed in articles published so far.

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Press coverage this week is likely to include The Guardian (today) and Times on Thursday. I will post links when available.

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In no particular order then:

  • The family bar work long hours (half work more than 46 hrs p/w, a quarter more than 56, for almost 2/3 of us this includes over 5 hours on a Sunday and for 1/3 of us over 4 hours on a Saturday. We work evenings, early mornings, often during bank holidays and vacations.
  • The majority of us are women (60%). Women and BME barristers do a disproportionate amount of the publicly funded work, and are concentrated particularly in the public law area. White men fare much better, doing less publicly funded work, more privately paying ancillary relief work and earning more overall.
  • Over half of publicly funded clients have ‘complicating characteristics’ (such as being a refugee, having suffered a significant recent bereavement, require an interpreter, is a victim and perpetrator, has serious emotional problems or mental health issues, language or communication difficulties, learning difficulty or physical disability) which are often associated with making a case more complex. A significant proportion feature more than one such characteristic. In public law (care type) cases the proportions of parents who have complicating characteristics is aorund 80%.
  • 62% of cases involve allegations abuse of a child or adult.
  • The last round of cuts in 2001 which were particularly focused on ancillary relief have resulted in a reduction in the numbers and seniority of counsel who are willing to undertake this work on a publicly funded case, resulting in a significant discrepancy in representation as between spouses (most often publicly funded wife with low income and privately paying husband with higher income). Then, barristers shifted from one area of sub-specialism within family to others, or simply increased the amount of privately paying work that they were carrying out. This time those who can will adapt by doing less publicly funded work, many of those who can’t will leave. The survey tells us that in 2001 experienced advocates approaching 20 years call were able to simply turn away from publicly funded work, whereas those who were less experienced presumably were in a weaker position. But as things get more tough I find myself asking (like others) whether or not it will be cost effective to return to work if I have another child, because I will not be able to absorb the cost of childcare and still remain sufficiently profitable.
  • Median taxable profits are £66,000 p.a., although for 25% taxable profits are lower than £44,000. Turnover at the family bar has been static over the last 3 years. On average family legal aid accounts for 41% of our gross profits, and privately paid family work a further 44% (15% receipts from non-family work, although this may include things like property or inheritance act which may not be classed as ‘family’ but which are part of many family practices). 
  • Median hourly gross rates of pay for all work are about £70 p/h. For publicly funded work this reduces to £57 p/h. Netting this down for expenses this is more like £49 / £40 p/h respectively – before tax.
  • The rates of pay above are BEFORE the proposed cuts which are estimated by the FLBA to be likely to produce a 20-30% cut in pay from legal aid, taking the notional hourly rate for legal aid work down to about £28 p/h before tax. (I bet you pay your plumber more.)
  • Preparation for the first day of a final hearing in a care case can take anything between 3 and 83 hours (!) half taking between 3 and 11 hours. The amount of preparation varies vastly depending on the complexity of the case, as may be expected.

This report certainly describes in statistical form what I see on the ground every day. It is a really thorough piece of work which hopefully will go some way to counter the oft-repeated ‘fat cat’ headlines which no doubt will soon be reappearing in the press.

3 thoughts on “Family Law Bar Report – the lowdown

  1. […] Pink Tape: Family Law Bar Report – the lowdown Although most of the professional press have failed to grasp the concept of ‘embargo’ I, out of politeness, have waited until today to post about this report, which in essence tells you everything that you could hope to know about the family bar. More… […]

  2. Blawg Review #203 « GeekLawyer’s Blog

    […] In the UK there is a venerable (now vulnerable) and well regarded tradition of public finance of some classes of litigation: criminal defendants get Legal Aid, which is conceptually similar to the US public defender system. The main difference is that it has better financed lawyers who don’t have a bazillion clients each with only 5 minutes to prepare a defence in a capital case. Family law is another area financed by the state, albeit inadequately. Of course this is neo-socialism and so Neo-Labour are trying hard to kill it by slices as Lucy Reed (sigh) discusses. […]

  3. […] Pink Tape: Family Law Bar Report – the lowdown Although most of the professional press have failed to grasp the concept of ‘embargo’ I, out of politeness, have waited until today to post about this report, which in essence tells you everything that you could hope to know about the family bar. More… […]

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