Gross earnings at the bar

Legalfutures report today on the Bar Council getting permission to plug a pensions gap through raised Practising Certificate fees. The story contains interesting data on Barrister’ earnings.  It seems these must be gross earnings (I assume therefore the numbers do not include deductions for chambers and expenses and of course tax). The Bar Council’s original paper predicts what they think Barristers will be earning this year, and so I have taken the data and put it in a graph to illustrate the distribution.

bar-gross-earnings

A second interesting point emerging from the LF story is that the £30-60k band contains a ‘significant minority’ who are from the employed Bar so in broad (and crude) terms, if we were imagining this as a distribution of the self-employed bar we might want to depress the second column a bit more than the others.

A barristers’ clerk tells me that, “working on Chambers expenses of 15 to 25% plus travel, books, income replacement insurance etc,” one would take off 30 to 40% from gross earnings to calculate a crude figure, “to be safe”. Though that figure has been disputed.

So using 30% as a cautious guide, [it looks like overheads will bite harder at the lower end]* the columns above would be 0-2ok, £20-40K, £40- 60k and so on. I have not taken much interest in Bar earnings, so it may be readers can point me towards better data. This suggests about half earning £6ok or more before tax (but query how taking out employed barristers would effect this). Given the risks posed in seeking to qualify and establish as a barrister, and assuming the varied earnings associated with certain types of work, these are interesting numbers; but law students tend to focus on the earnings of solicitors at the very visible and well-paid end of the profession when thinking of career trajectories, and that would be a mistake, partly because there is a harmful tendency to equate success with money and money with prestige.


*The Legal Services Board published research and had this to say about estimating overheads:

With regards to costs a 2007 survey of barristers, that achieved a 35% response rate, found, “that overheads and expenses accounted for between 11% and 30% of barristers turnover. Median billings were between £100,000 and £125,000 with 20% billing less than £80,000 and 20% more than £200,000 in the year. About 13% bill more than £300,000, and 11% less than £40,0004.” In 2009 it was reported that overheads at chambers are around 35% of turnover5. In 2010 it was reported that: “The ratio of overheads to total fee income in specialist commercial and civil sets was circa 8-14%. In more middle of the road mixed common law sets the ratio was circa 15-22%. In family sets the ratio was 18-25%. In criminal sets the ratio was circa 18-30%. The figures exclude individual barristers‘ expenses such as travel and professional insurance6.”

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About Richard Moorhead

Director of the Centre for Ethics and Law and Professor of Law and Professional Ethics at the Faculty of Laws, University College London with an interest in teaching and research on the legal ethics, the professions, legal aid, access to justice and the courts.
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