Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Standing at the Bar

I was watching Legal Eagles, RTÉ1's excellent documentary following people around the Irish Courts, last night. One thing that amazed me was the impoverished position of trainee barristers. Poor souls, they don't earn a bean, at least until the built a business and then earn lots and lots. Nothing like solicitors though, the real objects of my jealousy.

Apparently the two-tier solicitor/barrister division is being investigated by the Competition Authority at the moment. The consultancy reports on solicitors and barristers can be seen here and here (both pdf). Solicitors prepare cases and then hire barrisors to present them to the court. The system, with barristers depending on solicitors for work is hardly transparent.

Still, it's possible that there's not much wrong here. Of course, a solicitor could just give jobs to insiders, but it strikes me that they would be better served, not least financially, in finding the best person for the job. A case of patronage driven by quality.

I'd be more worried about who ends up in law in the first place. The investment required to enter the industry is huge, and the series suggests that the law profession has come up with some great tricks to keep their shop closed to the great unwashed. Surely a democratic state should be drawing its lawyers, and ultimately under the British and Irish systems, its judges, from across society, not from a narrow band of those who are curently welcome into the profession. I'm always a bit sceptical of the idea that parliaments should look like the populations they represent, but with the legal profession I'm not sure.

Update: I only had time for a quick glance at the reports, and the final conclusions include concern over closed shops for the training of barristers and solicitors. I suspect that the consultants' worries about this 'restricting the number of entrants' into both professions are not justice-based, but are rooted in the anti-competitive tendencies that are produced by this. Still, it's interesting that they note it. I still naively hope for a moment to read the full report, though of course the Competition Authority might not come to the same conclusions as the consultants did, so anything we draw from the reports is necessarily provisional.

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