protected professions


I wasn’t disagreeing with anything you said - I was really responding to Barney Gumble’s comment on protectionism in professions where being a barrister is the most unprotected profession you could imagine in relation to costs. You see, if I were an advocate, I’d be struggling to buy sandwiches. :smiley:


Yeah I know, I was just fleshing out your point.

It’s very hard to respond to an argument by supplimenting it. There’s a tendency to appear to be rebutting an argument.

I suppose the point that I’m ultimately working up to is that the competition authority appear to have no real desire to actually find ways to reduce legal costs. Instead, they seem to be of the view that reducing the average earnings per lawyer is somehow a good substitute for actual competition. After all, the Irish people aren’t concerned by and large by the actual cost of legal services, so much as the fact that lawyers appear to them to be coining it.

Arguably, it works the other way - the people who are doing all the work can afford to reduce their prices much easier than those who are struggling.

As for protection in the market, it appears that they let any old fool be a barrister these days.


I must say - surprisingly unbiased commentary concerning barristers here today!

The law library is a big pyramid with a small number of senior counsel on top. The Bar Council is dominated by successful senior counsel who have no interest in any reform that will affect them (i.e. any reform), and many of them have lost all their money in the property crash anyway. In response to early 2000s Competition Authority reports threatening to allow private colleges to run barrister courses (in the interests of “competition” of course), the Kings Inns doubled its student intake. This means that the profession is now flooded with people in their first seven years. However, these newbies are not in competition with the Micheal Cush/Bill Shipsey (etc.) of this world. While Sophia Purcell is a bit of a young fogey and the seven-years-to-make-a-shilling is not susceptible of scientific proof (if you’ve not earning €20,000 net of expenses by year 5 you should exit the profession as it ain’t working out for ya) it is a cruel sport for the baby barristas. This follows a four year degree and one/two years (depending on the course) in the Kings Inns (cost: €11,000).

The proposed legal costs refrom (which the IMF is championing) will increase costs in low-value cases but decrease them in high-value cases. I would notice clients becoming more price conscious, but the no foal no fee and losing side pays costs rules mean that litigtaion has different price pressures. Many items of work are done for free. Legal aid fees have been cut by 23% in the last two years – there is no Trade Union for barristers - instead the government asks those who do not want to be paidt he lower fees not to put their name forward in future for legal aid work!! Chartered accountants earn more than the median barrister I would imagine. Plus NAMA/NTMA employees. But there you go !


I think the biggest issue for Joe Public isn’t the day to day fees that the Legal profession charge, or the competition for this work. The things that stick in the Craw of the taxpayers are the likes of the Tribunals, which just look like gigantic black holes for cash, to be funnelled from their universe to an alternate one where everyone has a Brand new Merc & 5 houses !!

The Beef Tribunal set the tone & since then things have just gotten worse. :imp:


Ok, it’s always been a profession tolerant of eccentrics and naerdowells. That more neutral for ya?

So what reforms would you propose, that are being blocked by the few senior cousel who dominate the bar council?

In a way, I think my comment about any old fool being let in is actually kinder than what you are saying. “Flooded” conjures up images of some biblical drowning of the sandwich-less while those with sandwiches a plenty sail off to milder climes. The word newbies is a way of putting them down for being young and inexperienced.

I suppose the real issue is not whether you are earning 20k p.a. after year 5, but whether you are likely to make that or more in the future is the real test. I don’t think being a young or “baby” barrister is any more cruel than starting off any other business. Certainly, it is not as cruel as starting out on your own as a solicitor, as laughinglawyer will be quick to tell you (I think he has already said so on this thread).

I used to think that liberalising the training of barristers was pointless, but I suppose there is a certain logic to it. If a similar standard of education can be obtained for less than 11k, then it would be foolish not to permit it to happen. It’s all very well to try to protect the Kings Inns as an old institution, but students are the last people that should be required to subsidise historical preservation.

The real issue is probably not the training of barristers, nor the independent regulation, but perhaps the mandatory requirement to be a member of the law library in order to practice as and call ones-self a barrister. AFAIK, there is no statute that regulates barristers, so there is no reason in theory why the courts couldn’t recognise some new breakaway law library that has different rules and is not dominated by those pesky senior counsel.

Barristers can’t have a trade union as such, because that would be a breach of competition law. However, they do have a representative body that can and does make submissions to the government as regards state paid legal fees. As regards not putting the name forward, has anyone done that yet? If not, then it shows that they are all willing to act for those reduced fees. As the government says, they can of course refuse to do the work. But so long as someone else will do it (perhaps the disensandwiched barristers under 7 years) the government can reduce the price and keep reducing it. That’s the unfortunate nature of market reality.

I dunno. I suppose there is greater disparity in fees, so some would and others wouldn’t.


Perhaps some of the distortion from senior counsel could be reduced by fixed (relatively low for senior counsel, reasonable for junior counsel) fees for non-combat state work? In theory the tribunals are non-combat, so that might be a decent place to start, but then the state would also have to take the same attitute to the tribunal counsel, not just to any that witnesses might require. It would also require the courts, I suppose, to apply the same fixed level of fee in any case the state was involved in. Would this be a denial of justice? Where would ancillary costs come into this? I’m sure some cases are more expensive to pursue than others?


The current scenario is that the state usually does pay fixed fees in things like tribunals and standard cases. In more complex matters they pay different fees. Legal aid is paid at parity to the state, so reducing state fees has a double reduction in that it decreases the fees to the other side as well. Arguably, there would be an incentive for the tribunals to finish on time if the barristers were paid a global fee with no daily refreshers.

Ultimately, as always, fees are set in the margins. So the fees (in theory anyway) are set at the lowest level at which the state’s barristers of choice will do the work. A lot depends on how much risk they assess in the case. So in a constitutional challenge that they think is highly unlikely to succeed they might only instruct junior counsel, in a case that is likely to suceed they get junior and senior, where there is a real risk they might lose they get the top tier senior counsel, and for things like NAMA they just go on a spending spree.

The most logical way to increase competition would be for the state to have a broader panel of barristers doing their work instead of briefing the same barristers over and over again. But that would be far too sensible, no?

More discussion on it here, but its not an easy sector to increase competition in:


Absolutely and that was sort of what I was getting at - if there are loads of junior counsel not making much, fees should be falling. Perhaps VCs are looking in the wrong place and setting up a law firm staffed with JCs would be a money winner :smiley:


What do the Viet Cong have to do with the Irish legal profession?

Unfortunately though, the other types of VCs can’t buy into it because limited companies are not yet permissible.

As set out above, the reason why there are loads (well, loads is a highly subjective term implying oversupply which I don’t entirely agree with) of junior counsel and fees are not falling is that the competition authority has, at best, applied traditional pro-competitive tactics to a market that would not react to them or, at worst, simply trying to decrease average lawyers’ salaries without too much thought as to actually decreasing fees.

Per hour billing sounds like a good idea, except that it will actually increase fees. But let’s say that the top barrister in Ireland charges €400 per hour. Supposing that barrister is on one side and another, supposedly inferior (i.e. less senior and less well known) is on the other. Supposing the other barrister wins the case and gets their costs against the other side. How do they decide what hourly rate the “inferior” barrister should get? He/she is clearly not objectively inferior, as he/she won the case. So in that scenario, there is no incentive to the less busy barrister charging any less than the busier barrister.

A second scenario would be where, for example, a business wants an opinion on a difficult point of law. They have the options between two barristers, charging €1,000 or €500. Rationally they should choose the cheaper barrister. But legal services are irrational goods, so the business will often think that the €1,000 opinion is better value long term, even though it is more expensive. Legal services don’t really work on price competition between two barristers. However, If both barristers offered their services at €1,000 and the client asked them to reduce their fee to €500 they may well do so. That is how competition can come to legal services, not by increasing the numbers of barristers.


Definitely no statute.
I believe that once one is called to the bar, one can stand before the court. One does not need to be a member of the law library. The only reason to be a member of the LL is for networking purposes (and have an office close to the courts).
There was a disciplinary issue in the Law Library before where some senior barrister was to be disciplined. His solution was to leave the LL but remain a barrister. Because he was senior, he had no need of networking opportunities yet could appear before the Courts. They changed the Code of Conduct after that…


Brolene is not on prescription! It is , or should be, available without prescription in any pharmacy in this country. Anyone who says otherwise is wrong! There are other eye drops and creams tho with which longterm use can lead to ulceration of the cornea, or a little sore abrasion in the surface of the eye. These are on prescription. Other eye creams also on prescription :neutral_face:


That’s the thing isn’t it? If someone joins the law library and leaves, there is nothing to stop them from continuing to practice as a barrister, and judges etc are unlikely to tell them otherwise.

Why then can’t someone with a KI degree or one of the new barrister qualifications just say “I don’t want to be part of the law library, but I want to be a barrister”. Other than the Legal Practitioners Act, 1929, I can’t see any act that requires a barrister to be a member of the law library, although I think it is an undertaking given prior to being called to the bar. Perhaps new legislation would be required that anyone can apply to be called to the bar and it shall be granted provided they have a qualifying degree (or are already qualified abroad/as a solicitor) and meet any other requirements e.g. no criminal record. That would seem the logical way to encourage competition, as it would de facto remove Kings Inn’s monopoly, rather than the present system which requires the KI to make the changes themselves.

It’s all very oblique.


Rationally they should choose the better barrister based on ability, experience and reputation. A correct opinion is worth ten times as much as an incorrect opinion. A correct opinion with a strong reputation behind it is half as valuable again of the opinon is to be cited in negotiations. I would apply the same logic to doctors. Anyone purchasing on price alone lacks experience of the real world imho. They’ll learn in time though.


Yes of course. And the reason why GPs refer to consultants and solicitors refer to barristers rather than direct access, is because they will know the appropriate person to refer it to. Regular users of a service may know anyway, but most people will not know.

Legal services is even harder for joe soap to understand who to go to in, because medical specialities tend to be based on specific areas of the body rather than specific diseases, while barristers tend to be focussed on different areas of law as opposed to different areas of business. People will know instinctively which part of the body has the problem (usually) but very often don’t know what area of law they are after (the amount of people who come on to asking who is the best lawyer to deal with “computer law” is astounding).

So in the absence of specific knowledge of the skills of the two barristers, most would opt for the more expensive one. You could even have a situation (believe it or not) where a solicitor advises a certain barrister who quotes €500 and they get a second quote from someone less good for €1,000. Even though the solicitor will advise the client that the first barrister is both cheaper and better, the client will often pick the latter because of a belief that more expensive = better.

So this is the irrational market that they are trying to make more competitive. Short of publishing recommended guildelines for the costs of every conceivable type of legal work (and this could be highly biased) or shaking every consumer of legal services up and down until they go off and barter, I don’t see the actual cost of legal services going down in the medium term. However, the CA will tell the country about how lawyer’s salaries have gone down since their reforms were implemented, and the people of Ireland will rejoyce.

After all, whenever the legal aid statistics come out, which do people complain about most - the €50m price tag, or the lawyers who earn €1m+ for their firm? I suspect that if it cost €100m but the highest earner earned €100k people would be a lot happier with the legal aid system.


Posted on the jobs thread:

One of the only areas with full employment for graduates. Do we see any efforts to double the course places to fill this need?


@johnnyskeleton – I agree with your views in general. The Law Library is indeed a magnet for eccentrics.

  • I think a fused profession would work just fine – solicitors are sometimes glorified post-boxes/secretaries in litigation, paid more than the junior counsel or senior counsel solely because of their overheads and not because of their qualifications/experience;

  • Chambers would work just fine – they have existed in practice since barristers moved from the courts to nearby offices in large numbers from 1990 – despite problems with increasing the need for connections to get in;

  • Per hour billing would be more fair than the brief fee/instruction fee system, as many court appearances are done for free (as they do not “tax”) and similarly many obligatory items of paperwork do not “tax” which is just baffling. Accountants are trusted not to deliberately take longer than necessary to prepare accounts – why not barristers? Also – solicitors charge by the hour: why not barristers? It would allow for more objective price competition & operates informally in relation to researching and preparing opinions and for consultations already in my practice.

Why should the engineer/doctor who is on stand-by for 5 days be paid e.g. €500 per day (for keeping his phone on) whereas the barrister is not paid for those 5 days waiting in the Round Hall?

  • Abolition of the junior/senior distinction would work just fine, with a second counsel only being brought in if there was objective need. This would have to occur in tandem with fees reform given that brief fees are back-loaded.

There will always be a need for professional, expert, authoritative, legal advice and representation. People will pay good money to ensure their rights are protected, personal and business. Vested interests want to make sure that they pay good money for the rest of the stuff also. Drinks licensing applications costing €10,000? I could go on…

I would disagree on one point – it is worse (financially) being an impoverished barrister earning less than €0 when you take into account expenses and a two-year unpaid apprenticeship, followed by meagre earnings for a few years, than earning €20,000 for your three-year solicitor’s apprenticeship and having a salary thereafter. I have every sympathy for solicitors in the current climate (€10,000 insurance for a solicitor in a mid-size firm with a 10 year no-claims-history anyone?) but many barristers are in limbo for years before they find out whether they have a future at all.

I do not think that there is any legal requirement to be a member of the Law Library to have a right of audience before the courts. It merely provides administrative assistance and uses peer pressure to ensure membership. Witness the snide comments regularly directed towards Brief Counsel, who provide barrister sourcing services for local authorities and those entitled to brief a barrister on a direct professional access basis.

@yoganmahew – allocation of State work has always been done on a party political basis/legal insider basis for about 50% of the work, maybe even 75%. The rest is allocated on merit. Witness the number of judge’s children (junior counsel) involved in the Paddy McKillen case or the nursing homes charges cases on the State side. Similarly the other soft numbers (Garda compensation cases; personal injuries cases involving the State in particular springs to mind). Fees are in general lower on the State side, and tribunal fees (for new tribunals only) were lowered some years ago.

More generally, a 4-year qualified barrister is not in competition with a 15-year qualified barrister. He simply does not have the training or experience & would not be able to run a complicated case in court. IMHO year 12 is about the median year for when a barrister is fully ready for battle. Also, IMO, fees are down for barristers, but there is loads of work out there – people with no money chasing people with no money through the courts…


But really, how the hell is any judge supposed to maintain orderly proceedings with a continuous stream of angry people a hollerin’ and a squealin’ coming in one door of the courtroom and out the other, honestly I ask you? :confused:


The first batch of entrants through the new graduate courses should be qualifying next year so I imagine there will be a significant increase in numbers and this should increase over the next few years.


On a fused profession, I think this should not be imposed, but should not be discouraged either. When it makes economic sense for a firm of solicitors to have in house advocates, I’m sure it will happen. Solicitors have had rights of audience for years now, but with a few very notable exceptions, they tend not to use it.

I don’t think it is a fair comment to say that solicitors are sometimes glorified post boxes or secretaries in litigation. Bad solicitors can maybe get barristers to do both the barristering part and the solicitoring part for them while they sit around collecting fees, but good solicitors are usually on the ball and are as much if not more involved in the case as the barrister is. The flipside of the coin to what you said is that sometimes barristers may seem to be a mere puppet being given last minute instructions by the hard working solicitor, parroting them off and taking all the glory. The truth, I think, lies somewhere in between.

Despite the similarities, sharing offices is not the same as a chambers as there is no official sharing of the work, clarks, chambers as an entity with its own reputation or restrictions on the numbers of new entrants. Plus, a barrister without an office in Ireland is not stigmatised like a barrister without a chambers is in England.

Accountants often don’t charge by the hour either, preferring instead to charge by the joblot. It makes them more efficient (not a matter of trust, but there is far more motivation to get 20 €100 sets of accounts done in a day than there is to put in 10 €100 hours, hence it is generally more productive).
As you have already said yourself, hourly rates would mean that lower end cases would become more expensive, and higher end would become less expensive. Indeed, there is no logical reason why a professional who charges say €200 for time spent on a High Court case would offer their services for €10 in the District Court.
IMO a scale of all the various fees should be made public and updated. It should be set out by the taxing masters and county registrars and be public knowledge (accessible on or such). Thus, if I want to bring a debt recovery action, I first go to and find out that for a circuit court debt recovery (like mine) the scale fee is €1,500 uncontested, €3,000 contested and €500 for every adjourned date or motion. I then ring solicitors and ask them to do it for an all in fee of €1k uncontested/ 2k contested which they will stick to. Alternatively, I can look up the scale first and if I ring a solicitor who tells me that he charges a minimum of 10k to do a circuit court debt collection, then I know he is overcharging.
It would also give a baseline for no win no fee orders of costs. E.g. the person who is suing me has no money but gets some lawyers to act for him anyway. They find a good defence to the proceedings and I ultimately lose. Those lawyers, having never really thought about getting a fee, have now been given an order to get their fees from me. They can now charge the scale fees which would probably be accepted, or they could ask for more and try to justify it on the basis of the complexity of the case as a form of “uplift”. Equally, I could say that the case was straightforward and so they should get less than scale. The judge who heard the case could decide that, which would make a lot more sense than taking a year to send it to taxation.

Because they work for a hospital. If they are self employed doctors or engineers, they can’t charge €2,500 to their only client that week because they were on stand-by for the rest of the week.

Firstly, I think people like the distinction of senior counsel. Secondly, it ignores the division of labour that takes place between junior and senior counsel. Running a court case is very hard, and it requires several people. Even in the US, where there is no distinction in many states between different types of lawyer, there are still leading counsel, secondary counsel, and support counsel. There is no reason in theory why one really good lawyer couldn’t run a murder trial on his own, for example. However, experience shows that several lawyers are required for such a task. So before the junior/senior distinction is abolished, and before it ceases to be the norm that there are at least two counsel in most high court cases, perhaps it would make sense to permit senior counsel to act without juniors for a while, to see how that works.

I suppose a barrister earning nothing from practice is still not as bad as a solicitor who is not only earning nothing from it, but is also paying the expenses of the firm to the tune of 10ks of thousands every year. I can’t imagine any barristers would survive if they had even half of a solicitor’s overheads in the first few years.

I think there is something about it, but I’m not quite sure where it comes from.

I’m not sure I’d agree with that - all barristers are in competition with each other, or at least juniors with juniors and seniors with seniors. I also strongly disagree with the suggestion that it takes 12 years before a barrister is fully ready to go into court. That’s even more pessimistic than the 5 years to break even article girl.
Quite the opposite I would say; whether they are ready or not they have to be in court from day 1.


@johnnyskeleton - Many valid criticisms of some kites flown in relation to reform.

“All in fees” have a populist appeal, but unfortunately one man’s open and shut “debt collection” case is another’s invitation to dredge up six years of late deliveries, defective hinges/chipped paintwork/poor manners. There are scale fees in the District Court and they are quite low. The level of fees that tax in the Circuit Court/High Court for uncontested cases also tax at a low level. Costs only really mount (on a recoverable basis) if there is a full contest.

In relation to scale fees, this would be fantastic if administered properly. However, the Rules of the Superior Courts 1986 (still in force) contain the scale costs in the High Court. These haven’t been updated: since 1962! (They were simply re-incorporated into the 1986 Rules…) Similarly, the PIAB Book of Quantum for personal injuries cases has not been updated since it was drafted in 2003. But maybe the new government will be different and efficient and all those things…