‘If you want a sustainable life it’s not for you’: The reality of criminal law

Thousands of barristers will walk out of work today, in a protest at forthcoming legal aid cuts which they say will leave the profession on an unsustainable footing.

Here, a legal professional talks to Politics.co.uk, on condition of anonymity, about the challenges his colleagues face as they try to make ends meet:

"Most junior practitioners wouldn't touch criminal law with a barge pole. If you want a sustainable life, if you want a house and a mortgage, it's not for you.

"I'm a practitioner who has experience of the criminal Bar. I won't take on that work in the future because I can see the funding model is unsustainable.

"The risks are massively fluctuating income and the prospect of cases being dropped by the Crown halfway through your preparation. In that case you're unlikely to get paid for the work you've put in.

"The attrition at my end basically happens at the decision-making stage about what kind of law you want to practice. Can I make a sustainable living from criminal law? Not if I'm going to earn £15,000 a year for the first few years, especially if I've got debts. The maths doesn't work. You can't live in major city in the UK – travel, pay tax and pay your Chamber fees  – on that income.

"It's not avaricious. It's simple facts. You're paying for your own holiday, your own pension, your own sick leave.

"The junior barristers I know are really up against it. They are completely maxed out with loans. Their payments are very delayed and minimal. They're borrowing money to sustain a career.

"People say it's going to become a hobby for people with a trust fund.

"And in exchange the state gets a flexible workforce with very high standards of professionalism. I can't see how those standards are maintained if a viable living isn't available.

"The reality is barristers are diversifiying, they're leaving the areas which don't pay.

"Specialist solicitors firms will go to the wall.

"For the poor, it will be a very rough and ready form of justice.

"Top silk will make a living from high-paying private crime – the Max Clifford case, that sort of thing.

"But if it's you or I, you need the state to fund your lawyer. If the lawyers are unwilling to get involved in the system, you wind up with much less skilled lawyers because there's a brain drain. Then the profession goes into decline."