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Third of barristers see cuts and changes to legal aid as “critical challenge”, LexisNexis report finds

Family and criminal barristers handling publicly funded work consider the cuts and changes to legal aid as a major concern, a report by LexisNexis UK has revealed.

An online survey, completed by 768 barristers from across the profession in England and Wales, found that nearly 30% of those surveyed rated this as their number one most critical challenge.

One respondent was quoted as saying: “Legal Aid/CPS fees are unsustainably low – there is a growing move away from them.”

Another said: “Fees for many cases do not in any way reflect the amount of work that goes into it and delivering a first-class service.”

A third said: “The legal aid crisis is fundamental. Even as an experienced, successful barrister I spend much of my time working for free. I spend endless days, evenings and hours perfecting a case knowing I will not be paid for it.”

These financial pressures, combined with the long, unsociable hours, has made managing wellbeing a critical challenge facing barristers, according to the report.

This comes after the President of the Family Division warned in December last year about the “unremitting” pressures on the family justice system and revealed that he had “encouraged each of the 42 Designated Family Judges [‘DFJ’] to facilitate a conversation with all those who use or work within their area to develop a simple statement of understanding as to what is, and more importantly what is not, to be expected in terms of working hours and working practices.”

Last week the Family Court in Birmingham issued a protocol last week encouraging better health and wellbeing practices.

However, overall barristers across the profession are optimistic, according to the report. Nearly three quarters (67%) of the barristers surveyed reported that their own practice is either stable or growing, compared to three years ago – and two in three plan to remain stable or grow in the next three to five years.

On technology, 97% of barristers think that that technology will be increasingly important in their work in the near future. 57% of respondents used paid for online legal research and guidance, while 52% used document management systems and 48% reported using document review technology (advanced proofing, clause checker).

Christopher O’Connor, Head of Segment Marketing at LexisNexis, said: “There is optimism across the profession, but clearly the Bar is at breaking point. How barristers operate, and approach work will have to change, for the Bar to be able to futureproof their sector within the legal profession.

“Chambers need to consider new tools and legal technology that can free their barristers and staff from time-consuming manual tasks to reduce long working hours’ and open up new business development avenues.”

The full LexisNexis report can be viewed here.