Published: New Major Strategic & Independent Review into the Future Landscape for the Provision of Barrister Services

01 July 2022

Published today, ‘Preparing for the Future: Report of the Strategic Review of the future landscape for The Bar of Ireland’ by EY Consultants, identifies a range of priorities for the Bar and the profession.

Report welcomed by Chair of The Bar of Ireland, Maura McNally SC as:

“a necessary and important body of independent analysis, that should invigorate our strategic focus and priorities”

The Bar of Ireland has today published a new independent report and strategic review by EY on the likely future landscape for the provision of legal services by barristers with a view to identifying a strategic response from the Council to ensure the future of the profession. It follows a year-long process of consultation, analysis, and consideration.

Containing 51 recommendations across themes such as diversity and inclusion, the use of technology, the operations of The Bar of Ireland as well as future growth opportunities for the profession, the report has now been made available to all members of the Law Library for their review and assessment.

Among the key findings contained in the report are that the profession continues to be held in high regard among key stakeholders, but that specific issues around an imbalance in the allocation of work and the demands placed on the profession particularly in the context of Covid-19 challenges need to be addressed.

The report also identifies ongoing issues with fee collection from solicitors and clients to barristers with many feeling downwards pressures when it comes to fees charged for their services.

Commenting on the report, the Chair of The Bar of Ireland, Maura McNally SC, said

“This report was received by the Council in July 2021, following a comprehensive survey of our membership, staff and the legal sector. 16 deeper consultations were held with key stakeholders across the justice sector, as well as a survey of the general public.

“Like any industry and sector, the legal services sector is facing a degree of disruption. As a Council and a profession we need to be aware of the opportunities on the horizon and how the landscape we operate is constantly changing.

“The purpose of this report is to firstly understand the change, and then see where and what opportunities can be preserved and explored. I am happy to say that a number of the conclusions of the report are already being advanced.  This is a necessary and important body of independent analysis, that should invigorate our strategic focus, priorities and our debates as to our future profession.”

The Chief Executive of The Bar of Ireland, Ciara Murphy, added,

“This report and the process underpinning it have provided a useful opportunity for members, staff, and others to examine what our core concerns and priorities should, and consequently the degree of resourcing and urgency around each.

“The issues raised in the report have implications for how we deliver our services, the skillsets on our team and the opportunities to support growth in the profession.  We look forward over the next 3 years, working with Council to advance the recommendations within this Report.”

Key findings within the report include:

  • There is a high regard and standing of the profession amongst legal stakeholders:

The external consultations undertaken report that ‘The Bar of Ireland is held in high esteem and recognised as a very effective and influential lobby group on behalf of members.’ The State Agencies who brief barristers held a shared view that barristers provide good value for money for their services.  Throughout the series of consultations, members of the Law Library were held as esteemed, valued advisors and advocates. 

  • Issues around allocation of work and demands of the profession persist:

Along with some of the positive statements about The Bar of Ireland, there are also some challenging issues for the profession to confront.  For example, the report notes that ‘the unbalanced allocation of available work is a factor in the high attrition rate of junior members within the Law Library’

  • Fee collection from solicitors and clients and delayed payment is a negative issue compounded by the inability of barristers to sue solicitors for outstanding fees. Average fees owed to members are €27,000. 72% believe that there are downward pressures on the fees they charge for their services.  Barristers reported increasing levels of isolation and stress given the demands of the profession, exacerbated by the impact of COVID-19 on work practices.
  • Certain steps are required to create a more competitive marketplace for legal/barrister services:

With members conceding in report that ‘word of mouth is insufficient in a competitive market’, a focus on strengthening the professions opportunities in the legal market, in respect of advisory, cross border work but also direct access was highlighted. Opportunities in new emerging areas of law and international legal services also figured as part of the external environmental analysis.

The main body of the EY Report also includes some other interesting research, assessments and consideration of a wide range of issues including:

  1. The market for legal services in Ireland and the role of the profession therein
  2. The appropriate size for the barrister profession in Ireland
  3. Technology trends in legal services and how this may impact the profession
  4. Existing and future member support services
  5. Whether or not the current business model of the Council/Law Library is ‘fit for purpose’ to ensure equal opportunity for all members of the profession to access and pursue a viable career
  6. The strategic opportunities that should be pursued by the Council to grow and maintain the market for legal services of barristers
  7. How best to harness the financial assets of the Council to underpin any future strategic investment decisions
  8. The resource requirements of the Council to support any future growth/investment decisions

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