Too many barristers in Irish legal system, report finds

Most barristers believe they have a future but many younger ones leave after five to 10 years

Ireland has too many barristers for its population and many younger barristers leave the Law Library after five to 10 years there, according to the first independent review of the profession here.

However, while most barristers surveyed reported downward pressure on their incomes, particularly as a result of the Covid-19 restrictions, most, 60 per cent, see a future for themselves in the profession.

The council of the Bar of Ireland, which commissioned consultants EY to carry out the review in 2021 to assist in planning for the future in changing legal landscape, published the report on Friday.

Bar council chair Maura McNally said the purpose of this “necessary” independent analysis was to understand changes in the legal services sector and see “where the opportunities can be preserved and explored”.

Of the review’s 51 recommendations, including for improving diversity, inclusion, training and marketing of the profession, a number are already being advanced, she said.

The council disagrees with a core recommendation to allow senior and junior counsel and pupils work together in non-commercial groupings but says discussions on its independent sole trader business model will continue.

There are 2,852 qualified barristers, 45 per 100,000 of the population in Ireland, of whom 2,124 are members of the Law Library. Comparator jurisdictions have an average 25 barristers per 100,000 people, and EY considered a conservative appropriate number for the Law Library is 1,515.

The review found barristers are facing serious challenges, including unbalanced allocation of work, fees from as little as €25 a day in District Court criminal legal aid cases, problems with fee recovery from solicitors and an increasingly competitive market for legal services.

On the plus side, it found potential for expansion of legal services here and noted three out of four members of the public have a positive view of the profession and key State bodies consider they provide good value for money.

Mary Carolan

Mary Carolan

Mary Carolan is the Legal Affairs Correspondent of the Irish Times