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Ditch legal aid for 'planes and trains', chairman tells Bar conference

9 November 2010

In a speech subtitled ‘There’s no more money’, Bar Council chairman Nicolas Green QC has urged barristers to distance themselves from legal aid work.

Green’s calls to modernise, made at the annual Bar conference, included orders for publically funded sets as well as “smug, complacent” barristers to seek work abroad instead.

“I regret to say – because doing publicly funded work is a noble cause – that the Bar will need to diversify away from legal aid work,” Green told members of the Bar on Saturday.

“This is inevitable and many sets are now doing just this. The reality is that legal aid will shrink significantly and there will be long-term pressure on rates.”

He used his speech to summarise the efforts the council had gone to since the election to reshuffle its business in line with the new economic era – and to announce that the burden to make this scheme work was now on the shoulders of individual barristers.

“There can be no disguising the fact that the quality of justice will inevitably be strained,” said Green, in response to swingeing government cuts.

He called for a rethink of the “fundamentals” of the Bar, insisting: “The basics of the Bar are rock solid. We are a low-cost, high-quality profession,” before adding: “The first thing that the Bar must do is to take a long, hard look at itself and prepare for change.

“Change will occur from the most vulnerable of publicly funded sets to the most smug and complacent of specialist, privately funded sets.”

Key changes Green set out included reducing legal aid work, “diversifying” business practice and “exploiting international work”.

Describing efforts the Bar Council has made to forge markets in areas such as China and the Middle East, Green said the Bar’s “stellar” reputation abroad already gives England and Wales a 40 per cent market share of international commercial contracts.

“We must get out of chambers,” rallied Green. “We must get onto planes and trains and get out into foreign markets.”

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