Last night I didn't sleep. Well in fact, I did sleep for a little while; in my dream I remembered the problems that had been keeping me awake and the stress actually woke me up again. I have now completed the 12 months stage of pupillage, although I have to do 18 months with my chambers before I can apply for tenancy so there's no news on that front as yet. But I do now face the prospect of no more guaranteed earnings, only earning the money that is paid in to chambers some months after the work was done and completely at the mercy of an entirely unsuitable "Lord Chancellor" who may or may not decide to slash fees even further just because I deign to represent those people who are most in need of representation but are the least able to pay for it.
Since I started this blog I have found myself made redundant, struggled through months of unemployment, and on a number of occasions found myself homeless. Despite all of that, I have never felt as vulnerable as I feel now. I have enough money to last me perhaps another 6 weeks and after that I will have nothing. In fact, worse than that, I will still have my BVC loan repayments to worry about. The only option available is to go further into debt without the remotest idea about how I will ever claw my way out of it. So should I give up?
Not a chance.
I love this job, and I'm told I'm good at it. Not only that, but I cannot walk away knowing that I'm doing something that is so valuable. I may only be doing summary trials, rather than high profile murder cases at the Old Bailey, but for the clients, a conviction is a conviction. The threat of prison, for however short a sentence is still prison. If I don't force myself to find a way through this mire, why should anyone else? I wont be part of the statistics, I wont be sensible and walk away from an unsustainable career path that is going to drive me into poverty and debt, because I can't. If I do, how can I expect other people to take my place? What if one day I need legal representation and can't pay for it? Who will be left to assist me when I need the help? Serco? G4S? Perhaps the prison van driver will help me draft my grounds of appeal as I'm conveyed to Holloway for a crime I didn't commit...
The dismantling of the publicly funded Bar has been ongoing for over a decade, but it is accelerating. The Circuit leaders and senior figures at the Bar can continue to debate what the best course of action is, and perhaps they will eventually decide on something, which may even work. Whatever the decision is, I'll follow it. Ultimately I'm not earning anything anyway so what have I got to lose?? I don't know what the collective solution is, and I don't pretend to. What I do know is that there may still be thousands of applicants for pupillage, but the retention of pupils is becoming a problem. The decision to give up at the end of 12 months is no longer a rarity. I know of at least 3 pupils at criminal sets who have done the sensible thing and walked away. I don't mean to sound self-complimentary here, but every person who manages to beat the odds and get pupillage must have the potential to be a great advocate. The talent is leaving before it even gets started.
Bar Students - heed this warning - it is as bad as they say it is when you go on your mini-pupillages and you're told not to come to the Bar, or "for god's sake don't do crime". In fact, it is getting worse.
But please, do it anyway. I don't want to be the one to have to turn out the lights.