The rising cost of doing business is preventing almost two thirds of barristers from growing their practice, new research has revealed.
Legal analyst LexisNexis, who publishes the annual figures, say the challenges facing legal professionals are shifting due to rapid regulatory and consumer changes in the last decade.
Legal aid cuts and the digitisation of the courts, for example, have squeezed an already competitive sector, the authors note.
According to the survey of 768 barristers, just one third of practices has grown in size and revenue in the past three years, while 36 per cent maintained size and 21 per cent declined.
“When we asked our barristers about the future of the Bar itself, the outlook was far less positive. Many cited cuts to legal aid and the move towards fixed costs as major threats,” the report authors say.
The greatest challenges facing barristers, meanwhile, include falling fees, growing competition, the rising costs of doing business, and poor mental wellbeing.
The findings suggest that “excessive rents and business rates” are threatening the profitability of barristers’ chambers, while one in five barristers report “managing wellbeing and resilience” as their most critical challenge, reflecting the pressure on professionals to work longer hours for less money.
The next most commonly cited challenge was “delays in receiving fees in private cases”, followed by “technology challenges” and “increased regulation”.
Commenting on the study, 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.”