Monopolies on training

I read with interest that the ACCC was moving to strip the Australasian College of Surgeons of their control of surgical training. In conversation with a doctor friend, I discovered that the cost of surgical training is exorbitant for young doctors, and one has to complete a preliminary training course before one can specialise.

It got me thinking about another training course: the Bar Readers’ Course. Now there’s a monopoly on training if ever I saw one. The cost of the Bar Readers Course has now gone up from around $1000 to around $4000. It really irritates me that the Bar Readers’ Course is so expensive. There’s nowhere else I can go to get training – that’s my only option if I want to sign the Bar Roll. Then there’s the mentoring period, and then there’s setting up your office before you’ve even started to earn money. Then you’ve got to work pretty darn hard to establish yourself.

And they still keep asking why there aren’t more female barristers. It’s a no brainer really. If you’re like me and you have a young family, you don’t have the cash to do the Readers’ Course and survive on little or no income while you set yourself up. My fear is that even if I did have the capital to set myself up, I would rarely see my family as I worked to establish my reputation. I would have to accept every brief that came my way.

The funny thing is that despite this expensive training, you still see a lot of bad advocacy out there. To be fair, in some (if not many) cases it was probably a direct result of the poor quality of the brief and last minute instructions rather than lack of skill on the part of counsel. I know of one poor barrister who was very embarrassed when she accepted a extremely last minute brief. The application had already started, so she ran down to court to make her appearance, and then found when she got there that the brief didn’t actually name the party for whom she was acting (she worked it out by process of elimination). But in other cases, there are no excuses. For example, I once saw a Court of Appeal Judge ask a barrister how a particular case he cited was relevant, and the barrister replied:
“Ah, I don’t actually know, but I can read out the sentence in Williams about that case for you…”
The Judge (who was testy at the best of times) exploded on the spot:
COUNSEL, I AM PERFECTLY CAPABLE OF READING A SENTENCE IN WILLIAMS MYSELF…” etc etc etc. The tirade went on for a while.

Perhaps it’s a matter of things always looking easier as a spectator. But I think I could have done a better job myself standing on my head with my arms tied behind my back (and without any training). Economists out there might argue that surely it’s a self-regulating system – barristers who aren’t any good won’t get briefs? No. I beg to differ. The thing that amazed me was that these guys still keep getting briefs. Once a firm has found a barrister it is comfortable with, it tends to keep briefing that barrister.

The thing is, I can’t even go to the Bar to see if I can do better than those guys, because it is such a large financial commitment. Maybe I should contact the ACCC…

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2 Comments

Filed under bar, law, legal education

2 responses to “Monopolies on training

  1. Anonymous

    Dear Legal Eagle,

    Normally I am in substantial agreement with your posts and don’t have time to respond. This time I disagree a bit but do have time to respond (because I am procrastinating about drafting a document that I strongly believe shouldn’t be drafted).

    I suspect that those who are training to be surgeons would be stunned to hear that we are complaining about $4000 for a course, which doesn’t seem like a lot to pay for 12 weeks’ intensive training and an instant circle of colleagues. I agree that it’s a compulsory payment and that training isn’t required for some legal eagles and has apparently little effect on others… However, much of the value of the barristers’ profession lies in the traditions and practices of the Bar and the emphasis on being an officer of the court and I think there is something to be said for a consistent approach to that (although I would agree that it seems to have little effect on some).

    I’m not sure that I agree that the barriers to entry to the profession of barrister are too high. The fact is that being a barrister means opening your own small business and requires long hours and is likely to result in a restricted income-flow in the short to medium term. There are steps that the profession takes to lower the barriers to entry – there aren’t many small businesses that get free office space for the first nine months and a practice of referrals of work.

    That said, I personally have a lot of saving to go before I apply for the bar readers’ course. That’s because I haven’t had a great deal of spare cash in the past, I’m pretty risk averse and there are other people who rely on my income (and I’m not just referring to credit card suppliers!). Unfortunately, I never seem to be attracted to wealthy guys and so I can’t rely on the support of a partner, which seems to be one of the easier routes to the Bar.
    This means that I have a choice between getting together a deposit for a house or going to the Bar. Currently the Bar is winning and the house will have to wait. As for having children, I have no idea where they might fit in (but my doctor keeps telling me not to leave it too late!)

  2. Legal Eagle

    I think it’s fantastic when people put their opinions out there – so I’m glad you procrastinated instead of drafting the horrible document.

    I have noticed that often people need the support of a third party to be able to afford to go to the Bar. Alas, neither my husband nor I are rich, so there goes that option…

    I should make it clear that I wasn’t arguing for the abolition of the training course – just some competition so that we could have some different (and cheaper)options. Or some support by government. I agree that is really important to have a consistent approach to training, and to be aware of one’s duty to the Court.

    My husband and I spent a number of years saving up for a house deposit, or for me to go to the Bar. But when we found out I was pregnant, all the money which could have gone to a house deposit/Bar Readers’ Course was spent. (Funnily enough, most of it went to the obstetricians and hospital, so I guess those surgeons recouped their training fees!) Babies are expensive creatures.

    I guess that you’re right – starting up any new business is difficult and time-consuming. I just wish it was an option that I could explore sooner rather than later. But hopefully I will be able to do so in the future.

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