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…