The number of young lawyers joining the NSW Bar has jumped significantly over the last two years, leaving many junior barristers scrambling for work.
Statistics provided by the NSW Bar Association show that the total number of readers completing the Bar Practice Course each year has jumped from 60 in 2008 to 83 in 2010, equating to an increase of 38.3 per cent, while the total number of barristers currently at the NSW Bar is around 2100.
The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) and the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations (DEEWR), however, have indicated that the number of barristers across Australia has increased dramatically, with a growth of almost 64 per cent over the last two years. The statistics also reveal that there are approximately 4200 barristers currently practicing in NSW - over half the total number of practicing barristers in Australia.
According to Alastair McConnachie, deputy executive director of the NSW Bar Association, the ABS and DEEWR statistics are way off the mark.
"There is an increase, but nowhere near the magnitude of that suggested by the Department," he told Lawyers Weekly.
"It could be that the Department has fallen prey to an old chestnut - in NSW, solicitors who do advocacy work are allowed to call themselves 'barristers and solicitors', even though they're not members of the Bar. Perhaps the Department has factored in these people as being barristers, when they're really solicitors who do some court appearances."
McConnachie added that while the numbers in each practice course have been up and down over the past few years, there is nothing to indicate any consistent pattern of increase.
"The overall numbers at the Bar have remained remarkably steady at around 2100," he said.
But according to one anonymous Sydney-based barrister, the recent increase in young barristers - even if not as dramatic as inferred by the government statistics - has been noticeable and has led to difficulties for many junior barristers in finding work.
"It's really quiet. I have been at the Bar for three years and the first two-and-a-half years were really full on," she told Lawyers Weekly.
"The last six months have been very quiet. Many civil cases have settled. My friends who do crime have the big problem of empty diaries ... [and] in that case, the barrister is left very broke."
She also speculates that the comparatively large numbers of new barristers are directly related to the global financial crisis (GFC).
"[During the GFC] firms stopped hiring and many lawyers returned from overseas jobs, especially in London, and because they couldn't get work, they came to the bar," she said.
"Too many juniors equal not enough work. And when silks are quiet, which they are, there is less work for juniors."