Barristers are voicing concerns about pay as law firms and their clients lag on bill payments.
The global financial crisis is being blamed by barristers who are not receiving payment as quickly as they used to. “In the last six to eight months, when the GFC suddenly became a massive talking point, there came an increase in the lag time for counsel to get paid,” Brisbane barrister David Topp told The New Lawyer.
“Generally speaking there are some standard clients who are dragging the chain close to 12 months now,” he said.
While he admits he hasn’t done “any rigorous polling”, anecdotally counsel are not getting paid as quickly as they were before the crisis, he said.
But vice president of the Australian Bar Association, Peter Riordan S.C., argued barristers have traditionally been paid late. “It’s one of the challenges of coming to the Bar. Effectively you don’t expect to be paid much of anything within the next 12 months.”
Riordan said that because the mainstay of the Bar has traditionally been personal injuries work, which was typically not paid until the case finished, barristers have always had to be patient about receiving their fees.
“So you would go along the entirety of the case as a barrister and not be paid for the work you did along the way. At the end of he case, presuming it was successful, you would be paid. That was the way it was conducted,” Riordan said.
While personal injuries are no longer the life blood of the bar, and a much greater percentage of the Bar is not commercial-related, the payment system has not radically changed.
“They tend to expect to be paid as they go. I would have thought for the majority of barristers, their average fee would be paid about six months after they bill it.”
Riordan admits, however, “the global financial crisis won’t help it”.
Many of the large commercial firms are more inclined to pay and get money to their barristers quickly. They have systems in place that pull money from clients relatively quickly. Smaller firms are typically less forthcoming. Both Riordan and Topp note, however, it is not the firms that are not paying up, but the clients they are representing.
“It’s one of the realities of being a barrister. Most accept they will not be paid promptly, whether or not it’s a global financial crisis,” Riordan said.