Income of Junior Bar

The Bar carried out a comprehensive survey on the income of the Junior Bar recently. The results confirmed our understanding that the Junior Bar is not being over-paid as some would speculate. Indeed, far from they being paid in multiples of their London counterpart, Juniors here are, on average, only paid a fraction of what London Juniors are paid.  A total of 241 Juniors responded to the survey of which 175 (or 73%) are under 10 years's call.

The results of the survey is shown in the Table attached. It should be noted that figures given by the Juniors are monthly average income net of expenses. The Table compares the monthly income of local Juniors with the gross yearly income of English Juniors as disclosed in the 1999-2000 edition of Chambers Guide to the Legal Profession and the monthly income of solicitors as disclosed in a Garfield Robbins International survey recently published in Asia Lawyer. The results of the English survey were claimed to be the product of 6,000 in-depth interviews and audited by the British Market Research Bureau.

A number of notable features are immediately apparent after comparing the results of the three surveys.

First, while our worst Juniors are earning slightly more than their counterparts in London, Singapore and Bangkok, our best Juniors are making substantially less than the best from London of the same vintage except for those who specialize in criminal work in the first three years of call. Our best Juniors are also the lowest paid lawyers when compared with solicitors in Hong Kong, Tokyo, Singapore and even Bangkok.
For civil work, our best paid Juniors are only earning roughly a third of the best paid Juniors in London for the first ten years and less than half of solicitors in Hong Kong for the first three years.
For criminal work, apart from the first three years, our Juniors are making substantially less than their UK counterparts.

Secondly, whereas in England, the fees earned by criminal barristers are substantially less (sometimes 2 to 3 times less) than civil barristers, fees in Hong Kong are relatively comparable between the two branches under 10 years’ call. Significant disparity only begins to show between members of over 10 years’ call. This is only natural in that complexity of civil cases will demand more time be spent as more senior members take on more complicated cases. This shows that our civil barristers are substantially underpaid.

Thirdly, barristers of beyond 15 years’ call are actually making less than those of 10 years’ call both in the civil and criminal sectors. The disparity is more pronounced for criminal Juniors.

Fourthly, although most barristers beyond 15 years’ call are eligible to become Silks, their income bears no comparison to Silks, irrespective if they are practicing a civil, criminal or mixed practice. In England, the jump in income from Juniors to Silks is equally significant: some will more than double their income.

Fifthly, the English survey shows the income of English Silks are generally higher than the income of local Silks. Given the fact that Silks in Hong Kong work at least just as hard if not harder than their London counterparts, the falsity of wild accusations that Hong Kong Silks are charging three to four times the fees of London silks is fairly obvious.
Finally, the Bar notes that this survey shows that income of our Juniors are merely comparable to other professionals of similar seniority but substantially less than solicitors in Hong Kong. These figures show that Hong Kong barristers are definitely not overpaid as some may wish to suggest.

Dated 7th June 2000
Hong Kong Bar Association