Many barristers earn so little money they get home from a day at work with less cash than they started with, a union leader has said.
Thousands of barristers across the UK have walked out in a dispute over pay and conditions.
Monday’s walkout – the first of 14 days’ action planned for the next four weeks – meant that some courtrooms sat empty, while others were only able to swear juries in before adjourning cases until later in the week.
At London's Old Bailey eight out of the 10 cases listed were disrupted.
Justice secretary Dominic Raab said the strikes will "delay justice", as courts across the UK are already dealing with a backlog of 58,000 cases.
But those on strike say they are barely being paid enough to live on, with their wages coming in under minimum wage when their hours are taken into account.
Watch: Barristers walk out on first day of strike action
The chairman of the Criminal Bar Association, Jo Sidhu QC, said: “We are not privileged, we are decent folk who want to serve the public.
“But we have come to a point where we are losing so many of us every single day of the week because in despair they are walking away from the jobs they love.
“On average, within the first three years of their practice, a junior criminal barrister can expect to earn no more than £12,200 as a median income – that is below minimum wage.
“Many of them will be doing cases for which they will be paid, for a day’s work, no more than £100.
“That means they are working sometimes, six, eight, 10 hours of preparation, going to court, paying for their own train fare to get there and back, and when they arrive home of an evening, they will have less money in their pocket than when they left.”
Barristers on picket lines have accused the Government of not listening to their concerns about the criminal justice system, and are angry that a proposed pay rise of 15% would not kick in immediately or apply to backlogged cases.
How much do barristers earn?
Barristers - who are self-employed - are often perceived as high-earning, and according to a recent review, the median earnings for a criminal barrister in the year 2019-20 was £79,800. However, the reality is that their salaries vastly differ depending on a range of factors.
According to The Lawyer, 12% of barristers earn below £30,000 a year.
Criminal barristers on the lower end of the scale can even earn as little as £9,000, figures have shown, once their expenses are taken into account.
Those who have less than two years' experience earned a median of £25,100 before expenses and a net figure of £18,800 after expenses, statistics show.
On the upper end of the scale, 2% of barristers earn £1million or more a year.
Lawyers who work in areas such as private corporate law can earn around £100,000 from very early on.
In 2020, figures show 23% earned between £90,000 and £150,000, 14% earned between £150,000 and £240,000 and 11% earned between £240,000 and £500,000.
Why are barristers going on strike?
Barristers represent people in court, and have launched a strike over legal aid payments.
Under the legal aid system, which has faced cuts in recent years, barristers are paid by the government so suspects who cannot afford their own lawyers can have represented.
The pay rate for barristers doing legal aid work is set by the government.
Downing Street has proposed a 15% pay rise - which a spokesperson said would see a typical barrister earn another £7,000 a year.
However, the proposed amount will not kick in immediately or apply to backlogged cases.
Some say that amount still won't pay their bills, and the system has run on "good will" for too long.
Speaking outside Bristol Crown Court, barrister Kannan Siva said more than one in four barristers have been “driven out of the jobs they loved because they simply can’t afford to stay”.
He said: “For junior criminal barristers to be paid below minimum wage, a median income of just £12,200 a year, is not only scandalous but it will choke off the supply of the next generation of advocates – that pool of advocates that will help society and become our future judges.
“And it means that victims and defendants will suffer years and years of waiting to get justice in court.”