Nearly four in 10 pupils have either personally experienced or observed bullying, harassment and/or discrimination (BHD), Bar Council research has revealed.
The smallest glimmer of light was that rates of bullying and harassment were lower among pupils than at the Bar in general – 19% of pupils indicated that they have been on the receiving end of BHD, compared to 30% of all barristers.
A similar proportion said they had witnessed it, again lower than the wider profession – although many have only been pupils since August.
Some 173 of all 411 practising pupils responded to the Bar Council survey, conducted in February. In all, 66 of them – 51 women and 15 men – had experienced or witnessed BHD, with gender and race the most cited reasons, and other barristers and judges the main culprits.
Nonetheless, 89% of respondents reported a positive or very positive experience of pupillage so far, with 90% broadly or very happy with their supervision.
For 61% of pupils, a career at the Bar was viable going forward, while 33% said it was “somewhat viable”; the main reasons why it was not viable were work/life balance (44%) and insufficient remuneration (29%), both figures an increase on a similar survey conducted last year.
The Bar Council found evidence of “high levels of engagement and support” among training organisations; 65% of pupils reported daily contact with their supervisors.
There were high reported levels of debt and financial hardship among pupils: the median pupillage award was £20-30,000 and the median anticipated level of debt was £40-50,000. This was roughly comparable with the amount of debt for students graduating from English universities in 2020.
Some 42% of pupils said they were “in some degree” of financial hardship at present, up from 23% last year.
“Many comments referred to the low levels of their remuneration, particularly with rises in the cost of living. Some respondents said that they had had pressures due to childcare costs
“Some comments also said that payment in advance for expenses – or inclusion of expenses for, e.g., travel at all – would have helped them manage better.”
The median number of hours typically worked in a week was 41-50 hours, although 32% reported working more than 50 hours in the fortnight before answering the survey.
“A number of comments suggested that pupils were often asked to work in the evenings and on the weekends where late instructions were received. An example of good practice was where clear expectations of working hours were set out at the beginning of pupillage.”
Four in five pupils characterised their work-related stress levels as moderate or high. A number of pupils also reported loneliness where chambers had a high number of members and/or staff working from home on a regular basis.
Three-quarters of pupils did not have any concerns about fair allocation of work within their chambers.
In January, the Bar Council released a survey showing that around one in six young barristers want to leave the profession, while a third have experienced BHD.