Half of barristers “generally content” with their working lives

Barristers: Improved wellbeing

Half of barristers feel generally content with their working lives, an increase on the previous time they were surveyed, a report for the Bar Council has found.

However, women and minority ethnic practitioners lag behind the profession’s average.

The figures are taken from an analysis conducted by Dr Darren Van Laar of Portsmouth University’s quality of working life research group using data from 3,191 responses to the 2023 barristers’ working lives survey.

The barrister wellbeing scale has an overall score, made up of four sub-scales. Some 56% of respondents said they agreed or strongly agreed they had a positive mood, compared to 52% in 2021.

More than two-thirds in both 2023 and 2021 said they were perfectionist and could be critical of themselves. Just under half (49%) agreed they managed their workload well (45% in 2021), while 73% of respondents said they had supportive work colleagues (up from 67%).

This led to the finding that 50% of barristers responding agreed they had overall good wellbeing/were generally content with their working life, up three percentage points.

Although 32% indicated they currently had a low level of overall wellbeing, this was an improvement on 2021, when it was 35%.

Female barristers reported “significantly lower levels of overall wellbeing”, as did non-white barristers, disabled barristers, LGBTQ barristers, those who were primary carers for children under 18 and those who attended state schools. Wellbeing generally improved with age.

By practice area, criminal law had the lowest wellbeing, followed by family. Commercial practitioners reported the highest, while employed barristers were happier than those in chambers.

Nearly two-thirds of barristers who said they mentored others (up from 46% in 2021) reported significantly higher wellbeing than those who did not.

Nonetheless, six in 10 (61%) felt they were satisfied with their job, the same percentage as in 2021.

Bar Council chair Sam Townend KC said: “The latest data reflects an improvement in some aspects of wellbeing at the Bar. This deserves recognition.

“Notwithstanding the challenges of pay and conditions for parts of the Bar, in particular, in publicly funded work, it is good to see these improvements being made. The publication of this report offers an opportunity to acknowledge the excellent work on wellbeing carried out by some at the Bar, clerks and staff.

“Concerningly, younger, more junior barristers, women and barristers from an ethnic minority background reported lower levels of overall wellbeing as did barristers working in criminal and family law. These are the areas we will continue to focus on in terms of personal wellbeing and working conditions.”

The Bar Council last year relaunched its wellbeing certificate programme that was first introduced in 2017, awarded certificates to 45 chambers.

It said those chambers have put emphasis on regular structured practice review for all barristers, offering career development and support, and taking steps to rebuild chambers as a thriving community.

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