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Less than half of barristers happy with their working lives

Barristers: High levels of perfectionism

Only 47% of barristers feel generally content with their working lives, a report for the Bar Council has found.

A similar proportion, 45%, felt they could “cope with the competing demands” of their job in terms of workload.

The figures are taken from an analysis conducted by Portsmouth University’s quality of working life research group using data from this year’s barristers’ working lives survey. The survey received almost 3,500 responses from barristers in April and May.

Asked how much they agreed they were “generally content” with their working lives, 47% of barristers agreed, while 35% disagreed and 18% were neutral.

As to whether they were generally content with their lives as a whole, a slender majority of barristers agreed (52%) compared to 26% who disagreed.

On the subject of workload and whether they “cope with the competing demands” of their job, only 45% agreed.

Researchers commented: “Individuals who are not able to successfully manage their workloads may find the quality of their work can start to suffer, with the consequence that other aspects of work and family life are negatively affected.

“This, when taken together with a perceived lack of control over workloads can lead to low levels of job-related wellbeing.”

Researchers said senior barristers were “often able to choose the type and number of cases they work on, whereas more junior colleagues are expected to take on as many cases as they can”.

Barristers reported high levels of perfectionism, with 68% saying they “exhibited perfectionist traits”.

The report said that, although “acceptable levels of job-related perfectionism are important in professional roles, too high a sense of perfectionism can lead to self-criticism and poorer overall wellbeing”.

On the positive side, two-thirds of barristers said they had supportive colleagues and a supportive work environment, with only one in six disagreeing.

Female barristers were more likely to report a low level of wellbeing than men, as were ethnic minorities compared to White counsel.

Employed barristers had “significantly higher overall wellbeing” than self-employed members of the Bar.

Comparing the regions, barristers working in London had the highest average wellbeing and those in the North East the lowest, followed by Wales and the East Midlands.

In terms of practice area, criminal law barristers reported “significantly lower overall wellbeing than all other practice areas”, with only 40% saying they found their workload manageable.

The report found that, generally, “as barristers get older, they report higher levels of overall wellbeing”, with those called to the Bar before 1990 having “significantly higher wellbeing” than more recent arrivals.

Barristers likely to report lower wellbeing included the 30% of respondents who had personally experienced bullying or harassment, those from LGBTQ backgrounds, those who were caring for children or adults, and those from state schools.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the barristers earning the most (more than £240,000) had higher wellbeing scores than those earning less.

Researchers added that “the particular combination of female, Young Bar and low income” had the lowest reported wellbeing of any other combination “and perhaps this group should be addressed as a priority in any future Bar Council wellbeing interventions”.