Earnings diverge between male and female barristers in every practice area from the start of their careers – when the differential is 17% – and peak at 11-15 years’ call, new research has found.
Female KCs earn on average 29% less than their male counterparts.
“We must keep our focus on how work is distributed across the Bar, as this has such a significant impact on who can build and sustain a thriving practice,” the Bar Council said.
It is the body’s third annual report on gross earnings by sex and practice area at the self-employed Bar but the first based on more detailed information gathered during the annual authorisation to practice process, rather than figures from the Bar Mutual Indemnity Fund.
There were “many variables which lead to gross earning patterns” not reflected in this research that were only available at a chambers level – such as the type of cases barristers take on, the hours they work and their engagement in marketing – “which is why doing this sort of analysis in chambers is so important”.
But the Bar Council said that every time this analysis is done, whether on a small scale within an individual chambers or a deep dive into a practice area, “we find the same patterns”.
- In every call band and every area of practice, men’s median gross earnings are higher than women’s; The disparity in gross earnings between sexes is present at the very start of a career (17%) and quickly increases. The gap between men’s and women’s median gross earnings is greatest at the 11-15 years call band (30%);
- Women silks earn on average 71% of their male colleague’s median gross earnings;
- Whilst men’s and women’s gross earnings have both slightly increased over the last year, the difference in gross earnings between men and women has not narrowed; and
- Male and female barristers both reach peak median gross earnings at around 25 years’ call, at which point the disparity is down to about 11%.
The report said: “It is a particular concern that these differences seem to emerge at such an early stage in practice, because the danger is that the patterns set in the early years of practice become self-perpetuating.
“We must keep our focus on how work is distributed across the Bar, as this has such a significant impact on who can build and sustain a thriving practice.”
The report told chambers that monitoring differences in earnings was “essential to understanding work distribution”.
The disparities were both a cause and a consequence of the retention and progression challenge faced by women at the self-employed Bar.
“The quantity and the quality of work a self-employed barrister does has an impact not just on their gross earnings, but also on whether they are able to build and sustain a thriving practice.
“Gross earnings are a useful proxy for the wider issue of how work is distributed around the Bar, and this data supports conversations to move past whether disparities exist, and onto how to address them.”
The Bar Council has issued an updated toolkit for calculating work distribution to support chambers in undertaking their own analysis of earnings.
Chair Nick Vineall KC said: “Everyone at the Bar should be concerned that the disparities between men’s and women’s earnings at the self-employed Bar are so great.
“We also know from our Race at the Bar report that the average Black barrister earns markedly less than the average White barrister and the average Black woman earns less than the average Black man.
“We need to do more work to understand the cause or causes of these striking differences. Some may be accounted for by differences in the number of hours worked per week, but it is a particular concern that these differences seem to emerge at such an early stage in practice.
“The danger is that the patterns set in the early years of practice become self-perpetuating. Without intervention that trend is likely to continue.”
The figures showed that, in the higher-earning practice areas of personal injury and commercial & Chancery, men’s gross earnings outstripped women’s “significantly”, despite more women than ever practising in those areas.