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Bar Council launches a plan of action to improve ‘Life at the employed Bar’

Bar Council

4 min read Partner content

Greater visibility, better career progression, and stamping out bullying and harassment are key recommendations in a new report on ‘Life at the employed Bar’ published by the Bar Council today.

The employed Bar is more diverse, reports higher levels of wellbeing, and experiences greater flexibility and work/life balance than the self-employed Bar. However, the employed Bar also experiences bullying and harassment at similar levels to the whole Bar, has a far lower rate of taking Silk, and expresses some concern about perceptions of careers at the employed Bar.

The report analyses data on the demographics and working lives of employed barristers in England and Wales, as well as describing their experiences of working in employed settings through a series of focus group discussions.

Key findings include:

  • Just over half of employed barristers work in the public sector and nearly a quarter work in legal firms.
  • Main areas of practice for the employed Bar are crime (34%), commercial and financial services (14%), and public law (13%).
  • The employed Bar is more diverse than the self-employed Bar with 19% of employed barristers being from an ethnic minority background (compared with 15% at the self-employed Bar) and women making up 49% (compared with 37% of the self-employed Bar).
  • Employed barristers make up 18% of the whole Bar but just 2.6% of Silks (King’s Counsel).
  • 86% of employed barristers report a sense of collaboration and co-operation in their workplace, but 31% report personally experiencing bullying, discrimination or harassment at work. This is more commonly experienced by women, people from ethnic minorities, and is more prevalent amongst those who work in solicitors’ firms. 

The focus group discussions described the attractions of working at the employed Bar, including a more inclusive culture and family-friendly conditions, and mixed experiences in relation to career progression, with some describing a lack of awareness or respect for the particular skill sets of employed barristers and concerns that limited career progression impacted income. 

In response to the findings, the report sets out nine key recommendations for the Bar Council to lead on: Better data collection; Greater visibility; Promoting careers at the employed Bar; Tackling bullying and harassment; Creating communities of employed barristers; Defining seniority; Supporting career progression; Increasing judicial appointments; and Communicating the unique skills sets of employed barristers.

Launching the report, Stuart Alford KC, Chair of the Bar Council Employed Barristers’ Committee, said:

“There is much to be celebrated about life at the employed Bar – we are a diverse part of the profession working in a wide range of areas across the public and private sectors.

“But as the report sets out, there are also challenges. The recommendations we’re adopting provide a clear steer on things we must improve: better information about the benefits of a career at the employed Bar, targeted support on career progression – particularly when it comes to judicial appointments for employed barristers, a greater focus on tackling bullying and harassment within the employed arm of profession, and support in developing networks for employed barristers throughout England & Wales.”

Nick Vineall KC, Chair of the Bar, added:

“The employed Bar makes up nearly a fifth of our profession. This report finds it is more diverse, it offers more flexibility and work/life balance, and it reports greater levels of wellbeing, than self-employed practice from chambers. But it also finds that employed barristers worry about limits to career progression and income, and sometimes feel that there is lack of respect from some at the self-employed Bar.

“This report provides a clear way forward for the Bar Council, working with others, to promote, champion, and support employed barristers as members of our One Bar, united by our independence and strong commitment to the rule of law.”

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