Guest blog: Bar careers are challenging, but there is support

11 February 2016

Louise Nye

There are so many challenges that face people coming to the Bar. Those challenges are varied but almost everyone I have spoken to has faced some sort of challenge to making a career as a barrister. Whether it is discrimination of someone from an ethnic minority; direct or indirect. Whether it is discrimination on the basis of a disability. Discrimination against women; sometimes from more senior women in the profession rather than just men with out-dated views.

Socio-economic limits have meant young barristers have massive debt, or have to take second jobs in order to be able to support a practice at the criminal or family bar. There is discrimination that 'young barristers' who come to the Bar later in life feel, even though they have gained experience in other areas. The challenges are varied and immeasurable. They cannot be compared. But they are felt.

In contemplating the challenges that so many young people face another thought occurred. The thing that all young barristers have in common; the ability to rise to a challenge. The fact that they will meet those challenges no matter what. The wish and will to succeed. The determination that they express every day when they turn up at court, knowing they are not properly paid for their time. Or refusing to take otherwise profitable instructions because they are an ethical and honest person.

All the young barristers I have met have so many skills. Not just the specialist advocacy skills that we have in common, but compassion, integrity and a strong and positive belief in the rule of law and justice. 

This is why even in the face of so many challenges I have hope, not just for the Young Bar but also for the future of the Bar. It's because there are still people who are willing to meet these challenges.

The responsibility of those of us in positions of responsibility, representation or authority is to help young barristers to meet those challenges.

Last year the Young Bar Hub was set up with this view in mind, and the Young Bar Toolkit is designed to assist those in the early years of practice. Just because young barristers can and will struggle to make it through their careers does not mean that they should have to struggle so much.

There are many things that the Bar Council, Inns and Specialist Bar Associations are already doing to help those who are facing difficulties in their careers. Whether it is the work done on looking at women at the Bar, equality and diversity training, mentoring schemes and in some cases sponsorships. But we cannot rely on those groups to provide all the services and support that is needed.

The Bar is a collegiate profession. We are One Bar. The challenges and difficulties will not be met simply by a few people.

They are the responsibility of all of us. So I would encourage everyone to consider whether they are acknowledging and helping other barristers where they can.

Whether it is through considering your own actions or actively trying to help through being a supervisor or a mentor. By speaking out when you see another member of the profession being treated badly.We are all independent practitioners. It is time we exercised that independence of thought beyond our work and towards our profession.                                       

Louise Nye, Chairman of the Young Barristers' Committee