This February 2023 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.
In response to the findings, the report sets out nine key recommendations for the Bar Council to lead on:
1. Better data collection.
The Bar Council should work more closely with the employed Bar and its key stakeholders to increase participation in surveys, including the main Bar Council biennial survey ‘Barristers’ Working Lives', thereby ensuring data on the employed Bar is accurate and that the experience of the employed Bar is captured. This will support the development of appropriate policy support and services.
2. Greater visibility.
The Bar Council should ensure that relevant information about and for the employed Bar is prominent and easily accessible on the Bar Council’s website and related media. It should also continue to promote the achievements of the employed Bar, including through the Employed Bar Awards.
3. Promoting careers at the employed Bar.
The advantages (e.g. secure income, flexible working/work-life balance and quality/type of work) of life at the employed Bar, as well as the differences between working at the employed and self-employed Bar, should be clearly articulated in Bar Council careers literature. This will enable Bar students to better appreciate and understand career opportunities and law covered by the employed Bar.
4. Tackling bullying & harassment.
The Bar Council’s policy efforts on tackling bullying and harassment should also include a focus on the employed Bar. This includes promotion of the Talk to Spot reporting platform, which enables the Bar Council to track and monitor incidents in order to identify appropriate interventions. In particular, the Bar Council should work with the Crown Prosecution Service and Government Legal Department, as well as law firms, to encourage and support culture change programmes and initiatives to tackle bullying and harassment.
5. Creating communities of employed barristers.
In addition to reviewing the existing Employed Bar Engagement Network on LinkedIn, the Bar Council should also work with the Circuits and Inns of Court to help develop opportunities for employed barristers to network and support each other across England and Wales.
6. Defining seniority.
King’s Counsel (taking Silk) as a signifier of seniority is less applicable at the employed Bar. The Bar Council should work with representatives of the employed Bar to identify and promote equivalence.
7. Supporting career progression.
The Bar Council should work with representatives of the employed Bar to identify support required by employed barristers (e.g. mentoring) to help them progress in their organisations.
8. Increasing judicial appointments.
There is an appetite for a greater number of judicial appointments at the employed Bar. The Bar Council should work with the Judicial Appointments Commission (JAC) and others to: (i) remove barriers to judicial appointment; and (ii) promote and support judicial applications to employed barristers.
9. Communicating the unique skill sets of employed barristers.
The Bar Council should actively promote the skills of barristers and the unique role they play both in employed and self-employed practice to key stakeholders and employers across England and Wales.