Barristers and chambers can actively manage practice and career development to mitigate the earnings gap between men and women at the self-employed Bar, according to new research from the Bar Council: New practitioner earnings differentials at the self-employed Bar.

The new analysis of gross fee income data has found that the earnings gap opens up in the first few years of practice (0 to 3 years post qualification experience, PQE) and is not explained by caring responsibilities, choice of practice area, or amount of legally aided work undertaken by barristers.

The report builds on the Bar Council’s report ‘Gross earnings by sex and practice area at the self-employed Bar 2023’ which found in every call band and every area of practice, men’s median gross earnings are higher than women’s. The gap starts right at the beginning of their careers.

In the new report, cohort analysis of the self-employed Bar in 2022 (declared at authorisation to practise in 2023/24) reveals women’s median earnings are 13% behind men’s median earnings in the 0-3 PQE band, with some difference between each year (ranging from 5% at under 1 year PQE to 19% at 2 years PQE).

Analysis by practice area also shows some variation, with the gap at 0-3 PQE ranging from 4% in family to 17% in crime and in personal injury/professional negligence (PI PN).

In addition to data analysis, the report draws on in-depth interviews with chambers to understand the factors behind the earnings gap and explores actions taken to support individual barristers to actively manage their practice. Key themes emerging from the research include:

  • the importance of collecting, analysing and discussing earnings data and regular practice reviews for individual barristers
  • having conversations about the fair allocation of led work, tolerance of risk, and the impact of underbilling and unpaid work
  • the need for a genuine understanding of the impact of different choices on earnings potential
  • the gendered nature of identifying ‘stars at the Bar’ who attract the more lucrative work and career-defining ‘unicorn cases’

The key recommendations for barristers and chambers involve actively managing practice and career development through earnings data analysis, having policies in place to monitor led work, and undertaking regular practice reviews. The Bar Council provides an earnings monitoring toolkit and a practice review guide to support these conversations.

Commenting, Sam Townend KC, Chair of the Bar Council, said:

“The earnings gap between men and women at the self-employed Bar is a structural problem that presents a collective challenge for the Bar. We need to reconsider the ways in which we speak about and address money, billing, work opportunities, work and personal choices.

“The recommendations presented in the report are a starting point for discussion about how to consider redressing the balance, not so that everyone earns the same – which is neither possible nor desirable – but so that everyone is supported in developing the practice they want.

“The real solutions will need to come at a local level where barristers and chambers professionals meet to talk about the ways they wish to work. All the evidence we found suggests that positive practical and evidence-based conversations need to happen right from the start of a barrister’s career to support the development of a thriving practice.”

Join the conversation at Bar Conference

Earnings and work allocation will feature in a break-out session at Bar Conference 2024 on Saturday 8 June, led by Rachel Krys, Equality and Diversity Consultant for the Bar Council. More information and tickets are available at: