Around one in six young barristers want to leave the profession amid unmanageable workloads and fears of burnout, according to a new report.
Life at the Young Bar, published on 26 January, is based on research into barristers who have been practising for up to seven years.
“There’s lots of burnout within the team,” said an employed commercial barrister. “We’re working lots of 14-hour days.”
The report, commissioned by the Bar Council, recommends that work should be allocated more fairly and made more manageable to “avoid burnout and the loss of young barristers from the profession”.
Around one in six young barristers told a survey in spring last year that they want to give up, the report says.
Only around half believe work is allocated fairly – and many say they “desperately” need their workload reduced.
Meanwhile, young barristers “overwhelmingly” oppose extended operating hours within courts.
On discrimination, the findings echo those from the Bar Council’s landmark report Race at the Bar, published in November 2021.
The new research states: “Discrimination against women and under-represented groups in the Young Bar appears to be deep-rooted and needs to be stopped.”
The report also looks at the impact of COVID-19, finding that the “financial repercussions” of the pandemic were more significant for many in the Young Bar compared with the Bar as a whole.
The researchers state: “Much of the foregoing appears to paint a negative and bleak picture of working life at the Young Bar.
“While a minority in the focus groups were struggling to see a sustainable future, most did express some joy or powerful feelings of satisfaction with their profession, especially valuing its purpose and collegiality.
“The overall sense was that they wanted to see working life and culture improve and they recognised that they, as the Young Bar, ultimately did have some agency in creating some of the desired culture changes, although their influence on some other professional issues was much more limited.”
Michael Polak, Chair of the Bar Council’s Young Barristers’ Committee, said:
"This research should act as a wake-up call for those interested in the future of the profession.
“It’s clear we need to modernise the way that the Bar operates.
“Our culture, working practices, and wellbeing must be key themes of the Bar Council’s work on behalf of the Young Bar over the coming year.
“The report highlights the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, with young barristers having experienced adverse changes to their personal finances, relationships with colleagues and overall wellbeing.”
Mark Fenhalls QC, Chair of the Bar Council, said:
“A career at the Bar is incredibly rewarding, but it is also challenging. The Bar Council is committed to improving the working lives of young barristers and ensuring everyone has an opportunity to thrive.
“Our profession has been ageing rapidly and we can ill-afford to lose the next generation for any reason.
“Increased use of technology can lead to some greater efficiency, but it can also make the training and development of young lawyers more difficult and leave many feeling isolated and disillusioned.
“The pandemic has increased pressure and stress on everyone, but that is no excuse for unacceptable behaviours.
“The Bar Council asks every barrister who experiences or witnesses inappropriate behaviour to use the online confidential and anonymous reporting tool ‘Spot’ so that we can take action.”
Notes to editors
A full copy of Life at the Young Bar can be viewed on the Bar Council website.
The report, produced by the Careers Research & Advisory Centre (CRAC), is based on responses to the 2021 Barristers’ Working Lives (BWL) survey, as well as data held by the Bar Council and information from six focus groups composed of young barristers in 2020 and 2021.
The Bar Council represents all 17,300 barristers in England and Wales.
The Life at the Young Bar report says that a third of those described as the Young Bar are over 35 years old and a significant proportion are mature entrants to the profession. Bar Council monitoring indicates that the average age of a new barrister is now around 30.
Meanwhile, the 2022 edition of the Insider Guide to Life at the Bar has also now been published. The guide is written by young barristers for young barristers and provides answers to the key questions that arise when people join the Bar. It also points out resources available to support barristers in the first seven years of practice.
To view the Insider Guide, click this link: www.barcouncil.org.uk/resource/insider-guide-to-life-at-the-bar.html
Spot is the Bar Council’s online tool for reporting inappropriate behaviour. It can be accessed here: www.barcouncil.org.uk/support-for-barristers/equality-diversity-and-inclusion/talk-to-spot.html
Bar Council press office: firstname.lastname@example.org