Since the publication of the Life at the Young Bar report we have received messages of support from young barristers for its recommendations. As Chair and Vice Chair of the Young Barristers’ Committee (YBC), we have sought to advocate for these recommendations and encourage an ongoing dialogue across the profession. And so, over the last few months, we have embarked on a massive listening exercise, speaking with barristers, clerks, specialist Bar associations, and other representative organisations to make your voices heard.
We feel it is imperative that we understand the concerns of young barristers across the board and represent their views and interests, whether that’s on wellbeing, remuneration, bullying and harassment, opportunities for career progression and networking, or diversity and inclusion. No one issue is more important than the other, but each will hold its own importance for the young barrister who feels they are at its sharp end.
The Young Barristers’ Committee is engaged in a raft of initiatives that we hope will address these issues and champion the Young Bar both nationally and internationally.
One of the key aspects of our policy work thus far has been renewing and strengthening our international partnerships. We have had fruitful conversations with the European Young Lawyers’ Association, the International Association of Young Lawyers, the Commonwealth Young Lawyers Association, and the youth arms of the Bars of Scotland, Ireland, and Northern Ireland. We have also been speaking with the young barristers’ arms of the specialist Bar associations, ensuring that we work together and address the concerns of their members. These discussions have led to strengthened links with our colleagues in this and other jurisdictions, and we hope to build on these relationships through partnerships on events and other projects.
The wheels for this are already in motion: we are delighted to announce that we will be hosting a Young Bar session at the Four Jurisdictions Conference at Middle Temple on 13-15 May. There will be large young Bar delegations from the four jurisdictions so this will be a great opportunity for our members to network and share best practice with barristers in similar positions in Scotland, Ireland, and Northern Ireland.
We hope to see you there, and please do keep your eyes peeled for further young Bar events taking place here in London and internationally over the coming months.
Another key area for collaboration across jurisdictions is sustainability and the environment, which affects us all as the future of life on our planet hangs in the balance. Our Vice Chair recently attended a conference in Glasgow held by the European Young Barristers’ Association on ‘Law and the Environment’. It was great to talk with legal professionals from other jurisdictions about the challenges we all face on this front, and how lawyers can do their bit. The Bar Council has a raft of policy work focusing on sustainability and environment including the Sustainability Network, which is helping chambers to reach their net zero targets quickly and efficiently; and the Climate Crisis Working Group, which is developing policy on how the Bar can act on this crucial issue. The YBC is now represented on the Working Group and is feeding into this stream of work, with a few ideas of its own that it is keen to take forward.
Wellbeing is another big issue that we are working on. The Law Society Gazette, referring to our Life at the Young Bar report, noted that a major US law firm has hired full-time counsellors for its UK offices to help young lawyers combat burnout. This provides stark evidence that wellbeing remains a problem across the legal profession, and across both the employed and self-employed Bars. Our Vice Chair is working closely with Wellbeing at The Bar to address issues around work-life balance, working culture and how to succeed at the Bar without sacrificing your mental health. There will be more on this to come.
The conversation around remuneration for criminal legally aided work is ongoing. We are highly aware of the importance of this issue and the strong feelings of the young Bar that publicly funded work must be paid properly and fairly. We are also aware of the importance of proper remuneration for the future of the profession given that those at the junior end face the greatest financial difficulties in relation to continuing as barristers in publicly funded areas. Alongside the Chair of the Bar, Mark Fenhalls QC, we are doing everything we can to advocate for criminal barristers at this difficult time. We are also continuing the dialogue with the Ministry of Justice – junior barristers recently had the opportunity to meet the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice and make it clear what they require from government to succeed in their careers. Even at the most troublesome times, we continue to speak with government representatives to find common ground upon which we can move forward and to seek to identify ways in which the system can better support young barristers for all publicly funded criminal work whether undertaken in the Youth, Magistrates’, or Crown Court.
We are also working with the Institute of Barristers’ Clerks on issues surrounding fair allocation of work, and to make sure the challenges young barristers face in setting up their practices are known and addressed. This feeds into the Bar Council’s wider policy efforts on in this area – both of us are vocal champions of the Accelerator Programme (which a former YBC Chair, Katherine Duncan, also gave her support to not so long ag), which is designed to facilitate positive culture change across the Bar as a whole and support all barristers in their practices and daily working lives. We are working closely with the Bar Council’s Equality & Diversity team on this.
As young barristers, we are acutely aware that the future of the profession depends on young people of all backgrounds being passionate about the rule of law and upholding justice, and we want to encourage this through our outreach initiatives. In partnership with the Kalisher Trust, the YBC will be launching a skills and mentorship pilot programme this year focusing on young people in schools. We are keen that young barristers step forward to inspire students to consider a career at the Bar, and the pilot will also teach useful skills including written and oral advocacy which the mentees can use whichever way their careers progress.
Finally, we want to hear from you. What issues are you seeing in your day-to-day practice as young barristers? Are we talking about them? If not, tell us why we should be and what we are missing. The YBC is your voice, and it’s our job as Chair and Vice Chair to be your representatives. You can tweet us @YoungBarristers, or get in touch via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also contact us via the Bar Council’s Instagram page.
Lastly, we would like to take this opportunity to wish you a great run into summer – there is plenty of work ahead, but also plenty to get excited about as young barristers. Take care.
This article was originally published by Counsel magazine in 12 May 2022: A plan of action for the Young Bar.