Women and black barristers most likely to experience bullying

Barristers who are employed are more diverse and work flexibly, but they face barriers to career progression, bias and bullying, especially if they are women or from ethnic minority groups.

Barrister's hands holding wig


Barristers who are employed are more diverse and have greater flexible working and higher levels of wellbeing than those who are self-employed, but suffer similar levels of bullying, discrimination and harassment, with women and those from minority groups most likely to be victims, according to a new report.

The ‘Life at the employed Bar’ report from the Bar Council also found that employed barristers in England and Wales were less likely to progress to King’s Counsel – they make up just 2.6% of King’s Counsel barristers.

Around a fifth of barristers are employed, just over half in the public sector while nearly a quarter work in legal firms. They mainly focus on crime, commercial and financial services and public law.

The report says 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).

Around a third [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 among those who work in solicitors’ firms.

A focus group discussions for the report shows a more inclusive culture and family-friendly conditions were attractions, but some described a lack of awareness or respect for the particular skill sets of employed barristers and concerns that limited career progression impacted income.

Stuart Alford KC, Chair of the Bar Council Employed Barristers’ Committee, said: “There is much to be celebrated about life at the employed Bar – we are a diverse part of the profession working in a wide range of areas across the public and private sectors.

“But as the report sets out, there are also challenges. The recommendations we’re adopting provide a clear steer on things we must improve: better information about the benefits of a career at the employed Bar, targeted support on career progression – particularly when it comes to judicial appointments for employed barristers, a greater focus on tackling bullying and harassment within the employed arm of profession, and support in developing networks for employed barristers throughout England & Wales.”


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