Women barristers earn a third less than male colleagues, new data shows

Women barristers earn 34% less than their male counterparts, according to a new analysis by the Bar Council.

Barrister's hands holding wig


Women barristers earn 34% less than their male colleagues, according to a new analysis published this week by the Bar Council.

Male barristers earned just over £86,000 on average in fees last year, while women earned just over £59,000, the research showed. In Personal Injury and Commercial & Financial Services cases, two particularly lucrative areas of law, men’s average annual fees were more than double those of women.

The overall disparity between men’s and women’s fees declined slightly from 39% in 2020 to 34% in 2021, indicating that the situation may slowly be improving. But the industry was still far from where it needed to be, said the Bar Council, the national body that regulates barristers.

“This year’s data analysis shows there remains a long way to go to close the earnings gap, particularly in the higher-earning practice areas,” Mark Fenhalls KC, chair of the Bar Council, said in a statement.

“We can’t just wait for change. It’s up to all of us to recognise inequalities and take steps to tackle them.”

Most barristers are self-employed and the earnings gap varies a lot depending on the type of law that they practise. While Personal Injury and Commercial & Financial Services had gaps of over 50%, Crime had a gap of 35%, and Employment had a gap of 6%. In Family cases that involve children, women have long earned slightly more than men – although this is the opposite of the overall trend.

The Bar Council runs a series of projects aimed at addressing inequalities amongst barristers. This includes mentoring schemes, leadership programmes, and support for barristers who are returning to work after parental leave or other career breaks.

The Covid effect

In this week’s report, the Bar Council warned that 2021 pay data must be treated with caution, as it will have been affected by court closures and changes to working patterns during the Covid pandemic. This is also true of the gender pay gap data that many companies must publicly report every year, which has made analysing recent trends somewhat harder.

Since 2017 in the UK, it has been mandatory for companies with over 250 employees to publish their gender pay gap figures. At these companies, the overall median gender pay gap was 9.8% in 2021/22, meaning that women were paid 90p for every £1 earned by a man, according to analysis by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD). This figure has barely shifted since 2017. The constructioneducation, and finance and insurance sectors have gender pay gaps of over 20%.

The Bar Council’s report used anonymous income data from self-employed barristers, which was shared by the Bar Mutual Indemnity Fund (BMIF). The BMIF returns are completed by all barristers practising in England and Wales, as part of an annual process for them to obtain or renew their professional insurance. The earnings data does not track barristers’ seniority or working hours.

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