Bar Council Reveals Human Impact of Struggling Justice System

The Bar Council’s new report ‘Barristers’ Working Lives 2017: Barristers’ attitudes towards their working lives, reveals that barristers across England and Wales are struggling with a number of factors affecting their overall working lives, such as workload, stress, and work-life balance.

The survey, which received 4,092 responses (representing over a quarter of the profession) brings to light evidence that, in fulfilling their professional duties, barristers are routinely working the equivalent of at least one or two days of work per week unpaid. Barristers are also working more hours and suffering from greater levels of stress than in 2013. Funding cuts, lack of work-life balance and stress were listed as the major factors for those thinking of changing career.

However, the report also highlights that barristers remain enthusiastic and interested in their work, with a commitment to developing the Bar’s future talent.

The data has been analysed across different practice areas. Key statistics include:

  • Working for nothing: 62% of criminal barristers work at least a day a week for which they are not paid.
  • Longer hours: 27% of criminal barristers and 33% of family barristers work more than 60 hours a week, compared to 16% in commercial and chancery, 17% in civil and an average of 22% across all practice areas, which is up from 13% in 2013.
  • Poor work-life balance: Only 45% of barristers feel able to balance their home and working lives; criminal and family barristers were most likely to say they could not (48% of criminal and 58% of family, compared to 20-25% for other practice areas).
  • Under pressure & emotionally drained: Across the Bar, only 26% said they were not under too much work pressure (compared to 33% in 2013). 58% of criminal barristers and 66% of family barristers felt they were under too much work pressure. Practitioners in these areas were also more likely to indicate they felt emotionally drained by their work, with 50% of criminal barristers and 62% of family barristers responding in this manner.
  • Future of the Bar: Over a third of criminal barristers are considering their career options, compared with 24% of the rest of the profession. Reasons given for doing so among the criminal and family Bar were, respectively: funding and legal aid cuts (47% and 28%); workload and stress (27% and 49%) and work-life balance (42% and 54%).
  • Passionate and interested: 89% of barristers across all areas of practice said they found their work interesting and 61% across all practice areas agreed that most days they are enthusiastic about their work.
  • Nurturing talent: 47% of the self-employed Bar either are or have supervised pupil barristers during their careers, and 31% of all respondents have been or are involved in mentoring others.
  • Supporting the most vulnerable: In many areas of private practice, more than a third of barristers work additional hours unpaid where their client cannot afford more – 42% in civil; 18% in professional negligence and personal injury, 37% in commercial and chancery, and 37% in family. 33% of family barristers work additional unpaid hours where a litigant in person requires extra support.

Chair of the Bar Council, Andrew Walker QC, said: “Whilst there are some clear positives in our report, there is a notable difference between those practising in crime (and, to a degree, in family work) and the rest of the Bar.  It should also be recognised that the survey was conducted in the summer of 2017, since when legal aid fees have been eroded further by inflation.

“The fact that many saw their workload, stress and work-life balance deteriorate yet further between 2013 and 2017 is a worrying trend.  It shows that we must all maintain our efforts across the Bar to support those who are finding practice ever more difficult to sustain, both financially and in terms of maintaining and enjoying a healthy and fulfilling life both at work and at home.  It shows, too, how important it is for the leadership of the Bar to be making our case to the Government, in Parliament and to the public about the long-term consequences of failing to recognise and pay properly for the delivery of justice in England and Wales.

“The evidence in this report will be used widely, both by the Bar Council and others, to inform debate and policy making and to support the long-term health of the profession and the interests of the public and of theclients we serve.”

(Source: The Bar Council)

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