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‘I’d be shouted at because I left the pub at 10 o’clock rather than 11pm’, says bullied former pupil barrister

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New bar study finds rookies ‘particularly vulnerable’ to bullying and harassment

Pupil barristers are “particularly vulnerable” to bullying, harassment and discrimination, new research has found, with one bar rookie recalling how they were shouted at by their then-supervisor for leaving the pub early.

The incident is just one of a number of shocking examples of inappropriate behaviour documented in a new study released this week by the Bar Standards Board (BSB).

The unnamed barrister told researchers: “When I was a pupil I was really bullied in chambers by my supervisor — every piece of work I did wasn’t good enough. I’d be shouted at because I left the pub at 10 o’clock rather than 11pm.”

The study, conducted by YouGov on behalf of the regulator, saw 35 telephone interviews conducted with 30 barristers, and five non-barristers, who had directly experienced or observed discrimination and harassment at the bar.

“I was aware of a pupil barrister who was sexually harassed by a senior member of chambers,” another respondent recalled. “This happened at least once a week.” Another barrister spoke of the time “two drunk males made very offensive remarks” about her chest. “I was deeply upset about it but wasn’t going to say anything about it,” she recounted.

The study found the bar’s unique structure — most barristers are self employed and reliant on clerks for work, with little in the way of a formal management team — allowed harassment and discrimination to “slip through the net”. Pupil barristers who are early on in their careers and reliant on chambers for their progression, were seen as “particularly vulnerable”.

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Researchers found the vast majority of respondents interviewed had not formally reported their experiences, amid fears it would negatively impact their reputation, earning potential and career progression.

The report concludes that for anti-harassment policies and procedures to be effective, “there needs to be a shift in culture at the bar to encourage openness and to discourage inappropriate behaviour, with a role for the BSB, the Bar Council and other stakeholders in driving change and offering support”.

Amanda Pinto QC, chair of the bar, said:

“This report is a helpful reminder that everyone at the bar needs to keep shining a light on bullying, discrimination and harassment. The BSB’s findings reflect our own experience of work on this behaviour which has long-term negative consequences for individuals and the profession as a whole.”

Similar research, published by the Bar Council in 2018, found that bullying at the bar was up by was up 5%, with 21% of employed and 12% of self-employed barristers reporting that they had personally experienced mistreatment at work.

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48 Comments

Former pupil

A sample of a mere 35 people is disappointing. Doesn’t exactly scream “we take this seriously and are doing everything we can”.

AnonQ

It does scream “we used a tiny self-selecting group to produce results that we will misuse to further our leftist social justice agenda”.

Janice

Left is good, not sure why you use it in the way you have. Odd.

No one

So wanting to eradicate bullying and harassment is a ‘leftist social justice agenda’? I dunno, just sounds like common sense and decency to me.

Right Thinker

Using a report to give the misleading impression of endemic bullying and harassment is the leftist agenda and always comes back to wanting to impose quotas over talent.

Oh Dear

What ‘quotas over talent’????

When has a chambers EVER given a pupillage to anyone to fulfil a ‘quota’?????

Absolutely bizarre the people that study law these days.

Anonymous

Even if true, the report is still highly misleading.

Anonymous

Two points from the report itself to put the report in context:

1. “Firstly, the findings cannot be generalised to the profession as a whole, given the small, targeted sample and the conclusions drawn from a limited number of comments.”

2. “Low to medium level incidents were the most common, especially for those who are from more than one underrepresented group”

So no need for hysterics, and maybe a need for a bit of self-reflection and tinkering with the current processes and procedures, at most.

Anon.

Loads of this to come out. Hope it sinks a few big names.

Question

When exactly were these people pupil barristers? Last year or 50 years ago? That info would also be useful.

Anonymous

The BSB and the Bar Council have a habit of commissioning these pointless reports that prove nothing. A tiny self-selecting group, many of whom will be the sort with an axe to grind, are interviewed and then the “results” sprayed all over the place. The report itself says its contents cannot and should not be extrapolated into the profession as a whole, but you know that is exactly what the powers that be and the social justice warriors will do anyway.

Hmmmmm

WTF exactly do you think ‘The Powers That Be’ are???

Who exactly do you think has control here and why are you concerned?

For someone who wants to question the BSB’s ‘evidence’ for sexual harassment, its interesting to note the lack of evidence you have for believing in ‘The Powers That Be’.

Anonymous II Return of Anonymous

It is obvious from the context that “the powers that be” are the BSB and the Bar Council. I suspect basic comprehension was never your strength.

Anon

Self-reporting surveys aren’t evidence of anything.

Right Thinker

They are evidence of desperate efforts to engineer misleading impressions of the status quo to leverage change to suit a political agenda.

Money on Mediation

Bullying and harassment is rampant at legal tribunal charities too.

Ironically, volunteers who prepare tribunal cases can’t go to an employment tribunal themselves if they experience racism or sexual harassment at a charity by a barrister or pupil.

BPTC students are effectively being told to put up with harassment, or risk losing out on advocacy experience they need to get a pupillage in the first place.

The bullies go unpunished and abuse again and again with impunity when they finally start to make a living from law.

Anonymous

No shock that this festering resentment appeared on this thread.

Anon

Yeah, how dare anyone complain about bullying and harassment.

The audacity. What’s the world coming to? 🙄

AnonQ

Alleged bullying and harassment.

2019 Call

Surprised it is such a small sample. Some very senior, influential people are well-known bullies.

Anon

Just stay at the pub for another beer you melt.

Lover of pints in good company

Ah yes. Just stay at the pub for another beer. A session of drinking that commenced at the end of the work day and has stretched to 10pm. Stay out until 11pm – sod your pets/children/partner/family. Stay out with the supervisor that shouts at you and constantly criticises you. Sounds like a crackin night mate.

Re@list?

Trouble is, the Bar WANTS people who have a thick skin.

I’m not condoning what is being said here, but people who get offended by jokes are going to crumble at court when faced with competitive opponents and Judges who want answers yesterday.

I should know

There are quite a few bullies at the bar and on the bench, it’s par for the course.

Bardy B

That these examples are the most “shocking” they can offer suggests that there isn’t nowadays actually much of a problem with bullying at the bar.

“Shouted at” for leaving the pub early? Yes, it’s a bit annoying, as life often is. But it really isn’t that hard to deal with effectively, even as a wee pupil. Would the complainer rather their supervisor wanted them out of the pub early? Or didn’t take them at all? Will they be willing to stand up for their clients in Court? Or are they expecting all unpleasantness to have been removed from the litigation process by the time they’re on their feet?

Bossy-bootses at the BSB and elsewhere don’t like the fact that independent barristers don’t have to bow down before the might of HR managerialism. So they commission weird, small, dishonestly sampled surveys, and produce “reports” that – guess what – recommend more power for them.

It’s time for the Bar leadership to stop accepting these “reports” at face value, and start saying something other than “there is still more work to be done”.

A Pupil

Did you read the full report? A lot more documented in there than just being bollocked for leaving the pub early.

Anonymous

Nothing in the report was ‘documented’. It was all self-reported.

Dave Barrister

Top drawer, serious bullying aside, if you can’t take your supervisor having a go at you for leaving the pub early, the Bar ain’t for you!

Essex Chambers pupil

I had no such experiences as a junior

Anonymous

Seriously? Is this worst that a tiny self-selecting group can come up?

Anonymous

The only use for reports based on interviews with self-reporting groups that are that small is loo roll. What a negligent waste of cash.

Thunder Clap

I have it on good authority that one of the recommendations that didn’t make it into the final draft was that every court should have an Advocates’ Safe Space.

The idea is that where an advocate has had a hard time with a Judge, opponent or colleague, they could go into the Advocates’ Safe Space and either make a phone call or report the matter to the BSB online.

I believe the bespoke system they proposed has already been designed and was called Holistic On Line Exposition.

I believe that it was rejected due to funding considerations…

Martin Routh

Every court used to have a robing room, which was in essence exactly such a space – although not given the silly name. Collegiate and supportive, just other advocates, no judges, no court staff. Many courts have now done away with these and made them so horrible that you can’t use them.

Pupil Supervisor

Pupil supervisors should not be encouraging pupils into a drinking culture, it is exclusionary, it is contrary to the interests of a diverse bar, there’s no good reason for them to have to be out until 10pm anyway and it’s just bloody rude. Pupil supervisors are there to help, to educate and support, not to barrack someone when they don’t feel like listening to the 130th war story of the night about how pupil supervisor won some case or other.

Barto

Why is having a drink “contrary to the interests of a diverse bar”?

You are a pathetic killjoy and an embarrassment to the profession. And, what is more – and I absolutely guarantee this – a crap barrister.

Barto's mum

Having a drink isn’t contrary, but pupil supervisor’s point was about encouraging a drinking culture. A drinking culture is exclusionary because not everyone drinks alcohol, or wants to spend their non-work time in a bar. The problem comes when that is the default expectation for all. Your florid response betrays a lack of confidence in your position.

Brattioks

I’ve met your sort at the bar. Looking for comfort and company in the new religion of wokerastic puritanism. Pathetic.

You should know that nine out of ten people you encounter quietly hold you in utter contempt.

Anon

‘If there is no concrete evidence, then we should not suggest that there is a problem.’ I am not sure whether some realise that this is their reasoning. If they do, then they should also accept the supposition that harassment/bullying is very rare in all spaces of life, as there is very rarely concrete evidence. Doesn’t that sound a bit silly?

Anon

No

Anon junior

I do hope that students are not discouraged by the endless flagellation from our regulatory overlords who seem to care very little about the profession or students for the matter. This is a tiny and no doubt self selecting sample. The data is presented without any context and is meaningless. Given 35 were interviewed it hardly be representive of the bar as a whole. FWIW my supervisors were lovely decent people who spent countless hours helping me and made the year an enjoyable experience. Ofc pupillage is stressful and if you’re having a tough time please go and talk the most junior tenant, who I am sure would be happy to lend and ear and will in all certainty have zero influence over tenancy decisions!

Anonymous

Two points from the report itself to put the report in context:

1. “Firstly, the findings cannot be generalised to the profession as a whole, given the small, targeted sample and the conclusions drawn from a limited number of comments.”

2. “Low to medium level incidents were the most common, especially for those who are from more than one underrepresented group”

So no need for hysterics, and maybe a need for a bit of self-reflection and tinkering with the current processes and procedures, at most.

Right Thinker

I see leftists are down voting direct quotes that do not suit their wish to misuse this report to suit their agenda. ‘Tis always the leftist way.

Former lawyer

I have always been amazed at the egos of some barristers. Often, you’re spoken down to and in the same sentence asked for something.

I once remember a very self-centered, oily barrister look me in the eye and say “I’d love a boy to f**k”. Now, I release how shocking this was. Then – well, you just take it; It’s all part of being in the legal bubble…

I wonder how dysfunctional the lives behind the egos really are. Horrible people.

Narcissists, all of ‘em

My girlfriend is a private tutor.

A well-known QC/Head of Chambers told her to do everything possible to get his youngest 11-year old son into boarding school, since his career was in full swing and “…I just need him out of the way.”

☹️

Barrister

Like it or not, barristers run their own members’ clubs. You get tenancy, you have a place for life. We don’t want to work with people we arent going to like unless they are absolutely, jaw droppingly brilliant.

If you don’t the culture at the set, then don’t apply for tenancy or fake it, get tenancy and move elsewhere. If someone can’t even tow the line in pupillage, they arent going to make it in tenancy when you have to put your case, the client and the judge ahead of your family, friends and interests. Thankfully, the Bar has a wonderful system of weeding complainers out; they don’t get work and quietly leave to do something else.

I like my work hard, make loads of money and play hard culture in Chambers. If I wanted to take a big pay cut and join some legal aid, right on chambers, I’d walk across the road into the Temple.

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