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One in six young barristers want to quit, new report finds

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Workloads and mental health among reasons for ditching the wig and gown

One in six young barristers say they want to quit, new research has found, with concerns over lengthy and unpredictable hours among the top concerns.

Respondents to the Bar Council commissioned report also cited the potential mental health consequences of long hours coupled with poor work-life balance as key reasons for wishing to leave.

“My female contemporaries are genuinely considering leaving,” one self-employed criminal barrister told researchers. “I have two female colleagues who have left in the last six weeks, one has left the bar altogether because the work-life balance is untenable and they want to have a family, it’s a lot harder than it used to be.”

Another employed commercial barrister said they had witnessed “lots of burnout” within their team, many of whom were regularly clocking up “14-hour days”.

The research further found over a third of junior barristers had experienced bullying or harassment either in person or online in the last two years.

A much higher proportion of women than men had experienced this type of behaviour (46% of women, nearly three times the proportion amongst men), while it was most common in criminal law (over 40% of respondents) and least common in commercial law.

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Researchers also looked at the financial repercussions of Covid-19 on young barristers’ earnings. Nearly half of the 548 respondents reported a negative impact on their overall financial situation, and nearly a third said that they had experienced financial hardship as a result.

Michael Polak, chair of the Bar Council’s Young Barristers’ Committee, said:

“This research should act as a wake-up call for those interested in the future of the profession. It’s clear we need to modernise the way that the bar operates. Our culture, working practices, and wellbeing must be key themes of the Bar Council’s work on behalf of the Young Bar over the coming year. The report highlights the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, with young barristers having experienced adverse changes to their personal finances, relationships with colleagues and overall wellbeing.”

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