The survey should be read in its entirety as the range of questions was wide, but some of the key points follow, in terms of the background of barristers and how satisfied they are with their work and with their incomes.  There are striking variations between specialisms, in terms of gender, ethnicity and educational background amongst other factors, and between the self employed and the employed Bar. This should not be surprising. Some 500 people join the Bar every year but in an entirely fragmented way. This admission process consists of a pupil impressing a sufficient number of members of one set of chambers. Subject to the Bar’s anti-discrimination code, a chambers can choose who they like. Educational background can be significant (‘we will only look at Oxbridge Firsts’) or neutral (‘we want people with the personality to stand up in the rough and tumble of court’). Expectations both by chambers, and by Bar students, must play some part in the outcome, as can be seen by the following snapshot: at the family Bar, 64% are female; 8% got Firsts at university, 23% went to Oxbridge and 60% went to state schools; at the commercial and Chancery Bars, 81% are male, 38% got Firsts at university, 66% went to Oxbridge and 36% went to state schools.

In terms of gender, the whole Bar is 63% male and 37% female, the latter figure rising amongst younger barristers (57% of those under 30) and steadily falling thereafter (35% of those in their 40s, 15% of those over 60). BME barristers are just under 10%, the largest groups being Asian Indian (2%) and black (2%). Diversity is greater amongst women barristers (13% BME) than amongst men (8%). Men are more likely to be gay or bisexual (8%) vs. women (4%). Two thirds of the Bar are married (64%) or in a civil partnership (2%) but women are twice as likely as men to be single (38% compared to 19%) and to remain single (42% in their 30s and 28% in their 40s). More men than women have dependent children but it is the women who have primary care of their own children. 88% of all respondents agreed with ‘I am proud to be a barrister’ and also to ‘My work is interesting’.


91% of barristers worked from a set of chambers with an average size of 60 - 25% of chambers had fewer than 40 members and 20% had 75 or more. Although bullying, harassment and discrimination in the workplace are rare (6%) overall, over twice the proportion of women report this as men; 3% of men had personally experienced discrimination at work but 13% of women and 12% of BME barristers.

What keeps self employed barristers at the Bar? When given a list of reasons, 58% mentioned autonomy, 42% control over work patterns, 32% independence and 21% access to challenging work. 

And what about the future? Only 10% thought that the demand for barristers’ services was increasing although 49% thought there were insufficient pupillages to meet the future demand for work.

David Wurtzel is the Consultant Editor of Counsel

Family law

At 64%, double that of any other specialism, family has far and away the highest percentage of women. BME’s are 10%, just above the overall average. Although 64% of family barristers describe their present work situation as ‘most of my needs are met’ or ‘I am more or less satisfied’, 20% is not satisfied and is considering the options. A third feel they are paid fairly considering their expertise, the lowest figure outside crime. 39% record a change in workload - for 57% there was an increase. 35% report an increase in their gross billed income in the last two years but 28% have seen a decrease. Only 24% do not feel emotionally drained by their work and only 31% (much lower than any specialism) is happy with their working hours.

The self employed Bar

In terms of educational background, Oxbridge and fee paying schools make up a substantial percentage, particularly amongst white men. Overall, 30% of the self employed Bar went to Oxford or Cambridge and that is not likely to diminish, since the Oxbridge figure is 34% amongst new entrants. The figure is 31% for men (vs. 25% for women) and 31% for whites (vs. 22% for BME’s). Oxbridge barristers received the highest percentage of Firsts at the Bar (a quarter) and of 2:1s (nearly two-thirds). 47% of the self employed Bar went to fee paying schools and 43% of those who went to fee paying schools also went to Oxbridge. The next largest provider is the Russell Group universities (eg, Bristol, Imperial and Edinburgh) at 34%.   

A life of crime

Some 37% of the self employed Bar spend most of their working time doing crime. Because many barristers have a mixed practice, the survey grouped the Bar as follows:  criminal, 31%; civil (including landlord and tenant, employment, public law and immigration), 24%; professional negligence and PI, 12%; commercial and Chancery, 13%; family, 17% and international EU and other, 3%. 43% of the Bar receives more than half its income from publicly funded work; 28% receive their income entirely from private clients.

Those practising in crime had a slightly below average number of women 31%) and of BME’s (8%). They had the lowest percentage of Firsts of any area of specialism (7%) and of Oxbridge graduates (18%) and almost the highest percentage of those who went to state schools (59%).
Together with family and planning, criminal barristers noted the longest working week (55 hours). Nevertheless, 60% reported their workload being substantially or somewhat less than previously. This however seems to be a matter of doing more for less. Everyone in the survey was asked if in the last two years, their gross billed income had increased somewhat or substantially, or decreased somewhat or substantially, or stayed about the same. In every other specialism, more (usually far more) noted an increase viz. a decrease, but in crime alone those noting a decrease (49%) outnumbered those noting an increase (23%) by two to one.

As a result, only 24% of criminal practitioners thought they were paid fairly considering their expertise (a figure which the report found to be positively correlated to one’s University degree) and only 23% agreed with ‘I am satisfied with the amount I earn’. Although 65% thought they could cope with the level of stress in their job, less than half thought they could balance their home and work lives (48%) and fewer that they did not often feel they were under too much work pressure (33%). 15% describe their current work situation as ‘ideal’; 27% are not satisfied and are considering their options. 62% declare their intention to stay put.

The employed Bar

The employed Bar makes up 20% of the total. It is almost at gender equality: 51% male, 49% female. It is somewhat more diverse than the self employed Bar: 87% white and 13% BME. 68% of the employed Bar works in the public sector, 29% for the Crown Prosecution Service and 24% for the Government Legal Service. 52% overall spend most of their time doing criminal work. Why are they there? When given a long list of reasons, 40% mentioned financial security, 27% work/life balance (33% of women but only 22% of men), 24% job security, and 23% preferred area of work.  In terms of education, 16% went to Oxbridge, 8% got Firsts and 31% went to fee paying schools. Those who work full time work an average of 46 hours per week, but an overwhelming number feel that they increasingly work harder. Fifty-one percent say that their current workload is somewhat more than previously and 31% say it is substantially more than previously. In return, 37% had had an increase in income in the last two years, 51% had stayed about the same and 11% had suffered a decrease.  22% of the employed Bar has witnessed bullying or harassment in the workplace and 14% have witnessed discrimination; twice as many women as men have experienced either. 

Civil law

Civil law barristers are to some extent the most diverse and the most representative as well as one of the most satisfied with their situation. 32% are female, 14% are BME (the highest in any specialism), 27% got Firsts, 44% went to Oxbridge and 54% went to state schools. 75% are able to cope with the level of stress in their job, 55% are happy with their working hours and 60% describe their work situation as either ideal or ‘most of my needs are met’. Half have seen their gross income billed income increase in the last two years as opposed to 19% who have suffered a decrease.

Commercial and Chancery

As set out above, over 60% of barristers in commercial and Chancery work are male, white, public school and Oxbridge, with a likelihood of a First. They score highest at the Bar in workload satisfaction:  61% are able to balance their home and work lives, 76% are able to cope with the level of stress in their job and 64% are happy with their working hours. 68% find their current work situation to be either ideal of ‘most of my needs are met’, 73% feel they are paid fairly considering their expertise, and 86% intend to remain where they are at the Bar.

Those doing personal injury/professional negligence work are also overwhelmingly male (79%), white (96%), and with a majority (51%) from fee paying schools. Like Chancery and commercial, it is an area which produces high scores in job satisfaction. 62% of them find their work situation ideal or ‘most of my needs are met’, 80% intend to remain where they are at the Bar, 63% feel they are paid fairly considering their expertise, and 55% have seen an increase in their income vs. 17% who have not.