Earnings at the Bar

The earnings gap between men and women at the self-employed Bar presents a collective challenge for all of us. The Bar Council collects and analyses data about barristers’ earnings, it is the only organisation to do so.

In my inaugural address, I said there was a need for further analysis of the earnings gap at 0-3 years, as there is no obvious reason why women should earn markedly less than men at that stage of practice. This work has now been carried out and our new report helps to identify the extent of the issue and possible solutions. The aim is not the equalisation of earnings, which is neither practical nor desirable, but ensuring that everyone has the opportunity to earn what they wish that their talent allows.

Our report, New practitioner earnings differentials at the self-employed Bar, identifies that women’s median earnings are 13% behind men’s median earnings in the 0-3 PQE band. Analysis by practice area also shows some variation, with the gap at 0-3 PQE ranging from 4% in family to 17% in crime and in personal injury/professional negligence (PI/PN). The gap opens up in the first few years of practice and is not explained by caring responsibilities, choice of practice area, or the volume of legally aided work undertaken.

Simply identifying that there is an issue and talking about it openly within chambers is a start. The best practices include earnings data analysis, having policies in place to monitor led work, and undertaking regular practice reviews. The Bar Council provides an earnings monitoring toolkit and a practice review guide to assist with this work.

Each chambers will have its own approach, but we think the report and its recommendations are a good contribution to tackling the gender earnings gap, but will also help to identify and address other inequities.

Bar Conference

Earnings and work allocation will feature in one of the sessions at our upcoming Bar Conference in London on Saturday 8 June. We also have some excellent speakers in the Lady Chief Justice, the Lord Chancellor and the Shadow Lord Chancellor. We paused the conference last year and asked the profession about the event, so the relaunch is a consequence of the feedback. There will be something for everyone on the day with a combination of practical information and general debates and there is a drinks reception the night before. You can read more about it in this issue of Counsel and I hope to see you there. Buy your ticket online.

Use and reform of remote hearings

Remote hearings are here to stay, but they have declined in use from a peak of 58% of hearings down to 25% last year. The facilities provided by HMCTS have improved, but there remain deficiencies in the tech available at court. In last year’s Barristers’ Working Lives survey hundreds of you responded with your thoughts on remote hearings and we’ve been analysing your feedback to include in a new report. While there were mixed views across the board, a strong theme was a desire for greater consistency and predictability as to their use to provide greater certainty for court users.

It is welcome news, then, that the senior judiciary has already started to ‘grasp the nettle’ so far as the Crown Court is concerned. At the end of April an amendment to the Lord Chief Justice’s guidance Remote Attendance by Advocates in the Crown Court (of February 2022) was issued to include bail applications where the defendant is not to attend court. This change will be monitored and the protocol, more generally, kept under review. In relation to these cases the default position will be a remote hearing with in-person hearings only taking place if there is some good reason for an in-person hearing. These decisions are, of course, always a matter for the judge in each case applying the interests of justice test. We hope that all jurisdictions might now take the opportunity to review existing remote hearing protocols, in particular, to secure greater certainty so far as the interests of justice may allow. Watch this space.