My Learned Friends is an anonymous group of mid-career barristers from different practice areas, chambers, locations and backgrounds. We use Twitter (@Learned_Friends) and LinkedIn as our platforms to present, consolidate and share information in relation to issues of diversity, retention and career progression currently impacting the Bar.

Our vision is that people who want to practise at the Bar are able to do so without restrictions due to their personal circumstances. We aim to foster an open and constructive discussion on these issues and help facilitate improved joined-up thinking between the Bar Council, specialist Bar associations (SBAs), Circuits and chambers to drive positive change across the Bar.

Progress to date and the emerging themes

There has been a plethora of surveys and reports over the last few years, spearheaded predominantly by the Bar Council, Bar Standards Board and other SBAs, to identify the core concerns affecting mid-career barristers in deciding whether to stay at the Bar.

While it is beyond the scope of this article to address all these issues, there are a few key ones that, though often addressed, persistently stand out for their lack of sufficient progress in practice. The Bar Standards Board’s (BSB’s) most recent report, Diversity at the Bar 2020, published in January 2021, pulls together some of these strands and the statistics confirm that there is still much work to be done.

The report reaffirms that both the pervasive issue of attrition in female practitioners at mid-career level, and a lack of female QCs proportionate to those practising at the Bar, continue to be a problem. This is echoed in another recent review of key factors affecting the retention of women at the Bar, presented by Professor Jo Delahunty QC in her article for Counsel magazine, ‘Women at the Bar in 2020’, and is worth reading.

The figures in the BSB report relating to Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) barristers demonstrate a continued lack of representation compared to the UK working population, as well as a significant disparity between the overall number of BAME barristers compared to BAME QCs. When the statistics are broken down further between different minority ethnic groups, greater disparity is also identified (see ‘Changing the picture: diversity at silk level’, Barbara Mills QC, Counsel, July 2021). The retention of BAME barristers at the middle and senior levels of the profession is crucial if the Bar is to make good on its stated ambition to become a diverse profession reflective of the society it serves.

Care responsibilities are another issue. The findings across most reports are broadly agreed. Demanding hours at (for many) low rates of pay, last minute instructions, changeable diaries and inflexible listing practices render a career at the Bar at best unattractive, and at worst unfeasible, for practitioners with care responsibilities.

Another factor is pay. Adequate funding for publicly funded practitioners and an adjustment to the working practices of courts to allow for a better work-life balance will go some way to resolving the issue of retention and career progression at the Bar for those practitioners and groups who are most affected by an entrenched, and increasingly unacceptable, mentality of ‘business as usual’. It says a lot when it takes a global pandemic to make things shift.

Current discourse appears to be focused on lockdown-driven changes such as remote hearings and the impact this has had on the work-life balance of practitioners. Discussions with HM Courts & Tribunals Service (HMCTS) and the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) are now centred around whether, and to what extent, some remote hearings should continue as the new normal. My Learned Friends ran a recent poll on Twitter, and the results indicate that a majority of practitioners would prefer that remote hearings continue, as it allows them more time (otherwise spent travelling to and from and waiting at court) to spend with their family ( This is particularly likely to be the case for those who have care responsibilities.

The Learned Friends’ manifesto

There is now an ample archive of empirical evidence to substantiate the validity of problems that adversely impact the retention and career progression of mid-career barristers.

The focus, we propose, must now be on formulating workable solutions to stem this attrition and make the Bar a feasible career of choice for all practitioners.

My Learned Friends provides a forum to discuss and promote these issues. Once we’ve identified workable solutions we will focus on encouraging those in power to implement them.

One of our recent tools for generating discussion has been our hashtag #tellusyourthree, where we have asked guest barristers to identify three challenges they experience at the Bar, three solutions they would offer to the Bar, and three asks they have for the Bar.

We have separately secured the support of a number of barrister influencers through a combination of our networks as well as cold-calling and explaining our mission. This includes some of the most popular legal influencers on Twitter, such as the Secret Barrister.

What does the future hold?

My Learned Friends will continue to create a space for barristers of all practice areas, regions, backgrounds and years of call to share resources, views, facts, and event information on matters related to career progression and retention at the Bar. The ultimate aim is to ensure transparency, improve diversity and inclusion, and secure better working lives for members of the Bar.

As part of our strategy we propose to:

  • contribute a number of real-life ‘case studies’ of barristers (whether named, or unnamed, but in any event true) setting out the impact of the realities of life at the Bar;
  • lobby HMCTS, the MOJ and the judiciary to consider the work-life balance impact and potential improvements to retention and progression, diversity and inclusion;
  • contribute to any relevant research to ensure that the views of the Bar are properly considered and that the key stakeholders make informed decisions that reflect the wellbeing of barristers;
  • promote the actions and initiatives of the Bar Council, SBAs, Circuits, chambers and other groups and individual practitioners to improve life at the Bar for all barristers.

And finally ...

We are not suggesting that we are the only ones seeking to find ways to improve the retention and career progression of mid-career barristers in order to promote a diverse Bar. On the contrary. But we are here to work with you by providing you with a platform to make your voices heard.