Life at the Bar can be stressful. As such, all practitioners and staff in chambers will likely experience work-related stress at some point. Based on interviews with barristers and mental health practitioners, this article outlines some of the major issues facing members and staff today, suggests some strategies for staying well, and flags the signs that more support could be needed.

‘Life at the Bar’: ongoing sources of stress

Showing the empathy that clients need while navigating vicarious trauma is tough, whether matters involve violent crimes, child welfare, stolen life savings, serious injuries or reputational ruin. The exhaustion caused by defending or prosecuting such high-stake cases can compound and lead to burn out, and representing controversial, high-profile parties can add extra stress in the form of media interest.

Furthermore, irregularity of work can create physical, mental and financial strain, especially for parents and carers, while junior barristers may take years to jettison student-style deadline mania for a more sustainable regime.

Elizabeth Rimmer, CEO of LawCare, the legal sector’s mental health care charity, highlights that imposter syndrome is a common experience at the Bar. It can affect people at any stage, but particularly younger members or those who are the first in their family to enter the law. Feelings of perceived inadequacy can emerge, leading to overworking, embedding the belief that work cannot be turned down, increasing pressure, and causing stress and anxiety to spiral.

Adding in the financial pressures of a fledgling practice can lead junior barristers to feel overwhelmed. Worse still, blocking out time for rest and repair may feel like a distant dream.

7BR’s ‘stress at work’ law specialist Liam Ryan highlights how essential it is to notice the personal impact of work-related issues, to take a step back, and seek out healthy coping strategies. Stress at the Bar can be attritional and occur at unusually high levels. A constant flow of cases can render stress reduction aspirational, leading to intense, protracted periods of stress. It is not helpful to normalise this, or consider this as ‘something that happens to someone else’. It is Liam’s view that if stress is making a barrister unwell, it is vital to raise this candidly with an appropriate person in chambers, and follow up in writing.

Causes of stress in 2024

Post-COVID, loneliness and a sense of isolation have lingered. Many CEOs are fighting to get staff and members back into chambers, but face push-back from parents, carers and those struggling with commuting costs during a cost-of-living crisis.

What’s more, reports of bullying, harassment and discrimination are sadly increasing. In the Bar Council’s most recent survey of the profession, Barristers’ Working Lives 2023, 44% of respondents said they had experienced or observed this behaviour either in person or online. This is an increase from 38% in 2021 and 31% in 2017. For support, barristers could consider seeking help from senior members in Chambers, making a record on the Bar Council’s Talk To Spot online tool, and contacting the Bar Council helplines.

Positive steps for a healthy year

Offering light at the end of the tunnel, barristers Elaine Banton and Thomas Russell believe that having a good network of people to talk to is key. It can be tempting to work all the time, but there is a need to keep time for ‘normal’ activities, hobbies and friends. Maintaining boundaries, building in regular breaks and working with clerks to manage overloaded diaries are simple steps, but require commitment to succeed. A sense of humour and time with family (whatever form that takes) are paramount. Listening to music and dancing, deep breathing, taking a warm bath and regular walks can also support restoration and repair.

Finding the right steps and support for you

Identifying the right activities for your personality and physiology can strongly support your path to success. As Maggie Morrow, the psychotherapist, counsellor, and Director of the therapy service KlearMinds points out, yoga may really suit slow burn energy individuals, whereas others with faster metabolism may derive balance and release from active sports. Finding a solution that fits your lifestyle, your preferences and who you really are, is key.

Disturbed sleep can warn that change is required. Dr Raffaello Antonino, Clinical Director of Therapy Central, says that simple steps such as keeping a journal to write down worries or practising mindfulness can help you become aware of your mental state and negate persistent negative thoughts during the night, showing them as merely transient passengers in the mind before they are let go.

Relaxation before bed is critical, particularly when working overtime and feeling overwhelmed. Immersing yourself in a favourite book or music can help, as can making a consistent effort to be mindful through breathing activities and/or meditation.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed or impacted by a really difficult matter, the Bar Council offers a number of resources at including a 24/7 Assistance Helpline for all self-employed barristers with a practising certificate as well as members of the IBC and LPMA at 0800 169 2040. LawCare provides confidential peer support to anyone in the legal sector by trained staff and volunteers with first hand experience of working in law. Potential callers needn’t wait until a downward spiral begins, you can contact LawCare about anything that may be concerning you in your professional or personal life. Talking through whatever is worrying you can help greatly. Visit or call 0800 279 6888.

Minimising financial stress

Founder of financial education firm Wealthbrite Carla Hoppe points out that the first step to managing financial stress is to recognise the underlying cause, and get clarity on which issues can be controlled by you. Fluctuating income is part of life at the self-employed Bar. Working with fees clerks to find out what’s happening with unpaid invoices can help unlock payment and relieve some immediate stress. Chambers management can also assist by protecting barristers from bad actors.

During periods when you feel in control, work out a baseline for your unavoidable monthly expenses, shop around for the best rates on savings and credit, and set up a regular savings plan. This should make paying annual tax bills more comfortable and tide you over in difficult months.

Research shows that pre-existing mental health conditions make struggling with debt more likely, while emerging evidence shows that neurodivergent individuals can also struggle more with financial stress. If you or a loved one is suffering from financial pressure, talking to someone is recommended. MoneyHelper offers free, confidential guidance, while StepChange can negotiate affordable repayment plans on your behalf.

Signs you could need further support

Mental health practitioners emphasise that early intervention is important, for shorter recovery periods and more successful treatment.

A useful symptom watch checklist includes: increased irritability and snapping; difficulty concentrating; using the language of self-doubt; insomnia and deteriorating sleep; increasing fatigue; headaches; appetite changes; shoulder/neck tension; digestion issues; regularly, inexplicably feeling down; reduced interest in leisure or social activities; impacts on relationships outside work; inexplicable panic; unjustifiably fearful reactions; persistent negative thoughts.

These issues may be manageable in isolation, but monitoring how they can collectively impact on personal day-to-day functioning is crucial, so you can identify when to reach out to your GP. 

Sources of support

The LawCare service is available to all lawyers, their staff and immediate families. The helpline is 0800 279 6888 and is open Monday to Friday 9-5. You can also email them at or access online chat through

The Bar Council, in partnership with Health Assured, offers a 24/7 Assistance Programme, funded by the Bar Mutual Indemnity Fund to support barristers, pupils and members of the LPMA and IBC: tel 0800 169 2040. See also:

The Samaritans helpline can be called for free at any time, day or night, on 116 123. Whatever you’re going through, they provide confidential listening and support. Email:; international helplines at