Taking the first step

Chris Quinn on why the Bar needs to get serious about wellbeing ... and how to get training

Although it has not gained much coverage outside legal circles, the Bar Council recently published a sobering report on health issues afflicting barristers. 

According to that report, Wellbeing at the Bar, published in April, only 37% of the 2456 respondents said that they took regular exercise most or all of the time and an incredible 78% worried about their health at least some of the time – indeed 14% said that they did so either “most of the time” or “all of the time”.

The report chimes with the British Heart Foundation revealing earlier this month that almost half of Britons do no exercise at all, describing the figures as “a worrying indication of the overall picture of our nation’s heart health”.

The lifestyle of barristers can be particularly unforgiving, no matter how well-intentioned New Year’s resolutions as to striking a better work/life balance may be. Any barrister who has been in practice for even just a short period of time is likely to have heard of a colleague who has suffered health issues. The combination of the stresses of practice and a sedentary lifestyle is notorious.

Being based in one of the Inns of Court does not help. Many of us commute long distances into town and by the time we get back home in the evenings, any desire to do some exercise has fallen away. Unless we have a gym membership in Central London – as well as the discipline to use it – then the working week will come and go with the only exercise undertaken being the walk to and from public transport.

The Bar Council is encouraging input from practitioners as to ways that it may be able to assist to get us away from our desks and doing some proper exercise during the working week. In his monthly update to barristers, the Chairman, Alistair MacDonald QC, emphasised the need to bring about a “culture change” on wellbeing at the Bar. It is difficult to see how this can be achieved unless some of us now take up the challenge.

One obvious way for us to start doing so is to ensure that the Bar Council and the Inns of Court step up efforts to provide co-ordinated access to sport and exercising opportunities and consider all ways in which their extraordinary facilities can be put to good use. One idea is that the Bar Council should provide an on-line platform on which all activities that are open to barristers to participate in are advertised so that at least one common excuse for inactivity, “I didn’t know that there was anything going on”, falls away.

Happily, the Master of Inner Temple Gardens has already indicated that his Inn may indeed be very much on-side in respect of this need. Since the Autumn of last year he has made the broadwalk of the Gardens (entrance at the bottom of Middle Temple Lane) available for a weekly group fitness session beginning at 11.30am every Thursday (cost £15). The session is run by Pete Banister and Waynne Ashbridge of www.adapttrainperform.co.uk.

The sessions are deliberately designed to be effective and enjoyable for barristers, pupils and staff of all ages and fitness-levels. If you would like to see your profession take a more active interest in your physical wellbeing then perhaps giving one of these sessions a go would be the best way to start.

If you have other ideas as to how we, as barristers, can start the process of culture-change then please contact me at chambers.

Contributor Chris Quinn, Littleton Chambers

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Chris Quinn

Chris is an employment and commercial litigation specialist at Littleton Chambers in the Temple.