The Employed Bar has a long history. The origins of the Office of the Attorney General, the highest employed barrister in the land, are uncertain, but a record from 1243 notes an ‘attorney of the crown’ who was paid to prosecute cases for the king. In 1673 the Attorney General, Middle Templar Francis North, 1st Baron Guilford (pictured above) officially became the Crown’s adviser and representative. The Government Legal Department, where over 15% of employed barristers now work, was enshrined in law as the Treasury Solicitor’s Department in 1876.

These facts may help to destroy the myth that employed barristers are a recent invention, separate from the historically self-employed Bar. Even when I left self-employed practice for a period in the early 2000s, to take up an employed role, prosecuting for the United Nations, this was still a comparatively unusual career path. But things have changed a lot and they continue to do so.

Stocktake of employed practice today

What is known now as the Employed Bar represents a relatively new constituency. It is therefore perhaps understandable that the recently published Life at the Employed Bar report is only our second stocktake of employed practice since the turn of the century, and the first since our Snapshot report in 2016.

As Chair of the Employed Barristers’ Committee (EBC), I am delighted that we have such a comprehensive and informative piece of work, which enables us to see with greater clarity the challenges for employed barristers. Our thanks to the Bar Council for making the report a reality.

The purpose of the Employed Bar report is self-evident; it is a freeze frame of where our branch of the profession is right now, and it has allowed us to identify nine recommendations (see below). These recommendations will form the policy impetus for the Employed Barristers’ Committee during my tenure and beyond. We already have some projects up and running, to address these recommendations, which I can say a bit about here. Others will constitute part of our longer-term goals and ambitions.

Projects currently up and running

Better data collection: it is essential that we understand better what the Employed Bar needs, so we can respond to those requirements. The Barristers’ Working Lives (BWL) report, the Bar Council’s biennial survey of the entire Bar, has historically received a low response rate from employed barristers. We need to change that if their perspective is to be taken into account. We will be asking for everyone’s help on this, when BWL launches later this year.

Greater visibility: one of the best sources of information is the Bar Council’s web pages for the Employed Bar. These will be reviewed to ensure they are relevant and up to date. We’d also like to see employed barristers taking a more active and visible role in the committees and institutions of the Bar. As an example, we are working with all four Inns of Court to find ways to increase the role of employed barristers within these institutions. The Chair’s update is part of our regular EBC e-newsletter, and you can opt in to receive it via My Bar.

Promoting careers at the Employed Bar: we will continue our efforts wherever possible and aim to have a greater presence among students to extol the virtues of employed pupillage.

Tackling bullying and harassment: this is a priority for the EBC. Shockingly, our report demonstrates that just under one third of all respondents had experienced or observed bullying in employed practice. We will work with leaders at the Employed Bar, including the Government Legal Department (GLD), Crown Prosecution Service, and law firms, to stamp out bad practice wherever it is found. Talk to Spot, the Bar Council’s anonymous reporting tool, remains available and I would encourage you to use it if needed.

Creating communities of employed barristers: We intend to do this via a greater presence on Circuit, and through working with the Inns. As a Middle Templar myself, I am delighted to be a member of our recently inaugurated Employed Bar Society. I look forward to the EBC working alongside the Society to further the interests of the Employed Bar.

Increasing judicial appointments: Heidi Stonecliffe KC (our Vice Chair) recently led a session for employed barristers considering a judicial application. The event was held at Inner Temple on 28 February, where an esteemed panel offered their own experiences of joining the Bench and answered questions on some of the hurdles and myths.

Communicating the unique skill sets of barristers: we will continue to tell anyone who will listen just how talented those practising at the Employed Bar are. Last year’s Employed Bar Awards were a great opportunity to celebrate these talents, and we have planned further initiatives this year with the Inns, GLD and the Bar Association for Commerce, Finance and Industry (BACFI) so we can continue to shine a spotlight on employed barristers.

Getting feedback from barristers

Heidi and I have been privileged to chair a series of focus groups where we spoke directly with members of the Employed Bar. You can read more about these conversations in Chapter 5 of the Life at the Employed Bar report, and what was very clear was how important it is to hear directly from employed practitioners about their successes and concerns. The report is therefore intended as a progress report on life at the Employed Bar and not a final word.

In that vein, we welcome your thoughts and comments on our work and how we should be representing you. Please do not hesitate to contact us via email:

It is my honour to be elected as EBC Chair for 2023, and I would like to thank my immediate predecessor, Mike Jones KC, for his fabulous work to get us where we are – particularly in his championing of the ‘One Bar’ ethos. Our achievements last year, including the Employed Bar Awards, held in partnership with Gray’s Inn; our strengthened relations with BACFI and the Inns of Court; and the return of our e-newsletter, have been significant in their own right, but they are also great foundations on which to build.

I am also delighted that Heidi Stonecliffe KC was elected as Vice Chair of the committee – I have worked with Heidi in the past and am looking forward to working more closely with her in the months to come. I have no doubt that we will make a formidable team!

To circle back to where we began, the Life at the Employed Bar report represents the latest iteration of a community with a rich heritage. The Employed Bar has grown and developed, particularly in recent decades, and such growth has brought with it new challenges. But it remains as it has always been – a key constituency of our One Bar, made up of barristers of many talents who are working tirelessly to uphold the rule of law and hold themselves to the high standards of our profession.

As we near the 25-year anniversary of the Employed Barristers’ Committee, we can rest assured that, while this committee may be relatively new, the institution of the Employed Bar has been around for a very long time and will continue to go from strength to strength.

I hope you can join us for the next part of our journey. 

© Bar Council
References and links

Life at the Employed Bar, Bar Council, 2023

Snapshot Report: The Experience of Employed Barristers at the Bar, Bar Council, 2016

Barristers’ Working Lives, Bar Council, 2021

Employed Barristers’ Committee

Bar Council’s Employed Bar webpages

Employed Bar Awards 2022

‘Celebrating the Employed Bar’, Counsel December 2022

Bar Association for Commerce, Finance and Industry

Talk to Spot

My Bar portal