To become a barrister there’s pretty much a map which sets out the steps you are supposed to take to get to the promised land. Whether you are aware of it at the very outset, the steps you take will most likely determine whether you make it or not. Essentially, you start out in primary education, make your way through to university where you are expected to get a 2:1 or higher, and then on to Bar school. If you come out of that unscathed, you then embark on trying to secure that scarce resource – pupillage.

There’s a lot to be said about the pupillage process and outdated perspectives in terms of recruitment at the Bar, but this is not one of those articles.

After successful completion of pupillage the next wave of challenges come; a new obstacle course to navigate, with a new map and, intrinsically, there is a new pressure.

To be honest, when it comes to being a barrister and life at the Bar, it’s not as glamorous as you might think. Yes, it’s dynamic and yes, it’s important work (and certainly provides plenty of stories to entertain anyone you are foolish enough to let know what you do for a living). But what is often forgotten is the pressure that barristers face on a day-to-day basis. This is a pressure that is felt right the way through the profession.

Arguably, it may be one of the only professions where you remain on the front line right through your career. Somehow you carry on as a foot soldier, in the trenches, having to go to court and present arguments at the scene of the battle, all while becoming a General, a seasoned KC, with a breadth of experience. No matter your level of experience, there’s nowhere to hide. You have to show up and be front and centre every single time.

From the title and first paragraph of this article, you were probably expecting a bubble-gum analysis of how being a barrister is great and that we can all navigate the ups and downs with some self-care and perseverance. This article is not that. Rather, this is a piece inviting you to be cognisant of not just difficulties you might face, but equally be considerate of your colleagues in the profession.

When doing research for this article (and by research, I mean speaking to my peers) I’m reminded that the Bar is a tough place and that being a barrister is a demanding career. It can be relentless.

I speak to a barrister I first met in court when we were both doing pupillage and who has transitioned from my opponent to a co-confidant. She tells me about the anxiety she faces on a regular basis. She tells me about the constant strive for perfection because the stakes are often so high in terms of the ramifications for her client. When I ask how she de-stresses, she tells me that she’s not sure she really does. When one case is over, it is straight on to the next and ‘the cycle continues’.

Another barrister tells me she took a call from her clerk on her wedding day to confirm her availability at the request of a solicitor. Yes, seriously. When I asked why she swiped right to answer, she says, ‘I don’t actually know, I’m programmed to, I guess.’

I talk to a first-time mum of a 16-month-old, who never really felt she could comfortably take time off because of the uncertain impact it would have on her career and, in turn, the very child she is trying to raise. ‘There’s no real maternity structure at the Bar, there’s no maternity pay. If I leave for a few months and come back, it’s not like I’m a senior or a KC where I can jump right back in based on reputation alone. What will happen to my practice?’

A pupil barrister tells me that a lot of his anxiety comes from wondering what his opponent will be like and whether they’ll be pleasant or poisonous. And ‘if it’s not my oppo it could be the judge’.

Don’t get me wrong, the people I’ve spoken to love the profession and love the ability to help people in their time of need, but it begs the question, who’s helping the helpers?

Is the Bar really doing enough for wellness, or is it a tick-box exercise? Are we as barristers properly taking care of ourselves, or are we short-sightedly trying to meet the demands of the profession above all else?

And for the sake of full disclosure (no, that’s not a legal themed pun) I also spoke to barristers who tell me they are coping just fine, and I am truly glad to hear that. However, this article isn’t about them. This article is about the many barristers who are suffering out here, and the question of whether the Bar collectively is doing enough to recognise and support some of its key assets.

Not long after these conversations, the Criminal Bar strike was over, and the 15% pay rise lauded by some as a victory; mission accomplished. I’m not going to get into that either, but when the price of Jaffa Cakes has gone up more than 15% it’s hard to consider this as a victory for the Criminal Bar. There are many criminal barristers who are struggling financially, which in turn applies further pressure on an already pressured profession and this nominal pay increase may not do enough to help.

The irony of the strikes is that many barristers couldn’t afford to strike and at the same time couldn’t afford not to.

While the very nature of the profession requires autonomy, this doesn’t mean we can’t collectively speak up and look out for one another. Everyone is endeavouring to put their best foot forward, not revealing the struggles they may be going through because court requires the upmost confidence. Yes, I know the profession is adversarial. Yes, I know you require thick skin, and I don’t doubt we all have that in abundance, but that doesn’t stop us from being considerate of, and generally kinder towards one another and, among the seriousness and chaos of it all, remembering to try to have some fun.

‘Everybody you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about. Be kind,’ said the late Robin Williams.

After all, to quote David Orobosa Omoregie aka ‘Dave’, ‘We’re all alone in this together.