Bar Wellbeing

Wellbeing at the Bar

Rachel Spearing reviews the results from the Bar Council’s first survey of the wellbeing of the profession

The Bar, by its very nature, is a stressful place to work, regardless of Call, practice area or status and we are all aware of the levels of stigma associated with displaying any sign of weakness. 

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Are you well?

The life of the self-employed barrister; the background to, and results of, the recent Bar Council “Wellbeing Survey”; what was revealed; and the action now needed.

No-one has ever suggested that life at the Bar is easy. 

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Bar pledges “cultural change” to tackle high barrister anxiety

More than 50% of barristers do not sleep properly and hundreds are “emotionally exhausted”, according to a report published by the Bar Council.

The results, which followed a survey completed by 2,456 barristers, showed that 1,152 (47%) felt high levels of stress at work, with two thirds stating that their current level of stress had a negative impact on their performance.

Of the respondents, 384 (15%) reported feeling down or low in mood most or all the time and a fifth said they experienced shifts in mood most or all the time.

Criminal barristers and those aged 35-55 reported the highest level of work pressure and lowest mood.

More than half (1,364) said they did not enjoy good quality, refreshing sleep and 350 said they experienced emotional exhaustion.

Stigma around stress prevented individuals from seeking help. While few reported they were mentored, those who were, showed lower levels of work place stress and were significantly less likely than others to report low mood.

Alistair MacDonald QC, Chairman of the Bar, said the findings were a “major concern”.

“For too long, stress, mental health and wellbeing have been taboo subjects of discussion at the Bar and the wider legal sector,” he said.

He said the Bar Council would put in place initiatives to tackle the issues, including a mentoring scheme and an education programme to bring about a “cultural change” in relation to wellbeing at the Bar.

See Wellbeing at the Bar and Chairman’s Column for further analysis.

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Report: Wellbeing at the Bar

The Bar Council’s survey of the wellbeing of the profession

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Opening up on mental health

Barristers have responded in record numbers to the Bar’s wellbeing survey, the first of its kind to assess the mental health of a whole profession in any country.

Over 2,500 members of the profession responded to the survey, conducted in October and November last year, which far surpassed the original target of 300.

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Flying solo

A day in the life of a single mother at the Bar. By Gulshanah Choudhuri

A typical day would see me crawling from my bed at around 7am, asking the girls to get up. Once the mele of breakfast is sorted, uniforms on, rucksacks packed, I head off to two different schools for my daughters. Rayhanah, aged 5, attends a private school not far from her sister, Ambreen, aged 8 and a half, whose school is a mile down the road. She is bright and sociable and attends a mainstream school, despite her having Down’s Syndrome. She’s very in tune to the day I’m at court or at work as I will have departed from my normal attire of tracksuit bottoms and make-up free face to other end of the spectrum: power suit, make up and jewellery, statement heels. Her reaction is always: “Work Mummy? Beautiful Mummy, like a princess,” followed by: “who pick you up?”

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Stress at the Bar

Stress remains the most common reason for calls to LawCare, the advisory and support service for the legal profession.

Of the 378 case files opened in 2012, 42 were for barristers. Nineteen barristers (45 per cent) called about stress; 10 (24 per cent) about depression, seven (17 per cent) about alcohol; one (two per cent) about drugs; and five (10 per cent) were listed as “other”.


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Barristers' Benevolent Association

Terence Mowschenson QC explains the work of the BBA

The Barristers’ Benevolent Association (BBA) exists to support, help and comfort those members of the Bar in England and Wales, including the judiciary, who are in need, in distress or in difficulties. Founded in 1873, the BBA has helped barristers and their families in every circuit. The criteria are that the applicant is needy and worthy. The aim is, wherever possible, to overcome the problem and rebuild the applicant’s life, dignity and career.

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Second Bar Council Disability Conference

Lord Neuberger, President of the Supreme Court, in his keynote speech welcomed the opportunity which the Bar Council Disability Conference gave to play an important part ‘in enabling chambers and individual barristers to learn from’ examples of ‘reasonable adjustments which lawyers in general, and members of the Bar in particular, should be making so as to render access to justice properly accessible for all’.

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Portrait of an Alcoholic

Where can a lawyer turn to when managing drink, work and life proves hard? LawCare explains how it is here to help.

When you think of an alcoholic, do you think of a shambling, slurring, dishevelled individual, living rough and existing from drink to drink, or do you think of a well-respected partner in a successful law firm or a barrister winning cases? It may be because the first portrait is the popular public perception that only around 7% of calls to LawCare’s free and confidential helpline are from, or about, alcoholic lawyers.

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