Bar Council reveals declining state of junior lawyers’ mental health

updated on 26 January 2022

Reading time: three minutes

According to the new report by Careers Research and Advisory Centre (CRAC), “45% of the Young Bar reported a negative impact on their financial situation, higher still at 60% for those working in crime – as court work ceased in 2020, their earnings plummeted.”

Despite the advantages of remote working, such as saving money on travel and the convenience that working from home offers, “one in six” young barristers want to quit due to heavy workloads and fears of burnout.

Life at the Young Bar, published today by CRAC, is a report based on research into barristers who have been practising for up to seven years. The report reveals shocking statistics into the deteriorating state of junior barristers’ mental health.

The report, commissioned by the Bar Council, recommends that work should be allocated more fairly and made more manageable to “avoid burnout and the loss of young barristers from the profession”. Mentoring was also identified as one of the areas in which barristers felt that both practice and working life could be enhanced.

The CRAC report also encourages legal employers to have a conversation about bullying and harassment in the workplace; addressing these negative behaviours is key to retaining a diverse workforce and creating an inclusive working environment.

LawCareers.Net spoke to a young human rights barrister who said: “Junior barristers working within crime and human rights are often working with societies most vulnerable. The hours of prep we put in for the amount we earn often won’t equate to the minimum wage, yet we persevere.

“The small amount we earn, coupled with the, on occasion, illogical decisions of judges (eg, a five-minute hearing being in person when it could have been done remotely) can make it impossible to cultivate good self-care practices – from being able to get enough sleep, to being able to afford the gym membership closest to your home.

“It is no wonder so many plan to leave the profession.” 

The report state: “Much of the foregoing appears to paint a negative and bleak picture of working life at the Young Bar.”

Chair of the Bar Council’s Young Barristers’ Committee, Michael Polak, said: "This research should act as a wake-up call for those interested in the future of the profession.

“It’s clear we need to modernise the way that the Bar operates.

“Our culture, working practices, and wellbeing must be key themes of the Bar Council’s work on behalf of the Young Bar over the coming year.

“The report highlights the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, with young barristers having experienced adverse changes to their personal finances, relationships with colleagues and overall wellbeing.”

The report echoes some of the concerns expressed in this LCN Feature: ‘Trending commercial issues to know about in 2022’ specifically ways that covid-19 has impacted the mental health of the legal profession.