Women barristers earn nearly 50% less than men

updated on 07 March 2022

Reading time: three minutes

Women barristers, on average, earn nearly 50% less than their male counterparts, according to the Bar Standard Board’s (BSB) 2022 report on ‘Income at the Bar – by Gender and Ethnicity’. 

The BSB analysed income data and found that “female barristers and barristers from minority ethnic backgrounds are likely to earn less” than their White male barristers respectively.

The report highlighted that women from minority ethnic backgrounds are “the lowest earning group” with White male barristers earning the most. The average incomes for women from minority ethnic backgrounds is 41% of those of White male barristers.

The disparity in earnings remains true across the profession, including employed barristers, self-employed barristers, Queen’s Counsel, barristers working in London and those working elsewhere, as well as barristers with similar seniority when looking at the year of Call.

The BSB considered whether the disparity might shift when grouping barristers by their main area of practice and seniority by year of Call. However, the report found that women barristers and barristers from minority ethnic backgrounds still earned less on average than their equivalent male and White barristers.

Meanwhile, the report also looked at the impact that covid-19 had on salaries at the Bar, finding that most groups were subject to falls incomes. Male barristers from minority ethnic backgrounds and those working outside London experienced the biggest fall in earnings.

The report indicated that the “reasons for the disparities in income may be many”, including “favouritism around work allocation”, less work being handed out to barristers who introduced flexible working for childcare reasons, and the expectation that women barristers were more likely to “specialise in lower earning, often publicly funded, areas of law” than their male counterparts, which ultimately impacted the type of work on offer.

Some of the same factors were highlighted when considering the reasons for the disparity when looking at the earnings of barristers from minority ethnic backgrounds. For example, work allocation – the report highlighted the issue of “perceived bias” and the lack of career progression available.

The BSB plans to use the report’s findings to inform its three-year strategy, shape recommendations about its approach to equality and diversity at the Bar and contribute to its review of the BSB’s Equality Rules. “Chambers are already expected to monitor work allocation, and may wish to consider the Bar Council’s guidance on good practice for work allocation around sex and race,” according to the report’s conclusion. Publishing income pay gap data by ethnicity and gender should also be on the agenda.

For more information on what firms, barristers’ chambers and legal education providers are doing to improve diversity and inclusion within the profession, head to LCN’s Diversity hub, sponsored by Gowling WLG (UK) LLP.