Ever since the Wellbeing at the Bar report published in April 2015, there has been a positive surge in wellbeing initiatives aimed at barristers. The report was jointly funded by the Inns of Court and the Bar Council, and concluded that there was not a measurable difference in responses when asked about quality of life depending on years in practice. It is natural however that certain pressures have a disproportionate effect on those in the early years of practice. It is important therefore that junior barristers have access to help and ways to combat the pressures that they will invariably face as part of the job.
One of the most under-reported issues that young barristers have to deal with is judicial bullying. Young barristers may feel humiliated or not competent enough to represent their client’s best interest as a result of a Judge’s conduct in court. Conduct of this kind is unacceptable and can be reported to the Judicial Conduct Investigations Office (JCIO). However, not all barristers feel empowered to do so. The Young Barristers’ Committee (YBC) of the Bar Council remain committed to ensuring the wellbeing of young barristers, and are welcome reports and complaints by email (YBC@BarCouncil.org.uk) from those who feel like they have been victims of judicial bullying. YBC hope to collate and send these scenarios anonymously to JCIO, to serve as supporting evidence for how the current system may be failing to protect advocates in court.
As a junior barrister, it can sometimes feel like solicitors have your life in their hands as you start to develop a practice. The pressure of keeping solicitors happy can sometimes lead to stress and panic. It is important to ensure that your clerks are aware of your workload, which includes the additional demands placed upon you in respect of certain cases, e.g. frequent phone calls and document review work.
Panicking at court
Lack of sleep, past court experiences (e.g. judicial bullying) and insufficient preparation time may cause young barristers to dread a hearing or to panic at court. Whilst a healthy amount of adrenaline may improve a barrister’s performance, panic will hinder it. It may be helpful to speak to a more senior member of chambers who you feel comfortable confiding in (even if this means making a phone call when you are at court) and to consider whether you require extra time to prepare the case, or simply need a break.
Strides have been made in the last couple of years towards providing reliable and relatable tools for barristers to confront concerns about wellbeing. For students, pupils and young barristers, these online resources should go some way to helping with the pressure of early years in practice. Further, a recent initiative coordinated by the Bar Council, delivered by Health Assured and funded by BMIF, provides free counselling to barristers – see https://www.wellbeingatthebar.org.uk/eap/.
Katie Longstaff is a member of the Young Barristers’ Committee and a barrister at Radcliffe Chambers.