Wellbeing at the Bar

Wellbeing (and mental health more generally) within the legal profession is rarely spoken about, yet within the Bar’s relatively small community everyone is affected by their own or colleagues’ poor mental health; be it depression, substance abuse associated with stress; the breakdown of relationships or, in the most extreme cases, suicide.

There is perceived to be a high level of stigma associated with mental health issues, yet one in four of us will suffer from poor mental health during our lifetime.

The Bar is a high pressure, high status career, and especially for those who are self-employed, the independent nature of the profession can mean there appears to be little support available. Employed barristers may fear approaching Human Resource departments or Employee Assistance programmes.

Particularly stressful periods occur early in practice and include:

  • During pupillage
  • When making tenancy applications and securing tenancy
  • When establishing your practice
  • In balancing family life and caring responsibilities (many new practitioners will have young families) with your fledgling career
  • In managing cash flow (particularly when tax bills are due), and
  • Being faced with high work pressure.

Problems can manifest themselves for example in:

  • Deterioration in relationships with clients, colleagues, friends and families
  • Poor quality or a lack of sleep
  • Panic attacks, and
  • Substance abuse.
We want you take away two important messages from this toolkit

1. You can protect yourself from suffering poor mental health by adopting a number of strategies that have been medically proven to build resilience
2. You should seek help (and there is lots of help out there) if you feel you are unable to cope


Wellbeing at the Bar – What research across the Bar has found
Worry and Perfectionism

 

  • 1 in 3 find it difficult to control and stop worrying
  • 59% are very self-critical most or all of the time
Stress Levels
  • 1 in 6 tend to feel down or in low spirits most or all of the time
  • 1 in 4 tend to feel nervous, anxious or on edge
  • 1 in 6 worry about their health most or all of the time
Cognitive Renewal
  • 54% enjoy refreshing good quality sleep only some of the time
  • 64% are not able to take breaks most or all of the time
Work Environment
  • 2 in 3 feel that showing signs of stress at work indicates weakness
  • 47% report work pressure as 8 or above
  • 62% are unable to integrate work and outside of work most or all of the time
Engagement and Advocacy
  • 39% of the employed bar would recommend the Bar as a place to work ‘not at all’ or only ‘some of the time’
  • 57% of the self-employed Bar would recommend the Bar as a place to work ‘not at all’ or only ‘some of the time’
Trust
  • 64% see role models at leadership levels ‘not at all’ or only ‘some of the time’
  • For 3 in 4 within the environment in which they work, genuine mistakes are seen as opportunities for learning only ‘some of the time’ or ‘not at all’

The research also found that the highest work pressure, lowest mood and life satisfaction were between the years of 35 to 55 – an age bracket generally associated with lower life satisfaction.

Most significantly, it also found that those who were mentored either formally or informally showed lower levels of work place stress and were significantly less likely than others to report their mood as low.

The Wellbeing at the Bar Report can be viewed on the Bar Council website: http://www.barcouncil.org.uk/media/348371/wellbeing_at_the_bar_report_april_2015__final_.pdf.

Michael Jones from the Young Barristers’ Committee comments:

Work/life balance: Does such a thing exist at the Bar?
“It was not too many years ago that I was a pupil in a busy family set of chambers. I have asked myself whether it is possible to achieve a good work/life balance at the Bar and I am confident that the answer to that questions is “yes”. I am one of those barristers who was guilty of working to the exclusion my social life, at least in the early stages of practising and particularly, when I was a pupil.”

The pupillage conundrum
“The problem for a pupil is that it is not easy to gain a tenancy and you will often feel that you are simply not in a position to turn down work. Any pupil is advised to present themselves as hardworking and willing to do whatever it takes to help chambers cover work. However, there comes a point where if too much work is loaded onto your shoulders, this will affect your ability to undertake that work to the best of your ability; simply put, you will suffer “burn out”. Not only is this not good for you, but it is not good for your chambers either – a pupil making mistakes or producing sub-standard work never impresses instructing solicitors.”

For further information and resources please see www.wellbeingatthebar.org.uk.