According to a survey…stress is taking its toll on barristers

The Bar Council conducted a survey which they published on 11th May 2015 (and according to the Law Society Gazette it is ‘the most comprehensive survey of barristers’ wellbeing conducted’).

Some of the statistics are quite shocking including, one in eight barristers consider themselves to be ‘emotionally exhausted’ and more than half do not sleep properly.

I am very aware of the long hours and hard work that Barristers put into their cases and that is really a given in the legal profession regardless of whether you are a barrister or solicitor, and most people know that it will be like this before they start (maybe not to such an extent but they are aware it is a lot of work, late nights and sometimes last minute planning!).

It is awful to read these statistics especially given the push amongst companies in the last year on improving health and wellbeing  in and out of work – which sometimes I think is taken too far, but  at the same time everyone is entitled to some form of decent health and wellbeing lifestyle despite the long hours!

I also can’t help but think that if a similar survey was conducted in other professions (and even non-law related ones) that the results would be very similar.  Very often in any job people work more hours than they are paid for, work late, take work home, and are snowed under with work… so is this becoming the norm?

As mentioned above I have always been aware of  barristers prepping cases the might before if they didn’t get them till late on in the day, and the sheer volume of work and supplemental paperwork that goes alongside things… but that is what you sign up for… and whilst it is not a perk of being a Barrister it is part and parcel of the working day!

I know barristers who go home, have dinner etc. and then start work again when they need too, and that seems to work for them, it might not be ideal but it is what has to be done to get the work done.

I also know that sometimes things happen that cannot be planned for and you may end up working into the small hours to get them done, and whilst it isn’t an ideal situation, you just have to deal with it.

Just shy of 2,500 responded to the survey (2,456 to be precise) and a sixth of those surveyed said they experienced emotional exhaustion whilst 1,364 said they did not get enough good quality sleep!

Stress played a high factor in survey results – with half (1,152) saying they faced a high level of stress at work, and two thirds (1,614) stating that their current level of stress had a negative impact on their performance.

Other factors  highlighted as being the most challenging aspects of  ‘life at the bar’ included: high expectations, long unsocial working hours, financial concerns, and the devaluation of the profession in the eyes of the public and government,

Half of those surveyed who were part of the self-employed bar felt disengaged at work, the proportion was a third for the employed bar.

Though the employed bar had some challenges too, including a lack of autonomy and also a reduced sense of status compared with those who were self employed.

Criminal bar barristers reported the highest level of pressure, and those ages 35-55 experienced the highest level of work pressure and life satisfaction.

It appeared that most agreed that mentoring (whether formal or informal) was shown to significantly reduce stress, though amongst those surveyed very few received mentoring.  Going forward though the Bar does plan to extend its mentoring service and provide better guidance for chambers.

I feel that these views would be similar regardless of the profession, but it is important that these issues are being discussed, especially in the legal profession which is very traditional.

“Alistair MacDonald QC, chairman of the bar, said: ‘For too long stress, mental health and wellbeing have been taboo subjects of discussion at the bar and in the wider legal sectors”.

It is great that they are being discussed now, and I hope that it does improve the situation but I also hope that it is not taken too far!

Feel free to check out all the information in The Law Society Gazette.

Rebecca x

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