Chairman's Update - 21 April 2016

21 April 2016

What are we doing now on wellbeing at the Bar?

Resilience is an essential attribute of a barrister. Many of us will at some point, or points, encounter the challenges that life throws in our way which may cause us to struggle in carrying out our professional duties. 

Ensuring that we recognize the need to look after ourselves, and our colleagues, and that we are able to better support each other is at the heart of our Wellbeing at the Bar programme. 

The Bar has never been an easy profession. Nor is it easy for those who work with us, clerks and practice managers. There are new challenges in the 21st century. These include the pressures on barristers who have an unremitting diet of sex cases, coping with the financial pressures of student debt or lower earnings, managing the incessant flow of emails which arrive throughout the day and night and ensuring collegiality where perhaps the Chambers structure is changing with hot desking or remote working. These are just a few of the challenges. 

The Wellbeing research conducted across 2,500 barristers in late 2014 found among other matters that: 

  • 1 in 3 find it difficult to control/stop worrying

  • 2 in 3 feel showing signs of stress equals weakness

  • 1 in 6 are feeling in low spirits most of the time

  • 59% demonstrate unhealthy levels of perfectionism.

Since we launched our wellbeing campaign a number of practitioners of all levels of seniority, from across the country and from different areas of practice, have shared with me the challenges they and their colleagues face. I welcome this - it is an important first step in encouraging us all to get better at talking about the challenges that we encounter and to seek help if we need to. 

The need for greater awareness and support is clear. That is why this programme has been assisted by the Inns of Court, the Specialist Bar Associations and the Institute of Barristers' Clerks, as well as, the Bar Council. 

Only last month a Wellbeing Task Force was set up for all arms of the profession including the Bar Council, Judicial Office, the Law Society, CILEx and LawCare. This not only demonstrates the importance of wellbeing but also presents opportunities for the Bar Council where barristers' wellbeing is affected by their professional clients or by the judiciary. 

The young Bar has already incorporated advice on wellbeing in its Young Bar Hub.

The objectives of the Wellbeing at the Bar programme are to, over the next few years, provide members of the profession with the information and skills they need to stay well. Secondly, to support members of the profession as they deal with difficulties that arise in so far as they affect a barrister's professional life. Thirdly, to provide assistance to those with responsibility (or taking on a supporting role) for those in difficulty or crisis.

The programme is considering: stress, overwork, anxiety, perfectionism and lack of self-confidence; as well as the interplay between personal and working lives, caring responsibilities, financial issues, mental illness, physical illness and addiction. 

The degree to which these challenges affect the lives of practitioners varies enormously. The promotion of wellbeing at the Bar involves encouraging appropriate coping and resilience strategies. It offers a means of support to those assisting colleagues with, or experiencing these issues at first-hand. 

In July 2015 we created a working group of representatives of the Bar Council, the Inns of Court, Specialist Bar Associations, the Circuits and the Institute of Barristers' Clerks. Meeting monthly, they are responsible for programme delivery. The group is chaired by Rachel Spearing with Sam Mercer at the Bar Council providing executive support. Both have committed a huge amount of time and energy to making this programme a success. 

Why am I writing about this now? Well, the Wellbeing at the Bar programme will soon deliver online resources for individuals (pupils, new practitioners, practising barristers) and those with a management or other responsibility for barristers (Heads of Chambers, Clerks, Practice Managers, Pupil Supervisors and EDOs). These resources will be accessed via a Bar Wellbeing portal (hosted by the Bar Council). 

In addition to other initiatives, we aim to organise a number of seminars and events around the country to promote awareness of what we are doing and how you can benefit from the resources that are becoming available.  Please look out for these, and future updates from the Bar Council. 

Chairman of the Bar, Chantal-Aimée Doerries QC