One in six young barristers want to leave profession, report suggests

PA Library photo dated 12/7/01 The Scales of Justice on top of the Old Bailey, London.

A report has suggested one in six young barristers are looking to leave the profession - Credit: PA

A young barrister has said a report suggesting one in six want to leave the profession amid unmanageable workloads "does not come as a surprise". 

The Life at the Young Bar report, which is based on research into barristers who have been practising for up to seven years, recommends that work should be allocated more fairly to "avoid burnout" and prevent more from leaving the bar. 

The report, which was commissioned by the Bar Council, also highlighted the impact of the coronavirus crisis and found young barristers were more significantly affected by the pandemic. 

Francesca Kirby from Red Lion Chambers

Francesca Kirby said the report suggesting one in six young barristers want to leave the profession does not come as a surprise - Credit: Red Lion Chambers

Francesca Kirby, from Red Lion Chambers, who regularly works on the  south east circuit, which includes Suffolk, Essex and Norfolk, said the falling number of criminal barristers has led to pressure to take on more work to "plug the gap". 

"As a consequence of the backlog, there is a plethora of work around, but at the same time the number of criminal barristers has fallen," she said.

"In 2019-20 the number of junior criminal barristers decreased from 2,553 to 2,273.

"Many practitioners have reported experiencing instances where there were no barristers available to prosecute or defend cases.

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"With a shortage of barristers, there is pressure to take on more work to plug the gap.

"Furthermore, with the fees as they are, to make a living, taking on more work is often necessary. The hours become longer and relentless, eventually leading to burnout in the profession."

Michael Souster received a suspended sentence at Ipswich Crown Court Picture: CHARLOTTE BOND

Ipswich Crown Court has a backlog of cases - Credit: Charlotte Bond

Two weeks ago, criminal barristers voted overwhelmingly in favour of strike action if the government does not agree to a "substantial increase" in legal aid. 

An independent review of the criminal legal aid budget has proposed an extra £135million-a-year, and justice secretary Dominic Raab has committed to responding to the review by the end of March. 

Miss Kirby believes applying the recommendations of the review will help keep more young barristers in the profession. 

"Work as a criminal barrister is rewarding and interesting, but at the moment it is a profession where long hours are expected and often go unremunerated," she said.  

"This is no way to attract and retain talent. Implementing the recommendations of the Criminal Legal Aid Review, and increasing the fees, will improve this position.

"Of course, there will always be an element of uncertainty over the hours of this job, but increasing the fees will also give practitioners greater breathing space to take a break, without fear of the financial impact."