The nature of the work at the Bar places heavy demands on time and patience and requires significant industry. The Bar is unique in that the working day starts early and ends late; there are few 9-5 days. Written advocacy must be crafted outside court hours and the careful thought processes that take place when planning questions and speeches lead to barristers appearing insular or disengaged. The self-employed nature of the profession means there is no easy escape, no paid holidays and no employer’s duty of care.
Practitioners dealing with violent and sexual abuse cases find themselves having to develop the ability to compartmentalise just to survive the onslaught of horrific factual details, which in turn can lead to them becoming desensitised.
As a result of the relentless demands of the profession, many barristers suffer from high functioning anxiety. Most will have no idea and therefore will do nothing to help themselves. They won’t ask for help. There are simple tell-tale signs; some or all of which might mean that it is high time for a change of pace or a period of reflection.
Headspace sums up the features of high functioning anxiety. It’s likely that scores of barristers will recognise themselves in this description:
“Busy and in control. High-achieving and perfectionistic. Driven by details and order in a desperate attempt to calm racing thoughts, worry, and the fear that invade every ounce of the mind and body. An over-thinker with a tendency to perseverate, dwell, and stew on everything.
As much as those who experience these symptoms would like to be able to turn it off or put it on pause, they can’t. Most days, their thoughts turn into worries and their worries, in turn, consume their thoughts. This creates a constant state of “what if?”
But this isolated turmoil is often hidden by smiles and laughs, success and achievements, and a decent dose of extroversion. Ironically, this nervous energy is what keeps them moving forward. It’s always there pushing them to do more, achieve more, succeed more, and be better”.
What’s the cure?
There is no quick-fix or cure but, alongside other treatment options, meditation and mindfulness are widely acknowledged as effective ways in which to manage, anxiety.
It need take no longer than 10 minutes a day. Everybody has 10 minutes a day to spare. Most of us have smartphones. The best App I have found is The Mindfulness App. It’s easy to use and there are timed meditations and the option to purchase relatively cheap extra ones dealing with specific issues.
It’s easy to make it part of the daily routine so take the time to clear your head and be present, instead of preoccupied. There are profound benefits from taking a few minutes out of the day to be calm, centred and free of demands.
Lynda was called to the Bar in 1993 and practised in family law before moving into legal education. She taught on the Nottingham BVC and led the successful Kaplan BPTC before creating a new Bar course for the University of Law in 2014. She is now the Programme Director at the Inns of Court College of Advocacy where she has co-authored the national ‘Advocacy and the Vulnerable’ course and has developed a suite of materials for youth justice practitioners.
When leading the Kaplan Bar course, Lynda saw a significant increase in the number of Bar students experiencing mental health issues. She set up a mentoring service and employed a dedicated student counsellor. She began to practise Forrest yoga and Ayurveda in 2010.