Wellbeing from the start
Speaking to mini-pupils and conducting interviews for pupillage recently, it has struck me how unwilling anyone wishing to join the profession is to acknowledge the need for a work/life balance. I entirely understand the dilemma, and am sure I was guilty of it too. They want to join a profession with notoriously long and unsociable hours, and high levels of challenging work. If they are going to succeed as a pupil or tenant they will need to be hard working and driven. If they are going to succeed in getting pupillage they will need to convince a panel that they possess such qualities. But, for interviewees and interviewers to ignore the need for life outside of work is both unrealistic and unhelpful.
Data collected by the Bar Council shows that the psychological wellbeing factor score of the average barrister of age 20-25 (which would necessarily be comprised exclusively of new practitioners) is positive, at 60. However, as the age range increases, the wellbeing score drops, so that for a barrister aged 35-40 the psychological wellbeing factor score is neutral, and after that it drops into the negatives. It is not a leap to conclude from these statistics that the longer we stay in the job, the more our wellbeing suffers.
I recently spoke at the New Practitioners Course held by Circuit to make the case for wellbeing and to introduce the Wellbeing at the Bar Programme to those embarking on the profession. There were, unsurprisingly, some quite depressed faces when I got to the psychological wellbeing factor score slide, particularly from the trainers at the back of the room who didn’t fall into the first age bracket! However, the chart is only a reflection of the position at the time the data was collected; it is something to be aware of and work away from, not an inevitable outcome of life at the bar. In order to redress the position we need to encourage those joining the profession to protect their wellbeing in order to combat the trend.
To that end, in addition to working with the new practitioners on Circuit, I am now liaising with Cardiff University, who provide the BPTC in Wales, to arrange an introduction to Wellbeing at the Bar for students, to raise awareness of the issues and the ways in which they can be addressed. I hope that this, in combination with the work being done with new practitioners, will make those embarking on the profession aware of the problems life at the bar can cause and provide them with the tools they need to address them if/when they are granted pupillage.
If we can raise a generation of barristers aware of the importance of wellbeing, we have the chance not only to change the trajectory of their wellbeing prospects, but ensure the stability and productivity of the future bar.
Helen Randall is the Wales and Chester Circuit Representative on the Wellbeing at the Bar Committee and is a member of Iscoed Chambers in Swansea.