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Guidance on how to introduce wellbeing policies and initiatives and on tackling a wellbeing issue in chambers.

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3 Verulam Buildings

3VB is tackling the stigma that can be associated with mental ill-health in the workplace and encourages openness about mental health and wellbeing.

What was the ‘business’ (other case) for action?

Chambers is a large set, but central to its success and its core business strategy is the real sense of collegiality that exists, and which prevailed throughout lockdown. Chambers has set out as a key strategic objective the need to maintain that collegiality and to build even stronger ties between members, pupils, and staff.

Chambers wanted to provide clear, different, and confidential channels of communication in the event of any personal issues related to wellbeing arising.  They also wanted to ensure that everyone could learn more about identifying potential mental health indicators in their own working and private lives, ways to deal with them and the signs to look out for in others.

 

To support this, Chambers recognised the need to arrange more social events, talks and activities, mentoring schemes, more generous parental leave arrangements, and flexible working arrangements including any reasonable steps to adjust work schedules.

These not only support and reinforce the sense of collegiality, but also engender an environment where people feel supported at all levels, bringing people closer together, and allowing everyone to understand that the business is not simply about hard work and high performance.

What did Chambers do?

Chambers’ CSR Committee is responsible for Wellbeing in Chambers. It consists of barristers from a range of seniority, the Chambers Director, the Senior Practice Managers, a Marketing Director, and a Practice Manager.

Over the last two years the CSR Committee has been highly active. It has produced a Wellbeing Policy, (written more as a guide than as a policy) and has been instrumental in setting up the following initiatives:

  • Workshops and talks: Chambers has arranged wellbeing workshops, one by Dr Anna Colton, and another by McLellan of LawCare. These are a repeated every six months or so to allow those who could not attend an earlier talk to be able to attend a later one.
  • Three members of chambers and five members of staff have become certified Mental Health First Aiders. Their names are on signboards located at various points around chambers.
  • Chambers has access to an Employee Assistance Program which provides members, pupils and staff with free, confidential assessments, short term counselling, referrals and follow up services.
  • During lockdown chambers organised virtual social events and encouraged regular contact between members and staff through video calls. Chambers also funds regular informal social events held by pupils.
  • Chambers provided IT equipment requested by clerks and staff to allow them to work from home and work more flexibly.
  • Chambers undertakes a positive and supportive annual appraisal system, based on constructive feedback gathered from members and from senior staff and where each staff member gives their own reflection of the year, and outlines their expectations for the following year.
  • Chambers has produced a guide for more senior members on providing feedback to more junior members who have worked for them.

Wider Equality/CSR activity (which supports wellbeing)

  • Community work: Members of chambers support their local community in by giving talks in schools, volunteering time at Camden foodbank, and supporting Afghan judges with resettlement in the UK. They have signed up to the Sutton Trust (ST) “Pathways to Law” 2-year support programme for A-Level students. They have found participation contributing and implementing long-term social mobility programmes hugely rewarding for members and staff.
  • Chambers are founding members of the Mentoring at the Commercial Bar Scheme. Members have been overwhelmingly supportive of the scheme, and several have agreed to provide ongoing mentoring support to their students beyond the scheme’s agreed timeline.

Chambers are developing a culture where members undertaking pro-bono work, is the norm. All new tenants are expected to take an Advocate case within the first 2 years of practice and where all fourth seat pupils take on an Advocate case under the supervision of or (where required/appropriate) jointly with their pupil supervisor.

What were the results?

Outcomes include:

  • Increased productivity at all levels (members are high performers, and have exceeded expectations set out in the Chambers’ strategy).
  • Reduced staff turnover. Turnover among members is rare.
  • Members feel more committed to Chambers’ goals in what is a high-pressure and high-performance environment.
  • A much better work/life balance. Members value having a room in chambers, but also value the opportunity to work from home. Staff similarly have appreciated a greater work/life balance.
  • Practice meetings for members now include discussions on work/life balance and mental wellbeing.
  • Primary carers feel more supported and able to continue a successful career at the Commercial Bar.

It is great to see 3VB’S efforts to be outward looking and community focused in their approach to wellbeing. They have also acknowledged that practical career support for their members is a key component of a good wellbeing strategy.

Wellbeing at the Bar Working Group

Tips

Do

  • Engage members and staff regularly on the things that are happening and will happen in Chambers
  • Provide a system for constructive and two-way feedback for members and staff and show that you are listening
  • Ensure that wellbeing events are being engaged by all, and not by the “usual crowd.”  Encourage those who do not participate to do so and try to learn why they may not.

Do not:

  • Think that a wellbeing strategy can be dealt with by email alone!
  • Stop at a Wellbeing policy. Develop realistic and achievable actions and deliver them
  • Claim to be doing well unless your members and staff also believe it.

The information and resource packs on this website are designed to help you and your colleagues to work as a community for better wellbeing and professional resilience. If you want to provide feedback on these resources, or to get involved in promoting wellbeing please get in touch.


Get in touch Policy & practice

It can be difficult to make a living from law and it can be pressurised and demanding. Competition and an adversarial approach to everything can make collegiate relationships difficult. This website aims to provide you with the knowledge to manage these stressors, make emotionally informed, wise professional decisions and thrive in your chosen profession.

A simple expression that sums up wellbeing is ‘travelling well’

Psychological wellbeing within the profession is rarely spoken about