‘Nobody should be experiencing these behaviours’: report highlights employee bullying at the Bar

Landmark research by the Legal Practice Management Association and Institute of Barristers’ Clerks found more than a quarter of Bar employees had been bullied


A landmark report examining the experiences of employees at the Bar has found that more than a quarter have experienced bullying. 

The Workplace Survey Report was conducted by the Legal Practice Management Association (LPMA), which represents chief executives and senior managers working for chambers, and the Institute of Barristers’ Clerks (IBC). 

It found that 27% of the 605 respondents had experienced bullying in person or online at work, 12% had experienced harassment and 12% said they had been subject to discrimination. Examples provided included physical, verbal and psychological behaviours as well as those driven by “embedded working practices”, while the most common reason for not reporting such experiences was the fear of repercussions. 

Women were more likely to be bullied than men, the report found, with three women affected for every two men. Sex and race were the most common forms of harassment and discrimination, but it should be noted that 9% of responses received said that age was a factor.

The survey was intended to align with research into barristers’ working lives by the Bar Council, which said in December that it would commission a review after it found growing numbers of barristers had experienced inappropriate and unacceptable behaviour. 

LPMA co-chairs Jemma Tagg and Claire Bello, chief executives of Twenty Essex and Cornerstone respectively, said in a joint statement that although the findings for employees at the Bar aligned closely with national averages for bullying, harassment and discrimination, they felt strongly that “there were improvements to be made to working lives of our colleagues”.

Tagg added: “Nobody should be experiencing these behaviours in their workplace.” 

For the IBC’s part, Lucy Burrows, deputy senior practice manager of 3VB, and No.5 Chambers London director of clerking Geoff Carr said both the Bar Council and LPMA/IBC surveys demonstrated that barristers and staff alike “face behaviours that have no place in the modern business environment”, and it was “particularly poignant in an industry inextricably linked with… the rule of law”.

Burrows added: “Direct and urgent action is needed to address the issues faced by those working in our industry.”

Power dynamics within chambers were particularly concerning. Barristers were identified as primarily responsible for bullying behaviours (49%), followed by employees (46%), with the remaining 5% involving external individuals like clients.  

Bar Council chair-elect Sam Townend KC, of Keating Chambers, said such findings were “worrying and echo our own findings around the systemic problems in the working culture at the Bar”.

Acknowledging the negative impact such experiences had on an individual’s wellbeing, he stressed: “We are absolutely clear that these inappropriate behaviours should not be tolerated.” 

He added that the LPMA and IBC would both play an important role in shaping the Bar Council’s efforts to tackle bullying and harassment at the Bar.

Despite the reports of bullying, some 67% of respondents were satisfied with their jobs, surpassing the national average of 59.7%, while 77% of chambers offered some form of hybrid working.

Half of respondents felt they could achieve a work/life balance, a figure impacted by the extended working hours experienced by most, with 80% reporting working between five and 11 unpaid hours each week. Most (61%) also highlighted the rising cost of living as a concern. 

Bello acknowledged that the Bar was a rewarding and challenging place to work, but said there was more to do to create a more inclusive environment. “Cultural change will also help us to improve diversity at the Bar,” she said, for both barristers and those who support them. 

Carr said the IBC would meet the challenges identified in both surveys, ensuring the Bar remained appropriately professional, while providing good career development opportunities and prioritising the wellbeing of staff as well as barristers.

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