The average age of barristers has substantially increased over the past 30 years, according to a study by the Bar Standards Board – which has warned that an ageing profession could affect access to justice. 

A study of the bar over the last 30 years revealed that it is getting considerably older, with the average age of a practising barrister rising from 38.5 in 1990-91 to 46.5 in 2019-20. Meanwhile, almost 40% of barristers are now over 50, compared with just 13% in 1990.

‘Compared to the distribution of the UK working population aged over 25, in 1990/91 the bar could generally be said to be younger, whereas in 2019/20 the opposite appears to be the case,’ the regulator said.

Pupils are getting older too – at 28.5 years old, on average – and the age of those in their first year of practice has risen from around 27 to over 30. The number of pupils being recruitment has also fallen sharply from a peak of 882 in 1993 to an average of 450 through much of the 2010s.

The rising age of the profession is also fuelled by stronger retention of lawyers: the proportion of barristers leaving in the first 10 years of their career is substantially down on 1990. However, the BSB identified a ‘consistent trend’ of female barristers leaving practice at an earlier stage than men Between 2014 and 2020, for example, the average age of female barristers that left the bar indefinitely was 48 compared with 57 for male barristers.

The BSB suggested that as the bar ages its demographics may change significantly as older barristers – who are more likely to be white and male – retire. However, it also raised concerns about the ageing of the profession.

BSB director of strategy and policy, Ewen MacLeod, said: ‘We are…concerned about the possible implications for access to justice of the ageing of the profession brought about by strong retention, and much lower recruitment to pupillage than in the 1990s. This, too, we expect, will be a major theme of our future work.’

The bar is now almost double the size it was 30 years ago, consisting of 17,351 barristers. The proportion of practising barristers who are female and the proportion from a minority ethnic background has also almost doubled in this period.