One in eight barristers are ‘emotionally exhausted’ and more than half do not sleep properly. These are among the shocking findings of the most comprehensive survey of barristers’ wellbeing yet conducted, published by the Bar Council today.

Stress and the absence of leadership role models were among the factors that weighed most on wellbeing among barristers, the representative body revealed, with many practitioners reluctant to seek help because of stigma around stress at the bar.

Of 2,456 respondents to the survey – one sixth of the profession – at least 300 experienced emotional exhaustion, while 1,364 said they did not get enough good quality sleep.

Half of the respondents (1,152) said they faced high levels of stress at work, with two-thirds (1,614) admitting that their current level of stress had a negative impact on their performance.  

Financial concerns, high expectations, devaluation of the profession in the eyes of the public and government, and long unsocial working hours were shown as the most challenging aspects of life at the bar.

At the self-employed bar, half of respondents said they felt disengaged at work. At the employed bar the proportion was one-third.

However, employed barristers reported facing challenges caused by a lack of autonomy and a reduced sense of status compared with their self-employed colleagues.

Those experiencing the highest work pressure and life satisfaction were aged between 35 and 55, while those at the criminal bar reported the highest level of pressure.

Formal or informal mentoring was shown to ‘significantly’ reduce stress, although few respondents reported receiving mentoring. The bar plans to extend its mentoring service and produce guidance for chambers.

Alistair MacDonald QC, chairman of the bar, said. ‘For too long, stress, mental health and wellbeing have been taboo subjects of discussion at the bar and in the wider legal sector.’