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Debt and part-time employment:' at break point' barristers

In a new survey which shows almost a quarter of practitioners saying they are taking on non-legal work to survive, the toll of the pandemic on the self-employed bar is graphically revealed.

Overall, the report by the Bar Council indicates that fee revenue remains substantially lower than before the pandemic, with 40 percent of respondents citing court job interruptions.

Meanwhile, 61% is forced to take on private debt or use investments to remain afloat. Of these, 17% have accrued debts in excess of £20,000. For the criminal bar, where 27 percent have taken on debt over £ 20,000, this number is even greater.

Barristers are disproportionately impacted by ethnic minority or mixed backgrounds: half (48%) are currently facing financial distress and 72% are at some stage during the pandemic.


Other findings show that:

• Around a quarter of respondents have to take on extra paying work: 24% said that in

order to make ends meet, they needed to improve their finances.


• Well-being is worsening, finding it 'really hard' for a quarter of respondents, and more

than half feel more depressed than normal.


• In court, the vast majority of respondents felt unsafe, with 84 percent citing safety

concerns regarding the courts' cleanliness and ventilation.


• Around a fifth of self-employed barristers (18 percent) consciously want to leave the

practice.


Bar chair Derek Sweeting QC said: 'The findings of this survey send a stark message: that many barristers have reached breaking point. The state of the publicly funded Bar is particularly worrying, with barristers forced to take on significant amounts of debt to prop up an underfunded justice system and working to the point of exhaustion to keep afloat. Barristers from ethnic minority backgrounds are disproportionately suffering financially, which threatens to drive talent away and undo progress on diversity at the bar.'

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