27 Jul 2021

The Bar Standards Board (BSB) has today published new research on trends of retention and the changing profile of the Bar over the last 30 years.

The report shows that, overall, retention at the Bar appears to have improved substantially on several measures, and the proportion of the Bar leaving practice and/or having time away from practice has not increased over the time period analysed. Additionally, the proportion of barristers leaving in the first 10 years of their career also appears to have decreased substantially, particularly when comparing with those that started practising in the 1990s.

Although retention does appear to have improved, the research reveals a consistent trend of female barristers leaving practice indefinitely after the early stages of their career in greater proportions than male barristers. And although the size of the relative difference has slowly been decreasing over time, this difference between male and female barristers still exists. Over the 30 years covered by this research, the average age of female barristers leaving practice has increased by 11 years compared with 9 years for male barristers. In the first half of the 1990s the average age of female barristers that left practice indefinitely was around 37 and the figure was 48 for male barristers. For the 2014/15-2019/20 period the comparative figures were 48 for female barristers and 57 for male barristers.

Minority ethnic barristers were not found to be more likely to leave practice indefinitely than White barristers during the period analysed, but barristers from a minority ethnic background were found to be more likely to spend periods out of practice during the earlier stages of their career than White barristers. However, it should be noted that the term “minority ethnic background” encompasses a range of ethnicities for whom the statistics can look quite different once broken down.

The other key findings from this analysis include:

  • The number of those undertaking pupillage has fallen significantly from a peak of 882 in 1992/93 to an average of 450 through much of the 2010s. These patterns may be related to changes in the regulation of pupillages, as it was not a requirement that pupillages were paid until 1 January 2003.
  • From 1999/00 the proportion of pupils who were female has been around 50%. The proportion of pupils from minority ethnic backgrounds overall has increased by around five percentage points from 1990/91-2019/20, but with varying trends for ethnic groups within this broader category. The proportion of Black/Black British pupils over time has remained at around the same level, whilst the proportion of those from Asian/Asian British backgrounds and Mixed/Multiple ethnic group backgrounds has increased overall.
  • There has been a big increase in the proportion of pupils who go on to practise for more than three years following pupillage. The proportion has doubled for those undertaking pupillages from 2000/01 onwards compared to the rate seen for those undertaking pupillages in much of the 1990s.
  • The number of practising barristers has grown every year, although this growth has slowed since 2008/9; the Bar has grown from 9,541 barristers in 1990/91 to 17,351 in 2019/20. The proportion of practising barristers who are female and the proportion from a minority ethnic background has almost doubled during this period.
  • The Bar is getting older, and its demographics may change significantly as older (and therefore more likely to be White and male) barristers retire. In 1990/91 about 13.1% of barristers were aged over 50. The comparative proportion in 2019/20 was 39.3%. The average age of practising barristers also increased substantially during the period, going from 38.5 years in 1990/91 to 46.5 in 2019/20.

The research was undertaken to address evidence gaps around how previous trends in recruitment into the Bar have influenced the current profile of the practising Bar, how the profile of practising barristers in each year has changed over time, and how patterns of retention at the Bar have changed over time.

Commenting on the findings, BSB Director of Strategy and Policy, Ewen MacLeod, said:

“We are pleased to see that retention at the Bar continues to improve, and that the proportion of female barristers and minority ethnic barristers continues to rise.

But we remain concerned that the data shows that female barristers are far more likely to leave after the early stages of their career and it appears that barristers from minority ethnic backgrounds are more likely to have difficulty in the early years to establish themselves professionally. We will continue to work with the profession to improve these trends. This important research will inform the development of our new strategy and our ongoing review of the BSB’s Equality Rules.

We are also 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.”


A summary of the research findings can be found here on our website.

The full research findings can be found here on our website.



Notes to editors

About the Bar Standards Board

Our mission is to regulate barristers and specialised legal services businesses in England and Wales in the public interest. For more information about what we do visit: http://bit.ly/1gwui8t


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