The Bar Standards Board (BSB) has today published a report updating its analysis of data on barristers’ income by gender and ethnicity. This builds on previous research by the BSB published in 2020 and research into incomes undertaken by the Bar Council in September 2021 by considering a wider range of factors liked to income (such as seniority and location) as well as comparing pre and post pandemic income levels.
Today’s report shows that female barristers are likely to earn less than male barristers and that those from minority ethnic backgrounds are likely to earn less than White barristers. This holds true when looking at the income of barristers practising within the same area of law, within the same parts of the country, and amongst those with similar seniority in terms of years of practice. There are also differences in the income of barristers from minority ethnic backgrounds once ethnicity is looked at in more detail, with Black and Black British barristers earning less than Asian and Asian British barristers overall.
As it did in the BSB report published in November 2020, today’s report shows that income differences are particularly marked when looking at gender and ethnicity together, with female barristers from minority ethnic backgrounds being the lowest earning group and white male barristers being the highest earning group.
The BSB collects data on income as part of the annual process by which barristers renew their practising certificates. This report examines the gross income of barristers. Around one fifth of barristers are employed and for them by “income” the report refers to their gross income before tax and national insurance etc. For the four fifths of barristers who are self-employed their “income” is their total fee income (excluding VAT) before they pay the costs of their chambers, which is estimated typically to take between 20 and 40 per cent of their income.
The effects of the pandemic on barristers’ income are evident when comparing the figures in today’s report with those published previously. A comparison shows that:
- barristers in all groups analysed have faced falls in income. The largest falls in income have been for male barristers from ethnic minority backgrounds, and barristers based outside London;
- female barristers seem to have seen smaller falls in income overall than male barristers, and ethnic minority barristers have seen larger falls than White barristers;
- the proportion of barristers in the lowest two income bands has increased, often markedly, for most groups of barristers. However, for many groups there has been almost no change in the proportion in the highest income bands – indeed, for some groups (female barristers from White or ethnic minority backgrounds) the proportion in the highest income bands increased from 2019 to 2020; and
- falls in income have been larger for certain areas of practice than others. When looking at the four most common areas of practice at the Bar, criminal law saw the largest fall in incomes, while family and personal injury law saw smaller decreases. In commercial and financial law, incomes increased.
BSB Head of Equality and Access to Justice, Shadae Cazeau, said:
“This report is based on figures relating to barristers’ incomes in 2020. Whilst it shows that barristers of all characteristics faced falls in income due to the pandemic, the underlying income gap adversely affecting female barristers and those from ethnic minority groups remains troubling.
These disparities are marked and cannot be explained away by seniority, geography or area of law practised. As the regulator, we will continue to prioritise our work on diversity, to challenge the profession to address these income gaps, and to expect all chambers and employers to monitor the distribution of work.”
The full report on income at the Bar by gender and ethnicity is available on the BSB website.
Notes to editors
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