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Suzanne Townley

News Editor, Solicitors Journal

BSB income report: post-pandemic pay drop and persistent gender and ethnicity pay gaps revealed

BSB income report: post-pandemic pay drop and persistent gender and ethnicity pay gaps revealed


Criminal barristers suffered the largest fall in income

A report published by the Bar Standards Board (BSB) today (7 February 2022) revealed barristers’ pay has dropped post-pandemic, while pay gaps persist for female barristers and those from minority ethnic backgrounds, who are likely to earn less than white, male barristers.

The report updates a previous BSB analysis on barristers’ income by gender and ethnicity and builds on previous research by considering a wider range of factors linked to income, such as seniority and location, and compares pre and post pandemic income levels.

Its findings hold true when looking at the income of barristers practising within the same area of law, within the same parts of the country, and among 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.

The report showed 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 report examines barristers’ gross income. Income data is collected by BSB as part of the practising certificate renewal process. Around one fifth of barristers are ‘employed’, while around eighty per cent are ‘self-employed’. For employed barristers, the report refers to their gross income before tax and national insurance deductions. For the four fifths of self-employed barristers, their income is their total fee income (excluding VAT) before they pay chambers costs, which are estimated typically to equate to between 20 and 40 per cent of their income. 

The effects of the pandemic on barristers’ income are evident when comparing these recent figures with those published previously. A comparison shows:

  • barristers in all groups analysed have suffered a fall in income. The largest falls have been for male barristers from ethnic minority backgrounds and barristers based outside London;
  • female barristers appear to have suffered 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; 
  • falls in income have been larger for certain practice areas than others. When looking at the four most common areas of practice, criminal law barristers suffered 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.”