New junior bar association hopes to mitigate effects of pandemic on young advocates - Antonia Welsh

A new association has been launched by the Faculty of Advocates to provide a supportive and accessible platform for newer members of the Bar.

The Junior Bar Association will focus on the needs of advocates called five years ago or less and will provide additional support, offer opportunities to network, facilitate preferential access to events and promote ongoing continuing professional development activities.

The impact of Covid-19 on the legal profession is among the main drivers behind the launch of this new association. There has been a definite increase in workloads, stress levels and overall anxiety within the Faculty’s membership since the restrictions brought about by the pandemic began. So the results of research into wellbeing in the legal profession released last month by LawCare, an organisation that supports and promotes wellbeing across the UK, came as no surprise. Its Life in the Law 2020/21 report revealed almost half of all respondents were at a ‘high risk of burnout’, and more than half had experienced mental ill-health in the 12 months before completing its survey.

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A significant number of those who had experienced mental ill-health had not reached out to colleagues at work, citing the fear of the stigma that might result in career implications as well as financial and reputational consequences.

Advocates all work in an already high-pressure environment. With the Faculty’s mission of promoting access to justice, it has never been more important to ensure a healthy, happy, high-functioning Bar, given the extra pressures imposed by Covid-19. Faculty has always, quite rightly, been proud of its collegiate working environment, but easy, daily access to other advocates has been seriously curtailed by social distancing restrictions and the shift to working remotely.

Although the entire Scottish Bar has been affected, the biggest impact has been felt by junior members. Their limited number of years as practising advocates means many do not yet enjoy access to the solid support networks more senior advocates have developed during their time at the Bar. Their status as junior members also means their ability to build the same high levels of skill that come with experience as an advocate’s career progresses over time is limited, so they may need more support at work than senior colleagues. A significant number are still primary caregivers to young children which has brought its own set of challenges during already difficult times.

Also, in previous years, junior advocates have had easy in-person access to devilmasters, peers and more senior colleagues, facilitating opportunities for professional support and informal learning. These interactions have been severely limited.

The Faculty already takes the wellbeing of members seriously, has policies and procedures in place to support anyone requiring assistance, and is planning to implement even more robust support. The Junior Bar Association will provide an additional platform specifically tailored to the needs of junior members. It will include representation from the devils – aspiring advocates participating in Faculty training required before admission to the Bar.

Apart from providing a space where juniors can interact freely when requiring work-related support, the Junior Bar Association will also promote access to networking and other events of specific value to junior members. An inward focus on continual professional development will provide an interactive learning environment to discuss and participate in training that speaks to their specific educational requirements, and personal and professional circumstances.

The new association will also provide information and support to anyone interested in calling to the Bar. The Faculty has various outreach activities involving universities and other organisations already in place that promote and encourage entry into a career as an advocate. The Junior Bar Association will work to further strengthen these outreach activities, actively search for more, drive participation, and both provide and recommend appropriate speakers and participants for each.

The Junior Bar Association has been welcomed by Dean of Faculty Roddy Dunlop QC, who said: “The last two years have been very tough on all practitioners and, perhaps in particular, on the newest intrants. The Bar is already a very collegiate place, and this innovation will strengthen that by giving additional support mechanisms to the junior bar. The Office Bearers are fully supportive of the Junior Bar Association, and look forward to working with it.”

Antonia Welsh, President of the Junior Bar Association

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