Data dive: 10 years of (a lack of) gender diversity at the Bar

Posted June 2021
Written by

There’s a scene in The Simpsons in which town-charlatan Troy McClure demonstrates a new invention – the ‘juice loosener’. Homer watches the advertisement on TV as Troy and his co-host, Dr. Nick, throw an entire bag of oranges into the machine. A pitiful dribble of juice comes out the other side. “You got all that from one bag of oranges?” says McClure, in faux-awe.

In this very loose analogy, the bag of oranges represents 10 years of discourse and discussion around the need for gender diversity in the legal profession. The dribble of juice represents the relatively pathetic 4.3 per cent growth in female-tenants as a proportion of tenants at the Bar Top 30 across the same time period.

It’s slightly, but not much, better when it comes to silks, where there has been a 7.3 per cent increase in the percentage of women holding QC positions at Bar Top 30 sets.

Compare this to private practice, where there has been a comparatively juicy 8.8 per cent rise in female partnership across the UK200 over the last 10 years. The Bar is taking painfully long to get up to speed, but this is perhaps no surprise for an institution still so baked in its traditions. What other excuse do they have for those wigs?

That is not to say that all sets can be painted with the same brush. When looking at those sets that are present in both this years rankings and those we did back in 2011, there’s a few standout performers on the diversity front.

3 Paper Buildings has squeezed the most juice from their proverbial bag of oranges. The set has increased its female tenant percentage by 9.11 per cent. Women now represent 20.4 per cent of tenants at Essex Court, up from 12.7 per cent in 2011. The percentage of female tenants at Brick Court Chambers and 7 Bedford Row has grown by 6.9 and 6.2 per cent respectively over the past decade.

There has been some significant movement on the silk front. Back in 2011, five of the Bar Top 30 had no female QCs. There’s only one this year (we’re looking at you, 9 Gough). 3 Paper Buildings was one of the sets without a female QC in 2011, it now has six, accounting for 40 per cent of its QC headcount. 4 Pump Court also had no female silks in 2011. It now has five, accounting for 18.5 per cent of its total silk headcount.

Now for the list of shame. Over the past decade, the ratio of female tenants has decreased at each of the following: One Crown Office Row, Matrix Chambers, Landmark Chambers, 39 Essex, Wilberforce, and Maitland Chambers.

One Crown Office is the worst offender, with its female tenant percentage falling by 6.4 per cent. The set’s female silk percentage also fell by 9.6 per cent. Elsewhere on the silk front, Exchange Chambers, Brick Court, Mailtand, 3 Verulam and No 5 Chambers are the only sets to have a reported drop in male:female ratio over the past decade.

Growth and change is notoriously slower at the bar than in private practice. Less churn in the profession means less ability to move quickly on factors like diversity. This can only excuse poor performance to an extent, however.

As some sets move quicker than others on female representation, those that have stagnated, or even gone backwards, are increasingly embodying the ‘dinosaur’ stereotype so often associated with the Bar.

As more millennials and Gen Z-ers enter the profession, it is the sets that have moved the needle on factors like diversity that will appeal to the 21st century sensibilities of the new class of talent.

Posted June 2021
Written by