A landmark survey of Victorian barristers has found more than 70% are satisfied with the overall quality of their working lives, and almost 80% are satisfied with their jobs as a whole.
The first ever Wellbeing of the Victorian Bar survey also highlights areas of concern to members such as workplace stress, lack of sleep and instances of inappropriate workplace conduct. The survey, conducted by researchers from the University of Portsmouth in the UK, attracted 854 valid responses, representing 40% of Victorian practising counsel.
Headline results were favourable and encouraging, including:
Areas of concern included:
“The independent Bar is a highly skilled and high performance profession, and with that can come pressure and challenges at work and at home,“ Victorian Bar President Dr Matt Collins QC said.
“It is good to know that most Victorian barristers are satisfied with the quality of their working lives. Making a difference to the lives of those who come into contact with the justice system is a privilege. However we must not be complacent, and help address the workplace challenges that some face.”
In addition to survey questions related to job satisfaction and personal wellbeing, data was also captured on discrimination (gender, race, disability and other forms), bullying and harassment encountered by barristers in the past year:
When asked how their quality of working life could be improved, one-in-six respondents referred to better judicial behaviour. Almost six-in-ten respondents (59%) said that they felt they had experienced judicial bullying in the course of their working lives.
“Such findings are concerning,” Dr Collins said. “Discrimination, bullying and harassment are not acceptable in any workplace, and certainly not at the Victorian Bar. But we carried out this survey, in part, to better understand issues and develop strategies to address them. That is exactly what we are doing, through our support services, training and working groups,” he said.
While making direct comparisons can be difficult, rates of discrimination and sexual harassment experienced by members of the Victorian Bar appear to be below those of Australian workplaces generally and the legal profession as a whole. The Australian Human Rights Commission, for example, reported in August 2018 that 23% of women and 16% of men had experienced sexual harassment in Australian workplaces in the past 12 months, whereas in the Wellbeing of the Victorian Bar survey, 16% of women and 2% of men reported having experienced sexual harassment in the past 12 months. A longitudinal study undertaken for the Law Council of Australia of the whole of the Australian legal profession in 2012 reported higher levels of discrimination, sexual harassment and bullying in the whole of the legal profession than are reported in the Wellbeing of the Victorian Bar survey.
The Victorian Bar and its Health and Wellbeing Committee, established a decade ago, will now assess the survey results and make recommendations on specific measures to address problem areas.
A new online health and wellbeing information and resources portal will be created, with funding from the Victorian Legal Services Board, to provide a broader range of health and wellbeing services and assistance to Bar members in need.
The survey results have been shared with members of the Victorian Bar.
The Victorian Bar is working with the judiciary to address concerns about judicial conduct disclosed in the report. The President has briefed the heads of each jurisdiction. All have committed to work with the Bar to implement measures aimed at addressing the findings of the report.
The Victorian Bar has adopted a policy in relation to good judicial conduct, and work is advanced on an Australian-first protocol between Victorian courts and the Victorian Bar which will enable concerns to be raised, and information shared, in an efficient and informal manner. The policy and protocol build upon measures already in place between the Bar and Victoria’s courts, and work alongside the more formal complaints mechanism available via the Judicial Commission of Victoria.
The full results of the Wellbeing of the Victorian Bar survey are available HERE.