Directors report 2019-20

Promoting the interests of practising barristers

BarCare is an integral part of the Bar community that provides assistance to barristers who are experiencing difficulties in their professional or personal lives.

The service is funded by the Barristers’ Benevolent Association and operates independently of the Bar Association. The service is strictly confidential and BarCare does not give any personal information to the Bar Association without the express permission of the barrister involved. In addition to providing professional psychological or other support it also has the capacity to give financial assistance in times of need, such as illness or bereavement.

In 2019–20 BarCare assisted 79 people (59 barristers and 20 family members, clerks and Bar Association staff). As in previous years the majority of these contacts have been self-referred but referrals are also made by Bar Association staff, clerks colleagues and family members. Primary presenting problems cover a range of areas, including stress and anxiety, relationship difficulties, depression, alcohol use and bullying and harassment. BarCare is available to meet and talk with barristers and assist them to seek help from one of the psychologists or psychiatrists on the panel of specialists. Alternately barristers are able to contact one of the specialists directly to make an appointment. The Benevolent Association will pay for the first three or four sessions to support the barrister in accessing appropriate professional assistance. The service is a confidential one. Barristers from outside the metropolitan area are encouraged to contact Jenny Houen who will locate a suitable treating practitioner in their area.

In addition to the usual range of issues that may prompt barristers to make contact with BarCare, this year has presented some additional challenges for many. The catastrophic bushfires at the beginning of the year impacted some people living in affected areas, or whose family members were affected.

The recent public reporting on sexual harassment in the profession has been a source of distress for a number of barristers who have experienced this personally or who have observed aspects of a culture in their workplace that, in their view, does not challenge or address this in an assertive or effective manner. The Bar Association has acknowledged the importance of addressing this appropriately and BarCare has a role to play in this. Included in the panel of psychologists providing counselling services are practitioners who are experienced in working with people who have suffered from sexual harassment, bullying and trauma. Barristers and clerks are encouraged to contact Jenny Houen if they would like to discuss issues relating to this.

The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted every aspect of our lives professionally and personally. For many barristers these challenges have raised stress and anxiety about their practice, financial security and the future more generally. It has been necessary to adapt and change the manner in which the profession carries out its functions. While this has allowed most to continue to practice it has been, and continues to be, an uncertain and precarious time with no clear end in sight. Barristers and clerks who confronting difficulties as a result of this are encouraged to contact Jenny Houen for assistance.