Two in three women barristers face discrimination, study finds

Bar of Ireland survey cites ‘underbelly’ of casual sexism in legal profession

Almost two-thirds of women barristers have experienced discrimination during their careers, according to a survey which cites an “underbelly” of casual sexism in the legal profession.

Some 37 per cent of respondents to the study by the Bar of Ireland, the professional body for barristers, said they had encountered masters, colleagues, solicitors and judges who had a negative bearing on their career. While such encounters are experienced by both male and female practitioners, the survey identifies problems that appear to be specific to women, an article accompanying the study in Bar Review states.

Some 62 per cent of respondents reported experiencing direct or indirect discrimination, and “although they were not asked to specify or elaborate on the type of discrimination encountered, an overwhelming number of respondents’ comments referred to either personal experience of, or an awareness of, casual sexism and sexual harassment”.

Written off

One barrister interviewed for the report said she was “written off by many solicitors” as soon as she took maternity leave. Another said “male clients do not want female counsel, as it would seem weak to be defended by a woman”.


“Many respondents feel there is a ‘culture of silence’ and ‘underbelly of acceptability’ of inappropriate comment and behaviour, exacerbated by the absence of an explicit internal policy or complaints mechanisms to penalise, discourage and eradicate such practices,” the article states.

Women make up 39 per cent of the Law Library’s membership but the proportion of women called to the Inner Bar (senior counsel) is 16 per cent.

The Bar of Ireland said it was going to introduce measures to better support women barristers and address the high attrition rates among them, and the proportion of women who progress to being senior counsel.

Colm Keena

Colm Keena

Colm Keena is an Irish Times journalist. He was previously legal-affairs correspondent and public-affairs correspondent