Dr Elaine Freer is a Cambridge Early Career Fellow and will be at the Centre in Easter Term 2021.

‘Emotional labour and the Criminal Bar – holding up or giving up? The contribution of chambers’ structural attributes to supporting practitioners’ emotional labour’

My project explores the role that the traditional ‘chambers’ structure favoured by the English Bar can play in supporting practitioners in performing the emotional labour required by the profession. Chambers are groups of self-employed practitioners who group together to share the costs of overheads such as rent and administrative staff. However, as each practitioner is self-employed, the chambers’ structure is very different to that of an employer. Practitioners at the Criminal Bar often deal with emotive cases, yet the Bar is predominantly a solitary profession, with large amounts of time spent alone, or in the company of those who are representing other parties in the same case. Emotional labour, a concept recognised in management and organisational literature and sociology, focuses on the process of having to present certain emotions, usually face-to-face, within an occupational context. The nature of their role makes it likely that criminal barristers carry out large quantities of emotional labour on a daily basis. This project aims to explore how the structure of chambers can interact with the performance of emotional labour. Does the unusual chambers’ structure assist, undermine, or play a neutral role in supporting emotional labour? Are there particular attributes of chambers that make them more or less likely or able to support a barrister in their performance of emotional labour? And is there a link between the support offered by chambers and the emotional wellbeing of members?


Dr Elaine Freer is a Fellow and College Teaching Officer in Law at Robinson College, Cambridge. She supervises Criminal Law and Criminology, Sentencing and the Penal System to undergraduates, and lectures for the Faculty of Law on the Criminal Procedure and Evidence Course. She has a BA (Hons) in Law and an MPhil in Criminology from the University of Cambridge (Selwyn College), and a PhD from Keele University. She is the author of Social Mobility and the Legal Profession: The Case of the English Bar (Routledge, 2018) and A Practitioner’s Guide to Ancillary Orders in Criminal Courts (Bloomsbury, 2019).


Tel: +44 1223 766886