This article was initially driven by my anger at a recent unhappy experience when agreeing a hearing date with other counsel. I felt that my availability due to my choice to work part-time was considered less important than the court commitments of others.
It reminded me how valuable the option of part-time working is to me personally and I believe to the profession as a whole despite such moments. It also made me consider how this way of working needed to be more widely and better understood.
There are plainly many reasons why someone would choose to work part-time at the Bar.
Caring responsibilities are the most obvious, but others seek to also teach or indeed sit on a tribunal or bench. People may seek to improve their work / life balance. There are also many reasons why a person maybe forced to work part-time. Each is as valuable to the individual and should be regarded in this way.
Personally, my experience of working part time has largely been a joy. I have been able to continue to work in a career that I adore and have spent so much time training for, whilst also affording the enjoyment of considerable time with my child whilst she is small enough to enjoy my company. Sadly, this has also been punctuated with ill-thought comments or approaches.
Always having to fight to protect the days I do not work has at times been exhausting. I am a barrister; I love to present a case and represent my clients but arguing for myself is harder. It is disappointing that in 2021 there is still, in my opinion, a need for this article.
Whilst no one expects perfection I think we can do a lot better.
A failure to positively support part time work has obvious and inter-generational consequences. The loss of great swathes of largely women at a certain stage and age damages the representation of senior women and those at silk and in the judiciary. The recent growth of talented women within the judiciary is welcomed but no one could pretend it goes far enough.
Those that leave the Bar as they are not supported to make part time work manageable represent individual losses of promise, expertise and potential. Chambers lose a source of income, committee / board members and pupillage supervisors. Circuits and Bar committees miss out on leaders.
The value to chambers is both financial and reputational. The economics is simple: a reduced source of rent must be better than none. Projecting an inclusive and welcoming approach will drive talented applications.
Provided the clerks and relevant counsel have a clear working agreement (when a person will work and under what circumstances) there need be no inconvenience or extra work. Again, the income generated will be more than compensatory.
For my part I have felt supported by my clerks. There have been bumps in the road, but we have made it work through clear arrangements and frank discussions. Whilst our chambers’ policies have improved, they are still a work in progress. All are currently being reviewed and I hope this article will provide a helpful steer.
Hopefully I have persuaded you that you want to help. Simply not stopping part-time working or ‘allowing’ it within your chambers policies is not enough. My suggestions are simply a starting point I would welcome the advice of others and will update this document accordingly:
- Pupillage – offer both part-time and full-time pupillage and decide who to recruit on their merits. Lord Neuberger’s ‘Entry to the Bar’ final report recommended the same in 2007 but few are offered.
- Recruitment – actively promote the availability of flexible and part-time tenancies.
- Visibility – celebrate the diversity of the members of chambers. Encourage members to highlight their flexible working arrangements rather than feel the need to apologise for them.
- Policies – think what can be done to help and encourage rather than just tolerate flexible working. Ask people who do it or want to do it!
- Attitudes – this is the biggest challenge and as a minimum I would suggest the following:
a) Accept that a person cannot work on a certain day. Always having to justify why an advocates meeting cannot just be ‘squeezed in’ is wearing and undermining.
b) Resist asking whether someone is ‘still working part time’ as if this is a temporary affliction.
c) Recognise the benefits over the limited adjustments required.
Similarly, I intend to report back on the progress we are making at KCH Garden Square. We must do better and I believe the impetus is there to succeed to all our benefit.
Please feel free to get in touch with me directly in relation to the issues raised.
KCH Garden Square is fully supportive of any member who wishes to practice flexibly or part time. As a Chambers we have improved our Parental Leave policy to provide more support to individuals who take parental leave as well as during their return to practice. Our Flexible Working policy is also currently under review to formalise our support to any member who wishes to work on a part time or flexible basis.
Counsel at KCH Garden Square who wish to work flexibly have the day to day support from their clerks who work hard to balance the pressures of incoming workloads with the practices of Counsel. However, we are aware that we can do more and we are making efforts to do so. Our first tangible step has been to ensure that part-time pupillages will be available during our next round of recruitment.
We recognise that Chambers, and the Bar as a whole, needs to retain talent from diverse individuals and providing support for those wishing to work flexibly, whatever their reasons to do so may be, is essential.