Career breaks

Although often a taboo subject, taking time out of your career to have children or to enjoy a sabbatical is a very common pursuit for women at the Bar. However, the harsh reality is, we are losing women barristers from the profession at a consistent rate from 5 years call culminating in only 16% of QCs being women. As a result, Her Bar discusses this issue fully, providing tips, resources and a space for other women barristers to comment and suggest improvements in support for women taking career breaks.

Taking parental leave? Before you go…

Her Bar presents some top tips for preparing your career break.

1. Look at your Chambers ‘Parental leave’ policy to understand their terms for when you’re on leave and returning.

The Bar Council have set out a Parental Leave Guide which explains the provisions every Chambers should have made with regards to parental leave and any financial benefits they provide when taking time off to have children.

The Bar Council have also included a Family Career Pack to explain practical steps that may need to be taken.

2. Have conversations with your clerks, chambers and clients

Women barristers can have the balance of a successful career with the role of motherhood and both open communication and support from Chambers are essential ingredients for this. Her Bar encourages women barristers to be open with Chambers about taking leave for children, in good time, and maintaining this communication throughout the process of leave.

If your chambers does not have a Parental Leave Guide in place and you would like to change this, please let us here at Her Bar know below as part of our wider research campaign of supporting Parents at the Bar.

Contact us

3. Consider financial implications and make preparations

One of the largest consequences of taking time off in a self-employed role is the financial implications it can cause. Her Bar provides some solutions in order to plan ahead for parental leave:

⦁ Recover some aged debt – speak to your Practice and Finance Team about chasing some aged debt that has been accumulating over your years of practice.

⦁ Negotiate with chambers - ask them to waive any rent charges and perhaps provide guaranteed earnings on your return – this will be dependant on what’s available in the Parental Leave Policy, but if none exists, this may be an opportunity to negotiate the best deal for your circumstances.

4. Support with finances?

⦁ Maternity Allowance – As a self-employed barrister there are no entitlements to Statutory Maternity Pay* unless provided by Chambers (this can be claimed by those at the employed Bar however). Instead, you’re likely to qualify for Maternity Allowance (“MA”) which is a government-backed benefit for women who are currently working or have recently worked, but who are not eligible to receive Statutory Maternity Pay.

*This cannot be claimed in addition to Statutory Maternity Pay

Her Bar has some provided some excellent contacts who can help advise on financial planning in the Finances section

And while you are on leave...

Make sure to RELAX, take well needed time out to adjust to your new life as a parent!

But, do keep yourself up to date...

Finally, Her Bar encourages women barristers to stay abreast of any legal developments and updates which may affect their practice on return.

Please find our handy Current Awareness guide which gives key resources that can provide daily, weekly and monthly updates to always keep you on top of your legal knowledge.

Taking parental leave? When you return…

Please find Her Bar's ‘Preparing To Return’ checklist here

Top tips:

1. Communication: ensure to be in contact with your clerks/practice manager well in advance of your return and take advantage of the ‘Keeping in Touch’ days in order to plan your “phased in” return over a period of days/weeks.

2. Reintroduction: Reach out to your clients in good time to let them know when you’ll be back and ready to accept instructions. This should include any changes to working hours and preferences for virtual meetings.

3. Flexibility:
It’s likely the experience of being a parent will change you and your working pattern, which should be embraced. However, always try to be flexible in your approach offering clear alternatives to suit your new regime e.g. breakfast meeting rather than late night drinks or Skype after bedtime rather than in person.

Childcare arrangements: What support is there at the Bar?

The Bar Council has special arrangements for barristers with the Smithfield Nursery and Tiny Tree Day Nursery. Both offer barristers special rates and more flexible opening hours to accommodate barrister parents' schedules.

Middle Temple have partnered with Cuckooz Nest to offer all members flexible workspace & childcare in the heart of Farringdon. They offers full time, part-time & fully flexible nursery spaces, allowing members to scale up or down their use of the nursery depending on work commitments.

⦁ Bar Council Maternity Mentoring: The Bar Mentoring Service has a pool of experienced barrister mentors who have taken a family career break and have subsequently established or maintained a thriving practice.
The intention is to match interested mentees with a suitable mentor from the pool of volunteers.
The Bar Council's Bar Mentoring Service will process all applications, and match the mentees with the mentors.

Her Bar’s Mentoring scheme: We are running a direct mentoring scheme from established practitioners and QCs to mentor more junior members of the Bar to help with building and progressing their career. This will also include providing advice and support when taking a career break and juggling personal caring duties e.g. children or elderly.
Please sign up here

HAVE YOUR SAY: Could the Bar be doing more to support women barristers during career breaks?

We want to know what you think about this issue. Please send any stories, comments and suggestions on this topic to us using the comment box below – the good, the bad and the ugly are all welcomed. All entries will be treated as anonymous unless expressly consented to otherwise. Alternatively, do click onto our Chat page to discuss these issues openly with our community of women barristers. Topics we are particularly interested in include:
⦁ The culture of parenthood at the Bar
⦁ Support from Chambers/ Inns
⦁ Better benefits and discount packages related to childcare
⦁ Need for shared parental leave

Why are we interested? Her Bar thinks the Bar could better support women during career breaks and we have long term goals to campaign for change. We will be running research campaigns and eventually present a protocol of changes to relevant stakeholders at the Bar.