An extraordinary day in the life of...

Sally Penni, barrister and mum of three, is trying to do things differently when out of court. Here, the Joint Vice Chair of the Association of Women Barristers and founder of Women in the Law UK shares a typical day in her life and practice

I wake up at 6am to the Today programme on BBC Radio 4. It’s my best source of information.

I go to Bootcamp at 6:30am in the park close to where I live. Not very appealing in winter. I usually try and go whilst my husband and children are asleep so it does not interfere too much with family life. The instructor, I can only imagine, worked as an assassin in the SAS. It kills me to get through it, as court and trial commitments mean I have not been for a while and am out of the routine.

I try and do this three times a week or hit yoga. It’s only 30 minutes and I am home by 7.15am. I cycle there and back. No crisis today with my bike (like a puncture, or lost paniers) so no need to wake up help, resort to driving, or abandon and get back into bed.

Back home and showered ready for breakfast time and getting children ready for school. My boys are very able and capable but still need dressing – laziness. My daughter has a tantrum about colour of tights to wear to nursey. Not the grey ones but the orange fox like ones from John Lewis that I deem inappropriate. Breakfast together lovely, although more tantrums over porridge and raspberries.

Work is the easiest part of my day. Disciplined and orderly. Free Waitrose coffee, a newspaper and I am ready for the train.

I arrive at court to appear in a multi-handed case with seven others. Morning is spent discussing trial issues before being called on. Lunchtime soon comes. Having already done my preparation, my lunch is spent dealing with a whole load of other emails that require my attention. Before doing so I grab another coffee. A concerted effort to keep the court canteens going. So many have closed. A quick catch up with court staff.

The first email is about a potential International Criminal Court case in the Hague. Then an email request from Urban Lawyers, Tunde Okewale MBE, to speak at the Urban Lawyers conference at Herbert Smith Freehills in London. An organisation set up by Tunde and based at Doughty Street Chambers, the aim is to inspire students from non-traditional backgrounds wanting to come to the Bar. An anticipated 1,000 plus students are expected to attend and there are several high profile speakers including Dr Leslie Thomas QC and Angela Rafferty QC Chairman of the Criminal Bar Association are on the bill. I am happy to speak on the panel or teach advocacy. This is my small way of giving back to the profession. We need visible role models if we are ever going to improve social mobility at the Bar. This all keeps me going – I would like the Bar to be more reflective of society for the junior Bar coming through and for junior barristers to be paid properly.

Next email to deal with is from three male members of the Bar asking if they can attend Women in the Law events, especially the ones on career progression. My response is ‘Yes, of course you can.’ It’s really important to have our male colleagues at the table when discussing issues. Next email is inviting me to speak at the Solicitors Regulation Authority Panel for Black History Month on diversity in the legal profession. I ask the likely timing for this because I try to keep a work/life balance. Final email is asking if I can attend meeting for the Greater Manchester Law Centre, which was started up in my chambers, Kenworthy’s. I reply I cannot, but I’m happy to consider the agenda and email my feedback. The date of this clashes with the Manchester Legal Walk which I seem to have already committed to, raising funds for the access to justice foundation with several people from my set and local judiciary.

Then I take two calls re: dentist appointments which have to be moved as I have cons all next week.

Two more calls arranging appointments for my eldest at the children’s hospital.

Coffee now cold as out of time. Back to court. Case adjourns until the following day. I check the alerts from my secure email account from a caseworker seeking advice on a witness issues. The wonders of technology means that we are contactable anywhere and everywhere. I can watch rugby, watch the school concert and read the emailed briefs.

I have two hours spare before a Women in the Law event, a question and answer with actress Maxine Peake and artistic Director Sarah Frankcom at the Royal Exchange. I send through my thoughts for a chambers meeting and a tenancy note on one of the pupils. I also email the materials for this year’s Bar mock trials in the crown court, the annual competition I coordinate annually each November in Manchester at Minshull Street Crown Court. It’s a great opportunity to expose school children to advocacy and the law. They come out with some really funny cross examination questions.

Tonight I am excited to be interviewing Maxine Peake who has starred in many legal dramas, Criminal Justice, Silk and recently in Three Girls; all BBC drama starts. On stage she has played Hamlet and recently starred in A Street Car Named Desire. This is one of our ‘headspace’ events, raising money for the charitable work of the theatre. Due to start at 6pm at The Royal Exchange – a cotton exchange built by slaves. Now making world class theatre, it is designed for an audience of about 100. The evening raised over £500 for the charitable work. I love the theatre and sit as a trustee on the board of the theatre. Maxine says in her preparation for Silk she thought the Bar was ‘quite theatrical’. Equally Sarah Frankcom, the very talented artistic director, was cool and calm and talked about their work together. Maxine is an associate artist at the theatre and has written some plays herself coming up in 2018 to which we very much look forward.

I arrive home at 9pm to have a late dinner with my husband and relax after going up to see the children in bed. Then a look at the COAS cases as well as private paying briefs in my diary.

I have some interview edits and a skeleton argument due before reading school governor board papers.

Finally, bed arrives. Spinning class and yoga in the morning. Is this an extraordinary day in the life? No. I am just a barrister and mum trying to do things differently. Give back when I can.

Contributor Sally Penni is a barrister, Kenworthy’s, Joint Vice Chair of Association of Women Barristers, and Founder of Women in the Law

Women in the Law UK blazes a trail for diversity in the law

Women in the Law UK is a non-profit organisation set up in 2012 with the intention to inspire all women and men who believe in diversity in the law.

Based in Manchester, home of the Pankhursts and the Northern Circuit, it hosts monthly round table events and annual professional dinners. Inspiring junior to senior women, with a mentoring programme, Women in the Law is inclusive, not exclusive, of male colleagues and many male members attend the events. Distinguished speakers include Mrs Justice Cox and Lady Justice Hallett and its membership and supporters have grown immensely.

Great advocates of collaboration, not competition, we support the work of all bodies trying to improve diversity in the law including the Association of Women Barristers, Urban Lawyers, Association of Women Solicitors Manchester, Women in Law London, Manchester Trainee Solicitors Group, ILEX, Merseyside Women Lawyers Group, Yorkshire Women Lawyers Group, and the UK Association of Women Judges headed by Baroness Hale. These associations in turn support the Bar and provide opportunity for barristers to meet instructing solicitors.

Women in the Law is based in Manchester but with over 700 members events are planned for London, Bristol and Birmingham in 2018 and a half-day conference planned in 2019. No wonder its mantra is so appealing; particularly its special focus on health and wellbeing at the Bar.

To find out more about the organisation, membership and events, please visit www.womeninthelawuk.co.uk
To attend its annual dinner on 8 March 2018 with guest speaker Baroness Hale, email: womeninthelawuk@gmail.com

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Sally Penni

Barrister, Kenworthy’s, Joint Vice Chair of Association of Women Barristers, and Founder of Women in the Law