In an example from the survey, a male barrister ‘will not be open about his real problems juggling childcare responsibilities… because he feels he needs to “man up”.’ Wider, societal issues about gender roles/stereotyping
clearly come into play.
So if ‘having it all’ is a lie and a myth for both women and men, how are we to be barristers, parents and succeed at both? The preferable question I think is to ask what our own definition of success is, and how that can be achieved as
a working parent at the Bar.
No 'one size fits all'
For 19 years, I was a criminal barrister at Broadway House Chambers. In the latter five years of my career at the Bar, I started a family. It was then that I became all too familiar with the so-called ‘juggle’ between work and family life.
I have three children. With my first, I returned to full-time work after six months, before I felt ready. This was due to financial considerations and not wanting to step out for too long in case my career progression was hindered, a phenomenon known
as ‘the maternity penalty’. Childcare was a combination of nursery and grandparents.
With my second, I increased maternity leave to 12 months. I returned when I was in a better position to do so. This time a nanny played mum whilst I paid her for the privilege of me returning to work.
"Having childcare support and laser sharp focus and boundaries will go a long way to support your success"
By child number three, I was ready for an extended period of maternity leave, which I had no interest in before.
These three, and very different, scenarios serve to illustrate that no ‘one size fits all’. Even within the same family, circumstances change. Deciding on the right childcare options requires a combination of creativity and flexibility.
Additionally, you should be realistic about your options and accepting of your choices. Being a parent means making daily compromises and decisions which you may not like, but can live with. How to do so is another matter.
Image versus reality
To those outside looking in, a successful barrister is confident, focused and present in whatever case they are instructed upon. They are available to undertake last minute case preparation outside of normal office hours. They go above and beyond
to fight their client’s case.
They are also human, not robots or superheroes: parents, carers, people who may have been up all night with a demanding baby, or putting small children to bed late, then settling down to prepare a jury speech in to the small hours.
Yet there is an expectation that you show up next morning at court, ready to go, ‘game face’ engaged.
Preserving the image and living with compromise
To give yourself the best chance of preserving the image and living with the invidious compromises that you, as a parent, inevitably have to make, childcare will have to be in place which is affordable and in which you feel confident. On the Western
Circuit, those returning successfully did so with the assistance of significant shared care from partners or family members.
Flexible working arrangements are also important as a means by which to control your own schedule, the availability of which depends on the individual chambers, the clerking teams’ ability to break from traditional clerking practices, and whether
or not your practice is court based.
The downside, however, according to the 2016 Bar Standards Board Report: Women at the Bar, is that for many, flexible working negatively impacted on the work women received and their career progression (see: bit.ly/2IHplMC).
This applies equally to men. At the Women Lawyers and Mothers launch event in Manchester in 2018, a male panel member working flexibly in a law firm recounted an occasion when he was deliberately discriminated against by a senior partner, who called
in to question his commitment to his role and the firm due to him working flexibly.
Time management, focus & boundaries
Of the two-thirds who left the Bar on the Western Circuit over a six-year period, most cited difficulties balancing work and family commitments as a determining factor in their decision.
Having childcare support and laser sharp focus and boundaries will go a long way to support your success. For me, success is being the best version of myself through the choices I make, and accepting them. How do you define success for yourself?
Nikki Alderson, @NikkiAlderson2, is a former criminal barrister, now Corporate and Executive Coach supporting Chambers and law firms to attract and retain female talent within the legal profession, and empowering female lawyers to achieve career ambitions whilst creating congruent lives. www.nikkialdersoncoaching.com