There are two strands to the guidance set out below: some practical suggestions about managing continuing professional obligations whilst on a break; and ideas for positive and structured communication between the tenant and chambers with the aim of managing a smooth transition back to work. The guidance sometimes uses the language of maternity leave but is intended to apply equally to fathers and adopting parents where they are the principal carer, and more widely to any member of chambers planning to take a career break.
Attend the course
Managing a career break is the responsibility of chambers as a whole, but managing it well depends on forward planning and good communication. The Bar Council is running a Managing Career Breaks course on 3 October 2008, aimed at barristers going on or returning from a break, clerks, practice managers, equal opportunity officers and members of management committees. The programme includes advice on clerking, re-establishing practice, funding, maintaining a work life balance, Code of Conduct and ethical updates and opportunities for career development including judicial and other appointments. To register for the course email: ACampbell@BarCouncil.org.uk.
Freya Newbery is a member of the Bar Council Equality and Diversity Committee
PRACTICALITIES — ADVANCE PLANNING
- Check the position with the BMIF and keep it informed (tel: 020 7621 0405).
Continuing professional development
- You can seek a reduction in your CPD commitments, but you may consider it would be better to “keep your hand in” and increase your confidence by gaining the information, education and opportunity for networking during your break.
- Inform the Bar Standards Board.
Bar Council subscriptions
Check the up-to-date position with the Bar Council and keep it informed: Email: SmitaShah@BarCouncil.org.uk.
- Get accounts up to date—you may not have time when you are on your break. Sorting accounts out now may result in a timely adjustment in payments to take account of any future drop in income.
- Meet with your accountant and discuss: adjusting your year end, if beneficial; provision for tax and pension payments; and keeping in touch.
- Consider whether you will remain registered and how you will fill in your returns.
- Consider which subscriptions you wish to continue during your break. It may be tempting to cancel everything, but keeping up to date might make your return easier.
Chambers rent/direct debits
- Check the relevant chambers policy regarding maternity/paternity/sabbatical/parenting breaks and agree how it will be implemented in advance to avoid misunderstandings.
- Maternity allowance is available to the self-employed on maternity leave and is not means tested. Information is available from www.direct.gov.uk.
PRACTICE MANAGEMENT — KEEPING IN TOUCH
Some uncertainty over the timing and potential limiting factors around the return to work is usually inevitable. Positive forward and flexible management is helpful in ensuring a comfortable return.
- Have a practice meeting before you go
- Arrange a meeting with your head of chambers/clerks/practice manager as appropriate.
- Take minutes of the discussion to avoid misunderstandings later.
- Items on the agenda would usefully include the headings below.
Contact and communication
- What will be the route, frequency and formality of communication between you and chambers?
- Home internet access: it will be useful to have internet access at home and remote access to chambers intranets/diary etc.
- Email, out of office and voicemail messages—decide what to keep open and how you will access and respond to messages. Draft an out-of-office reply.
- What message do you want to be given to your solicitors about the reasons for and duration of your break? Who will communicate with them and how? Will you differentiate between them, keeping some of them more informed during your absence, for example the date when your child is born? Give your clerks relevant lists and details—don’t expect them to guess.
Cheques and post
- Make arrangements in advance about how your cheques will be paid into your bank account.
- Pigeon holes—much of the post you receive whilst on a break may be irrelevant. Do you want it sent on to you or will you collect it yourself? Perhaps your mentor/contact buddy could monitor incoming mail.
Continuing your practice
- Do you want to be offered paperwork while you are absent?
- From what date do you want the clerks to start booking court work in your diary?
- Do you want to/are you prepared to contribute to chambers newsletters or seminars while you are absent?
- Will you have a mentor whilst you are away and/or on your return. If so, whom and what will be their role?
- Mentors can keep you informed as to what is happening in chambers and might speak to the clerks or other members of chambers on your behalf. They might give you support and advice on your return to chambers too.
Returning to work
- Do you have an approximate return date?
- Will you return to the same room?
- What will happen to your desk/place in chambers while you are away?
- Are you thinking of changes to your work pattern and adjustments to your practice in terms of the amount you work and where you work?
Put return/update meeting in diary
- Don’t leave this as “when you are ready”.
- Chambers may not want to bother you until such time as you are ready but you may see this as a lack of commitment to you. Put a date in the diary to avoid any misunderstanding—and move it if necessary.
At the return meeting
- Set an intended return date.
- Discuss your proposed availability if this will change. If you intend to cut down on days/hours of work and travel, then communication, clarity and understanding between you and your clerks is very important.
- Which solicitors would you like to be notified that you are back and how?
- Set a date for a review meeting. This will be particularly important if your work pattern has changed.