Having built up a career over the past 10 years of which I’m proud, I now face my first career break. As a self-employed barrister, I knew that preparing for this would have its challenges but I found that relevant information was sometimes difficult to locate. What follows is the product of my research which I hope will serve as a starting point for future barrister parents making their own plans.


Talking to people who have children has been invaluable in helping assess what might work for me.

After getting pregnant, I signed up for mentoring through Middle Temple. There are many formal mentoring schemes available through the Inns of Court. Middle Temple offers a standard mentoring scheme as well as the Talent Retention Scheme and Inner Temple has a great talk on its website: ‘Planned Breaks and Return to the Bar’. I’m less familiar with what other Inns offer but it’s worth researching as I found speaking to someone unconnected with Chambers to be useful.

Once I was happy to disclose my pregnancy, I did speak to members of Chambers and found that useful for understanding how Chambers’ policies work in practice and what my clerks would expect from me.

The Bar Council has launched the Maternity and New Parents Mentoring Scheme, which draws on a pool of barrister mentors who have taken a family career break, and have subsequently established or maintained a thriving practice.

Time off

Many parents probably feel torn between wanting to savour this special time in life with needing to work to pay rent/mortgages/bills etc. Another concern might be about the potential career setback as a result of an extended break.

Finances might dictate this but when you’re planning time off it will help to sit down and work out what you can afford and how flexible you can be with your practice (factoring the following year’s tax bill). You might be able to stagger your return by working on certain days, within geographical limits, or by only accepting instructions for remote work for a time.

In terms of career setbacks, I’ve heard different reports but mostly been reassured. For established practitioners, time off is unlikely to disrupt long-standing professional relationships and my experience is principally that solicitors have been supportive and just want to know when they can start resending work.

Making plans with your clerks

The most consistent pieces of advice I’ve received are:

1. be proactive and communicative about your plans with your clerks; and

2. be prepared to change plans once the baby arrives.

Parents with multiple children advised that with one baby they’d needed to put work entirely to one side, whereas, with another, they were able to manage the odd bit of work from reasonably early on. Much depends on the baby and can’t be known in advance.

As a first-time parent, I have no way of knowing what capacity I’ll have for work so I haven’t set decisions in stone. However, to avoid miscommunication and while making clear that plans might change, I have broken up my maternity leave into chunks of time. I’ve decided to have an initial period completely free of work and I’ve set out how I plan to gradually return after that.

You’ll need to decide whether to tell solicitors that you’re on parental leave. Most solicitors I’ve been open with just want to know when they can get back in touch. The best way to avoid mistakes is to tell your clerks which solicitors should be told and which should not.

Maternity pay

As finances may well dictate your decisions around parental leave, it’s important to check to see if you are eligible for Maternity Allowance (MA). MA can be claimed for 39 weeks starting up to 11 weeks before the baby is due.

If you are eligible then you could receive up to £156.66 per week.

While in receipt of MA, you are permitted to work for 10 days. In most guidance about MA, these are referred to as ‘keeping in touch’ days but that is a slightly misleading term because you are permitted to work for 10 days which is more than merely keeping in touch.

The Department for Work and Pensions’ Decision Makers’ Guide provides that ‘undertaking minimal maintenance and admin tasks does not count towards those 10 days’. Such tasks are further defined and a helpful list of activities which are not considered ‘work’ is also provided (including prepping work to be carried out after MA ends and keeping your skills at an acceptable level).

It is worth noting that, whether you work a full day or just an hour, you will have used up one of your days.

One tip about applying for MA: if applying after April file your next tax return and pay the National Insurance (NI) contribution before making your MA application. This will ensure that your NI contributions are up to date. If you don’t, you might be deemed ineligible for the full amount of MA.

Shared parental leave (SPL)

Although a self-employed person cannot take SPL, a recipient of MA can create SPL for their employed partner. If your partner is employed, their employer may offer them enhanced SPL pay when they take SPL, over and above the statutory minimum. Check the employer’s policies to find out.

SPL can be requested to be taken in one go or in blocks separated by periods of work.

It has to be taken within the first year after the child is born and it is created by the birthing parent curtailing their period of MA (ie to create 16 weeks of SPL, MA must be curtailed 16 weeks early by giving 8 weeks’ notice to the Job Centre).

Check carefully whether your partner’s employer places restrictions on when SPL has to be taken for your partner to be eligible for enhanced pay. Employers are entitled to have less generous policies for SPL than maternity leave and they can limit enhanced payments to those taking SPL immediately after the baby’s birth, which isn’t always when it would be the most useful to parents.

Practice certificate (PC)/insurance

The Bar Council’s Family Career Breaks Advice Pack gives guidance on maintaining your PC while on leave. You can suspend your PC and get a refund for periods where you don’t have it by giving 28 days’ notice. Even if you don’t suspend it, when you next renew your PC after parental leave, you renew it at the lowest Band 1 rate.

If you keep your PC, then you will have to comply with the BSB Handbook including CPD and the cab rank rule so it will be important to manage your diary accordingly.

If you maintain a PC, then you must also keep your insurance. If you suspend your PC, you can also suspend your insurance and get a refund for the uninsured period. Insurance can be reinstated with 48 hours’ notice. Whatever you do with your PC, keep the BMIF updated.

If you do suspend your PC, you are an ‘unregistered barrister’ during that period. You must comply with the relevant BSB requirements that are applicable to unregistered barristers and must be careful not to hold yourself out as a practising barrister. This is likely to require you to amend your chambers’ and other online profiles accordingly.

What you can expect from chambers

I’m aware that policies for parental leave and flexible working can vary between chambers. While chambers are encouraged to be generous to members in order to retain talent, it is entirely up to the chambers to determine what that looks like. Once you’ve looked at the policies, it is worth remembering that they might only reflect the minimum that chambers will offer and it is worth having open conversations with management about your circumstances.

What you can expect from the courts

There is no policy on how the Judiciary or HM Courts and Tribunals Service should handle requests for flexible working (including requests for remote hearings) for those who are pregnant, breast-feeding or returning to work.

The Equal Treatment Bench Book states that consideration should always be given to accommodating representatives in proceedings who are pregnant or breastfeeding including by having sensitive listings, start and finish times, and breaks during the proceedings, sometimes resulting in a case going part-heard.

There are also helpful comments about childcare generally, including that childcare responsibilities ‘should be accommodated as far as reasonably possible’ and that no assumptions should be made about the need to meet caring responsibilities, whether the request comes from the birthing or non-birthing parent.

However, conversations with the Bar Council have revealed that the Judiciary may be reluctant to sign up to any wide-ranging policy on requests for remote hearings from representatives and prefers to make decisions on a case-by-case basis. In my view, this poses a significant obstacle to parents trying to confidently plan whether they can accept court work where a hearing is listed in-person but which they can only attend remotely or until a certain time of day.

Most parent barristers have spoken positively about the courts’ response to accommodating such requests so I hope that my fears about this are misplaced. My concern is that, without a policy to rely upon, parents are subject to the discretion of the judge assigned to a case who may or may not be sympathetic. I don’t want to be reliant on sympathy and I don’t want to let my client down or breach my professional duties. The risk is that I would resign myself to in-person work being incompatible with returning to work initially, when the reality is that hybrid attendance or shorter court days could be accommodated in many situations.

So much for the theory. I’m probably not alone in trying to plan for every eventuality and I know that with a newborn baby it is unlikely to play out as expected. Ask me how it all went in a year’s time and I’m sure I’ll have some stories to tell.