Middle Temple has been running its Talent Retention Working Group (TRWG) for the last four years. It has been gratefully received by our members and plainly serves the need of an important demographic of barristers who often feel overlooked and underrepresented. As highlighted in a previous article for Counsel, while corporates and public sector bodies are supportive and encouraging of returners and movers and recognise the diversity they offer, many sets of chambers are far behind.

Coming back to or moving within the Bar after a leave of absence, or facing a new environment following a move, can be a daunting experience. The Bar is a very competitive and at times quite lonely profession, where many feel that personal struggles should be hidden for fear of damaging our brand and the perception that those we work with have of us.

To assist those contemplating a return to or move within the Bar (be it employed to self-employed, vice versa or moving disciplines) we set out 11 top tips – not in any order of importance.

1. Plan your return

Set up a meeting with your clerks and chief executive or practice manager in advance of your return to work. Ensure that you discuss your work availability, how best to communicate on any days off, billing expectations and any financial support (if needed) until fees start coming in. Depending on what (if any) returner’s policy your chambers has, you may also want to discuss a rent free period for a few months.

Check whether your employer offers any returner programmes and take advantage of them.

2. Cultivate working relationships

If returning or moving to chambers, cultivate a close working relationship with your clerks or practice managers. They hold the key to the opportunities you need to rebuild your practice when you do not have work coming directly to you. Take full advantage of all practice development opportunities offered to you.

If returning/moving to the employed Bar, build close working relationships with your manager, HR department and team members.

Devise a business plan and set yourself realistic goals. Others should help you reach your goals but you need to be proactive. Schedule regular practice meetings with your clerks, manager/HR to enable you to reach your goals. If you consider that you are not being offered any or enough opportunities, take the initiative and ask for them yourself. An encouraging and nurturing work environment should be supportive of you and enable you to flourish.

3. Build/rebuild relationships with colleagues

Rebuild or build relationships with members of chambers or team. This will enable you to feel more confident as a returner and to find and seize opportunities more easily.

4. Reconnect with clients and stakeholders

Reconnect with professional clients by email, lunch or drinks. The same applies to stakeholders you service at the employed Bar.

5. Be bold: create, seize and expand opportunities

You never know where your next opportunity can come from. Actively seek out devilling work or junior briefs which can be an effective way of rebuilding knowledge and confidence and growing your network of clients.

Offer to assist colleagues. When meeting up with a more senior members of chambers, stakeholder or colleague, you may find an opportunity for a junior brief or to assist with a problem or project.

Don’t take on cases that are beyond your ability but don’t shy away from challenging work and cases that with adequate preparation you can handle. Don’t forget that experience is the best teacher.

Expand your repertoire: (i) consider whether to apply for a practising certificate extension to accept direct access instruction and/or conduct litigation; (ii) consider obtaining accreditation in mediation or arbitration. Consult the Bar Council website for information including mediation training.

6. Market yourself – don’t be shy

For online marketing to be effective you need to build and maintain a presence with regular updates and good content. Being online is not enough – your online presence needs to work for you. If you are unsure how to maximise your online presence consider training on how best to use social media as a marketing tool. There are various platforms available for marketing, such as LinkedIn, X, podcasts and webinars. Ensure to check the policy (if any) of your chambers or employer to ensure any output is consistent with your chambers’ practice/permitted by your employer.

Volunteer to write articles for your chambers’ or employers’ newsletters as well as specialist and generalist legal journals. Offer to present seminars in-house. You can also consider delivering some training in your specialist area, through chambers, specialist Bar associations (SBAs), or your employer, to solicitors, stakeholders and colleagues.

Attend marketing and social events offered by your chambers, employer, Circuit, clients and stakeholders.

7. Get involved

Get involved in professional committees internally in chambers, with your Inn, SBA or relevant market associations and, if at the employed Bar, get involved with BACFI.

8. Find a mentor/guide

Check whether you know someone who can help to guide you or can be put in touch with someone who could. For example, Middle Temple offers mentors for returners and movers. Mentoring schemes are also offered by the Bar Council and specialist Bar associations. Ask your chambers or employer if you can be assigned a mentor to help you navigate your way while rebuilding or building your practice.

9. View and do some advocacy

The art of advocacy, be it written or oral, is a readily transferable skill from boardroom to courtroom. Most hearings are held in public and the higher courts are aired online. Take time to sit in court or view recordings of hearings online to refresh your skills. In addition, see what advocacy courses are available at your Inn.

Even better, volunteer at Advocate and do some pro bono work. Advocate welcome advocates from all backgrounds and will be happy to assist. They also pair you with a more experienced advocate so you would be offered experienced guidance.

You could also undertake an advocacy trainer course at your Inn (if offered) and become a trainer yourself.

Ask friends or colleagues for redacted examples of written work.

10. Keep yourself informed and up to date

Inform yourself about the most recent developments in your chosen sector. The specialist Bar associations provide a wealth of training and materials and lists of these associations should be available from your Inn or the Bar Council. Attend as many events as you can. Don’t just pay lip service to CPD requirements – use them as an opportunity to maintain and expand your knowledge base.

11. Don’t be put off by imposter syndrome

Most professionals feel insecure or imposter syndrome at some stage of their career. With a much greater recognition and conversation around wellbeing at the Bar and frank conversations about the stresses of practice, you should reach out for support when needed. The Bar Council, SBAs and Inns all offer support in one form or another and support should also be available if you are working in-house.

At Middle Temple, for example, our TRWG and Survive and Thrive Groups run events on issues that affect us all – such as imposter syndrome, performance anxiety and enhancement and effective communication – and provide practical guidance and tools to help navigate these.

References and further information

‘Returners, movers and talent retention’, Juliette Levy, Counsel August 2022. See also Counsel’s Career Clinic for more peer-to-peer advice.

Middle Temple’s Talent Retention Working Group provides a blueprint for returners and movers as well as tips and links.

To find out about Bar Council training and events, click here and for Bar Council career support click here.

BACFI (Bar Association for Commerce, Finance and Industry) represents the interests of employed and non-practising barristers providing legal services in commerce, finance and industry.