Almost two-thirds of those who left the Bar on the Western Circuit over the last six years were women, a survey revealed.

The study, by the Western Circuit Women’s Forum, revealed that since 2012, 45 barristers had taken breaks from work and 47 had quit the Bar. While almost all of the men who left became judges or retired, the vast majority of women were forced to leave midcareer due to the difficulty of balancing their work and family commitments.

The survey for the Back to the Bar report found that a significant proportion of women who left the Bar could have been retained with changes to working patterns and culture.

While many women on the Western Circuit have taken parental leave and successfully returned to work, the report said that 60% had found it difficult to return to work. Male barristers rarely took parental leave for any significant period, and none had reported taking parental leave for six weeks or more.

To improve the situation, the report recommended highlighting examples of good practice in supporting women returning to work, developing ‘back-to-work’ programmes for women returners and setting out best practice for chambers to stay in touch with tenants who take leave, and structure their return to work.

It suggested flexible rent provisions for those taking longer breaks from practice; raising awareness among regulatory bodies, the wider profession and the judiciary of the challenges faced by women at the Bar; and greater understanding of the reasonable adjustments that could be made to court listing procedures to accommodate the needs of those with care responsibilities and enable greater predictability in working patterns.

Training clerks to increase their understanding and appreciation of difficulties facing working parents, and improving networking opportunities and mentoring programmes would also help, it said.