Christianah Babajide is a second-year law student at The City Law School. She runs a law blog called Lawcommonroom. You can connect with her via LinkedIn. She attended Atkin Chambers Women in Law event, and gives us her views below:
The Bar Council research shows that 57% of mothers at the Bar are primary carers, compared with only 4% of fathers at the Bar. The legal profession, especially the Bar, is predominately filled with white privileged men from Eaton. Due to social mobility, the introduction of diversity quotas and efforts to close the gender pay gap, women in Law no longer face challenges they encountered 30 years ago. However, there are still several gender-based issues left to face.
I recently attended an event where members of Atkin Chambers (Chambers of Andrew White QC) spoke about their personal experiences at the Commercial Bar.
The informal panel discussion was chaired by Stephanie Barwise QC and included: Jennifer Jones, Chantal-Aimée Doerries QC, Serena Cheng QC, Lucie Briggs, Frances Pigott, Lauren Adams and practice manager Natasha Willicombe.
The Bar is traditionally a male’s arena and is usually perceived to be an “old-boys” club with female barristers as a small minority. This is because men have numerous support groups where they network and socialise with each other including with their own clients. Effective marketing is the recipe for success for women in law. Women should be proactive about marketing themselves; they can either do this professionally by giving talks and doing seminars or can do it socially by going for drinks or a bite to eat. Women need to share more knowledge, ideas and networks with each other so that they can pull more women up the ladder.
Although face-to-face marketing is effective, the panellists suggested using LinkedIn. Being on LinkedIn not only allows budding barristers to contact you for advice but can be used as a promotional tool to get more work. The panellists emphasised although having an online presence was a good marketing tool, they cautioned against oversharing and advised being careful of what you post online.
As a woman, having a degree of support was vital to a successful career at the commercial Bar. There are different types of support: it can come in the private sphere directly from your spouse, or the public sphere from your chambers or even your clients. For example, the female barristers stated when they requested time off work or worked from home, their chambers were supportive and accommodating, they added, clients don’t seem to care either – some of them don’t even realise!
The most significant type of support the commercial Bar offers women is financial. The commercial Bar generally pays very well, in comparison to the shrinking criminal Bar and as a result creates financial stability for commercial barristers. The panellists agreed that motherhood goes hand in hand with the commercial Bar; it makes life easier by allowing the luxury to cater to child care by getting a babysitter/nanny if need be.
Perks of the Commercial Bar
- As a barrister, you are self-employed and the Bar provides you with complete autonomy, which can be useful at times.
- The nature of work is very flexible and provides you with a degree of control over your own diary and the number of cases you take on. Unlike the criminal Bar, at the commercial Bar, you are informed months in advance of court deadlines.
- Women at the commercial Bar have an advanced state of agile working. If you are a working mother, due to not having a strict routine of a 9-5 job, you are able to see your children as often as you’d like or tend to family emergencies.
Advice for Early Career Women…
- Working at the commercial Bar is a combination of hard work and luck. Pupillages have strict regulations and are rigorously registered, therefore, it is important to seek your unique advocacy style.
- Despite the fact that you will benefit significantly from the ‘Oxbridge bias’, you can still make it to the Bar without Oxbridge. Achieving a 2.1 degree or above in a decent degree will easily put you on the yes pile.
- Last but not least, if you would like to stand out from the crowd, then showcasing your personality, skill sets and most importantly, having the right attitude will help you get all the way.
The Bar is a demanding environment where hard work and late nights is the norm. Despite the fact that the Bar is slowly becoming a profession for women, there is still much to be done on the gender transformation in the legal profession. However, the commercial Bar is a good option for working parents and individuals seeking a flexible career, so if you think you’ve got what it takes then don’t be put off by outdated stereotypes.