Insights / News
Insights / News
Some people may still have the impression that law is a man’s game but this is not the case any more. The Bar is becoming more and more diverse and representative of the real world and women now make up over 38% of the industry according the the Bar Council. This figure has steadily increased over the last two decades but there is still a long way to go. So, to mark International Women’s Day, and in keeping with this year’s theme #BreakTheBias, we thought we would ask some of our female barristers for their experiences at the Bar and any tips for young female lawyers.
Lydia Seymour: My mum became a barrister as a second career when I was about 16. It looked like a fun job, and for a brief period after I qualified and before she retired, we were one of very few (or possibly the only) mother and daughter at the bar.
Carin Hunt: I wasn’t very familiar with the profession and it took me some time after University to realise the Bar was for me. Eventually, when I learned more about what a career at the Bar involved, I realised that it offered exactly what I was looking for from a job – a combination of intellectual challenges and real world problems; no one day being the same; advocacy; high stakes and helping clients; interesting colleagues; flexibility; and no boss!
Lydia: Ingrid Simler (now Lady Justice Simler). She was my first pupil supervisor, and I couldn’t have been luckier. In legal terms, because she was brilliant and the sort of barrister I still aspire to be; and in role model terms. My first day of pupillage was her first day back from maternity leave, so from the very start I could see a way to make being a barrister work alongside being a parent.
Carin: There have been so many women who have inspired me to take on challenges in my career that I might otherwise have not, and I am grateful to them all. There are however two in particular that stand out.
In my third year of University, I took a module in Medical Law and Ethics and was taught by Dr Imogen Goold. Imogen was a wonderful teacher who helped me to establish confidence in my ability not just to absorb and understand the intellectual materials we studied, but also to critique them and contribute to the debate.
That was a key turning point for me in terms of valuing my own contribution in spaces where I didn’t always feel I fitted in and shedding some of that imposter syndrome many of us know too well! Imogen was also a great example of someone who balanced motherhood with an extraordinary career.
After University, I started my first job working for the UN in Jordan and my boss was an incredible woman named Laurie McNabb. Laurie was very generous to me as a professional mentor and as a friend. She encouraged me to work hard and aim high, and perhaps most importantly of all, to trust my own judgment and abilities.
Lydia: Probably the most difficult thing for me was returning from my third maternity leave and having to rebuild my practice pretty much from scratch despite being 14 years’ call. The only reason I am still working as a barrister is because of the support I received from Chambers’ staff and senior colleagues.
Lydia: I work in areas in which there are relatively few women, which creates a link between those of us who do that sort of work. That makes it possible to create networks, both for professional and work/life balance issues, which can be vital in making the Bar a pleasant place to be.
Sophie O’Sullivan: I really value the independence and professional autonomy that comes with practising at the bar. Unquestionably, as you go through life, it only gets more complicated as you try to juggle the multifarious demands that come your way, and that sense of pressure often felt by women to ‘do it all’ is something I have felt keenly at times. The inherent flexibility that comes with being at the self-employed bar has often helped me to keep all the plates spinning!
Lydia: Yes, for me, I think it was easier for me to take periods of maternity leave and work part-time when my children were small than it would have been for a male colleague. Hopefully attitudes have changed, but I took a full year of leave with each of my three children, and certainly at the time I suspect that it would have been frowned upon for a man to do the same.
Lydia: Being a barrister is one of the most flexible jobs that exists. Although combining the job with motherhood isn’t simple or costless, you are always ultimately in charge of your own diary/career, so it will always be down to you to decide whether particular costs are worthwhile. When making those decisions, try not allow a lack of self-confidence to make you overly fearful of turning work down.
And start a pension as early as possible!
Sophie: Above all, persevere – finding pupillage and getting into your stride in chambers can be tough and the learning curves are steep, but believe in your abilities and know that you have as much right to sit at the table as anyone.
The bar is, in my experience, an incredibly supportive place and those around you in chambers and at court (although perhaps not your opponent!) will want to help you succeed, so don’t be afraid to ask for guidance or speak out if you’re struggling.
Carin: Every day the Bar is becoming a more equal workplace. Certainly, challenges remain – retention and quality of work after maternity, representation at silk level, and unfortunately the list goes on. That said, I have a lot of hope for the way forward for the profession as more and more of us are engaging with these issues and seeking to tackle them.
Sophie: In the decade that I have been practicing, the bar has changed for the better in many ways, but there is still so much more we need to do: the Bar Council’s 2021 report on earnings data by sex and practice area, which found that “men’s income is increasing faster than women’s income in most practice areas and the gap between men’s and women’s earnings is widening”, was a depressing read and showed us all just how far we have yet to go. Taking a moment, as IWD does, to recognise the achievements of women across the full spectrum of life whilst raising awareness about equality and parity is vital to keep us pushing for the progress we all so urgently need and deserve.
Carin: One day to recognise the achievements of women is, of course, not enough! However, I think IWD can act as an important catalyst for starting conversations about equality. I enjoy hearing from female colleagues across the profession on this day about their experiences of life at the Bar.
Lydia Seymour was called to the Bar in 1997 and has a specialist pensions and employment law practice. She has been recognised by the legal directories as a leading junior since 2005 and is listed for employment, pensions and professional negligence.
Sophie O’Sullivan was called to the Bar on 2011 and specialises in business crime and professional regulation including commercial fraud, asset forfeiture, financial regulation, sanctions and health and safety.
Carin Hunt joined Chambers in September 2019, following her pupillage. She is already building a successful practice focussing on clinical negligence, personal injury, international injury and travel, and public law.
We would like to wish you all a very happy International Women’s Day and hope our women inspire other #WomenInLaw. We take great pride in our positive working environment and diverse team. We are dedicated to ensuring that our people have access to the resources necessary to fulfil their role and feel a valued part of the team.
News 8 Mar, 2022