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I will have my cake and eat it

In the past, barristers have been unable to facilitate a working practice compatible to their home life. Thankfully, those days seem to have passed, says Nancy Rice, joint first junior clerk at Temple Garden Chambers

Life in chambers had always been recognised for the gruelling hours spent with the last waking hours left trying to squeeze in some quality family time (for those with families still talking to them). Thankfully those times have evolved – for those wishing to have a better balance.

My chambers has worked hard to ensure that everyone’s needs are met to ensure a happy work-life balance is achieved and to ensure optimum output and retention. This is true of many chambers.

Any working parent will confirm the internal battle they regularly have with themselves when either in chambers or at home – feeling the guilt that they should be in the other place.

Many chambers have formed Equality & Diversity and Wellbeing committees to provide members of chambers and staff with policies that provide the tools to aid a healthy and prosperous working environment and by doing so have reformed the traditional chambers family feel that many had started to believe had deserted us. Husbands, wives, partners, and children now speak of ‘work’ in a welcoming conversation rather than the harsh mutterings of a cheated partner.

Many hours have been spent by committees made up of parents and carers, those without responsibilities to others, both barristers and staff to create policies that are fair to all and allow the flexibility to manage practices as each individual requires. Having been at Temple Garden Chambers approaching 30 years, I have never come across two barristers with exactly the same practice, working hours, personal commitments or long term goals. It is an impossible task to get a ‘one policy fits all’. A balance must always be struck with the interests of those members of chambers who work full time. Chambers must ensure that there is a sole ‘us’, not a ‘them and us’ mentality.

My chambers has created a flexible working policy (including the provision for a career break) along with a parental leave policy which has been warmly received with several members (male and female) gratefully taking up the offer. There is also provision for the more senior members of chambers who are seeking more flexibility in their practices in later years. These policies allow more control over the hours and days worked knowing that you can safely afford to retain your seat in chambers.

For this to work it is essential that the line of communications is always open between the member involved and their clerks. There must be no ambiguity as to the scope of what the member of chambers can do with days, hours, and distance all factors that need to be carefully considered and discussed. It is then imperative that the clerks maximise the potential of the member within these boundaries and keep lines of communication open to ensure neither side are dropping from the parameters set.

Likewise the same flexible approach must be afforded to staff members. The staff handbook has provision for maternity, paternity, adoption, shared paternity, family leave, etc. with the flexibility to continue along the same career path whilst raising a family. Having benefitted from these policies myself for the last 14 years it cements the loyalty from both parties and makes for a happy and steadfast working relationship. It is also greatly appreciated by those at home who talk fondly of Mummy’s work and who are also a part of the ‘Chambers Family’ by baking for chambers tea (in the good old days when we used to be able to gather socially in a conference room in close proximity).

If there is any silver lining to Covid-19 it is that it has brought forward and promoted remote working which has worked well for those with children who now have the capability to do the school/nursery runs before jumping back on the computer ready for their video hearing or conference.

Children and partners of both members and staff interact with chambers for charitable events, quiz nights, work experience, and much more. Who knows whether this will inspire future barristers or clerks but what it certainly does is create an extended family.

In bygone days I had seen barristers leave the Bar unable to see a way to facilitate a working practice that would be compatible to their home life but thankfully those days seem to have passed. In a physical and metaphorical capacity you can indeed have your slice of Battenberg and eat it.

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