Having children while pursuing a career at the Bar used to be difficult, but Justice Ruth McColl of the NSW Court of Appeal believes the Bar is now much more supportive of families.
“When I was at the Bar there were women who when they wanted to have children, [they] just left the Bar,” Justice McColl said. “They just could not see how it could work.”
Speaking at a roundtable discussion hosted byLawyers Weekly and DLA Piper in December, Justice McColl highlighted initiatives such as the Martin Place Early Learning Centre for Bar Association members, which opened in August 2014.
“The Bar Association now has a childcare centre in which they support both men and women by having their children there.”
Justice McColl said it’s important to recognise that the Bar can't create the institutional support that a law firm can, but that barristers can be quite flexible with their working arrangements.
“I think one of the things that these days facilitates both men and women being able to have children and be with them in their early years of life and continuing to practice at the Bar in particular, is things like being able to work from home.”
She said even if they can’t go into chambers, barristers are still able to pursue work-related activities.
“There’s been the most remarkable transformation in that area of supporting both men and women in areas of hoping to facilitate them being able to have children and continue to work in the profession,” Justice McColl said.
“I think those women who started trying to get into the Bar back in the 50s would be amazed at what's available in the legal profession now.”
Another panellist on the roundtable, St James Hall barrister Michelle Painter SC, said that one of the ways women barristers combat prejudice is not to broadcast that they're expecting a child.
“At a certain point it's difficult to hide physically, but many of us have solicitors who we see every couple of years but that we talk to regularly on the phone,” Ms Painter said.
“They might give us two or three briefs a year, and they don’t need to see us for us to do it, so with that sort of work they don’t need to know why you're not available for a month or two.”