Breaking down barriers is more important than ever
On 26 November I celebrated my 2-year call anniversary and as I write this article, I am now 6 months on my feet as a pupil barrister. These past two years I have been extremely lucky to have been exposed to some wonderful opportunities at the Bar. However, I vividly remember when I first decided that I wanted to become a barrister during the final term of my undergraduate degree. I did not know whether it would be attainable and to be honest I had limited knowledge of what would be required of me.
One of the many things I had to quickly learn was how important clothing was in the profession. Even as a student you are required to wear professional clothing for your classes at bar school, qualifying sessions, to participate in any legal work and of course, pupillage interviews. Yet, there is no codified guide to assist those in their early years. I learnt what clothing was appropriate and where to obtain it from. Women barristers periodically complain about the lack of affordable court clothing available to practitioners and students alike. Some may wonder why we place such importance on clothing but in a profession where women such as myself experience imposter syndrome for a number of reasons, looking the part eases the feeling of otherness.
The few appropriate and reliable brands available to women are quite expensive and for those entering the profession who cannot afford to purchase from those brands, clothing can be a hinderance. Making the Bar more accessible requires an all-rounded assessment of the profession. In other words, how accessible is the profession if students entering the profession struggle to find clothing required to look and feel the part?
For those who want to pursue a career at the legally aided bar, your junior years may come with financial difficulties - as has been clearly seen recently. Even pupils through to junior practitioners cannot afford to spend hundreds of pounds on suits. This is an issue that is spoken about on a consistent basis, but more must be done.
We are seeing more initiatives assisting students or junior practitioners with professional clothing. However, these organisations alone cannot fix the issue. In a way this issue also requires us to assess why clothing brands are not selling professional clothing that caters to women across all sectors. It is quite frustrating browsing various retail brands for dresses, skirts and shirts that may not be suitable for court because the material may not be of high quality nor the designs deemed appropriate. It takes a lot of time to source suitable clothing by browsing through various websites yet those wanting to enter the profession or practising do not necessarily have the time to do so. This is a topic that needs more discussion to see how things can be improved.
I for one complained about how difficult it was to find clothing just before starting pupillage. I complained so much that my cousin encouraged me to do something about it. Although I did not know what would be most effective, I asked myself what would have helped me on my journey.
That is when I thought of a website that curates professional court wearing clothing specifically for women. Creating a one stop location for women to find a range of clothing across a number of brands to accommodate everyone’s wallets. Thus “Law Couture” was designed to be of assistance to women who wanted to find clothing from a reliable source without spending too much time doing so. It was also designed to help those entering the profession by creating a guide and tips - in the hope that those browsing did not feel as alone as I did when I first started.
As I mentioned before, no one person or organisation can fix the issue. However, more exposure will perhaps lead to some solution-based outcomes. If the Bar is serious about accessibility and inclusivity, it is important to acknowledge how clothing impacts the ability of those from non-traditional backgrounds to enter and stay in the profession.
Grace Khaile is a pupil barrister at Red Lion Chambers.