On 24 April, 7BR hosted a seminar ‘How do we remove the gender pay gap?’, chaired by the Rt Hon Lord Neuberger of Abbotsbury. The event was attended by 25 heads of chambers, as well as solicitor clients, senior clerks and practice managers.

The timing for the event couldn’t have been better as the Bar Council had launched its new report, New practitioner earnings differentials at the self-employed Bar the day before. This new analysis of gross fee income data found the gender earnings gap for barristers opens up in the first few years of practice (0 to 3 years post qualification experience, PQE) and is not explained by caring responsibilities, choice of practice area, or amount of legally aided work undertaken by barristers.


Group shot from 7BR earnings event low res.jpg
Speakers at the event pictured with Chair of the Bar Sam Townend KC

In light of the evidence of the earnings gap in every practice area and in every call band, 7BR’s Head of Chambers, Rachel Langdale KC charged each of the panellists with proposing practical solutions that every chambers management team or instructing solicitor could put into practice. Here’s what they told us.

Portrait photograph of Rachel Langdale KC


Rachel Langdale KC
Head of Chambers, 7BR

  1. Create and sustain a healthy culture in chambers which encourages levelling up, ongoing education for everyone about diversity and inclusion, and a willingness to be proactive and drive initiatives to remove the gap.
  2. Include as criteria in senior clerk and practice manager appraisals evidence of practical steps that have been taken to avoid any disparities in earnings between members by reason of protected characteristics.
  3. Actively support the progression of women into silk, where earnings increase. This includes ongoing discussion about the level of work required and how best to obtain it.


Profile photograph of William Audland KC


William Audland KC
Head of Chambers, 12KBW

  1. Formalise gender equality within the management of chambers by (i) adopting a Fair Access to Work Policy or Plan which follows BSB/Bar Council guidance and ensuring you collect and analyse data which monitors incomes, opportunities and how unallocated work is assigned; (ii) publish this data internally for transparency; (iii) make the gender pay gap a standing item on your Man Com agenda, make annual practice reviews a mandatory requirement for all clerks, and ensure that as part of it each member is provided with financial data which includes peer-group benchmarking.
  2. Leading counsel should nominate all juniors (women and men) in turn for the right junior briefs and do away with preferred juniors; should delegate tasks to those juniors, allow them to do it in their preferred way (not yours); and then give them full credit for their work by championing your juniors publicly; and discuss billing with your juniors – encourage them to bill properly.
  3. Mentoring/buddying: have chambers mentoring schemes and offer to mentor younger and more senior women in chambers at all stages of their career and, in particular, key periods like a return from a career break; be receptive to reverse mentoring from them to better understand the different challenges women face at the Bar which may impact on the gender pay gap. Have specific mentoring schemes for specific challenges such as applying for silk or a judicial post. Introduce women to your valued clients as appropriate.


Profile photo of Christina Blacklaws


Christina Blacklaws
Blacklaws Consulting and former President of the Law Society
  1. Leadership is critical. Make this a strategic goal, set targets and have senior leadership ownership and accountability for change by addressing the barriers to women’s access to good work and progression (consider the Equitable Briefing Policy of Law Council of Australia and whether this would support those instructing to better be part of the solution). Having genuine equality of opportunity and development is key. Leaders also need to role model inclusive behaviours, e.g. flexible working or sponsoring high-potential women or offering targeted feedback and encouraging long-term development strategies. Reverse mentoring can also be a powerful tool here.
  2. Focus on process and rid all processes of gender bias- recruitment/performance/promotion/directories/ reward-fee arrangements. Ensure gender balance on any decision-making body and that all decisions are sense checked for gender impact.
  3. Data is key – we need transparency and analysis to ensure all appropriate metrics are measured and drive policy. Regularly check the impact of policies aimed at supporting diversity and inclusion and pivot/adjust your strategies based on the data and the outcomes.


Profile photo of Sam Mercer


Sam Mercer
Head of equality and diversity and CSR at the Bar Council
  1. Collect, analyse and discuss earnings data and introduce regular practice reviews for individual barristers.
  2. Have conversations about the fair allocation of led work, tolerance of risk, and the impact of underbilling and unpaid work.
  3. Watch out for gender bias in identifying ‘stars at the Bar’ who attract the more lucrative work and who gets the career-defining ‘unicorn cases’.


Profile photo of Neil Whiteley


Neil Whiteley
Partner and Director of Legal Services - Personal Injury, Irwin Mitchell
  1. Awareness: Those who instruct counsel can use their position of influence in the legal service ‘buying chain’ in a positive way to increase opportunity for new and underrepresented talent, but only if we are aware of  issues facing barristers in the first place and are engaged in the debate. Through greater understanding of the scale and profile of the gender pay gap, our decision making, whether in instructing individual counsel or in deciding what we value when appointing chambers to formal panels, can positively support efforts to tackle that gap and show the significance which we place on this. I would encourage fellow professionals to read the Bar Council reports on the gender earnings gap and be aware of the recommendations which they are making to address the issue.
  2. Instructions: Instructing solicitors are inevitably drawn to barristers that they know well, have the right experience for the issues in hand and who we are confident will make a good fit for clients. Even within that, there are still however prospects to flex and create new opportunities. In instances where juniors are being led, we can be more proactive and directive in who is on the team to spread those opportunities to new talent. We should challenge ourselves to think differently, particularly where there is the chance to use new counsel, and be alert to any unconscious bias that there may be to instruct a certain ‘profile’ or type of barrister for a certain profile of work or client. That may also involve educating our clients sometimes about what makes a good barrister beyond any stereotypes.
  3. Promoting talent: Giving support to the career development of female barristers is a great way to help ensure that they take full advantage of the options open to them to build their profile and optimise their earnings potential. We have the ability to do so when we think about who we recommend and promote in the annual legal directory round (instead of repeating the same old, same old), the platforms we can provide with speaking slots and networking at conferences and events, and ensuring a gender balance when facilitating counsel-led training. Mentoring across professions is another great way to foster that support and open doors for new female barristers more readily than they might already be.