Barbara Mills QC and Charlotte Baker
Barbara Mills QC and Charlotte Baker





For International Women's Day 2022, Barbara Mills QC and Charlotte Baker suggest that we all have a responsibility to make things better now and for those who come after us.

One of the best things about being at the self-employed Bar is that you don’t have a 'boss' in a traditional sense of the word, and there’s no hierarchy in chambers akin to those set structures imposed in most other working environments.

This unique way in which we operate lends itself to the kind of leadership and mentorship that is very difficult to achieve in other spheres – one that allows for conversation and challenge, and most crucially, the opportunity to critically assess what we do, why we do it and whether, and if so, how we should change it.

All in all, we have a responsibility to make things better for ourselves, and for those who come after us.

In our world of family law – this extends not just to the shape of our profession but the bread and butter of the work we do on a daily basis. The Family Court has oft been described as the vanguard of change in life and society and as family lawyers; we must keep up. Our understanding of what is 'acceptable' and what is harmful will continue to evolve.
To #breakthebias, we must not be afraid to ask questions, learn from each other and from those with lived experience of the issues we are grappling with, so that we can challenge outdated and outmoded concepts of what a family looks like and what individuals should be expected to tolerate as part of their family life.

For us, #breakthebias and creating a profession where difference is not just valued but celebrated depends on and requires the joining of hands by the most senior and the most junior ends of the Bar, unified in a deep desire to change the culture of our profession.

We must not tolerate the idea that there will be another generation of barristers passing through our ranks that fails, so profoundly, to resemble the population it purports to serve.

Using the guidance and toolkits created for the profession by the Bar Council we can create the change we seek by ensuring that those already at the Bar are able to progress and advance; those who have decided they want to pursue a career at the Bar are able to do so without experiencing the same obstacles and barriers as their predecessors; and younger generations are not put off in the same way as those who have gone before them.

It is incumbent on all of us to create a Bar that does not alienate anyone.

None of these should be big asks, but they are achievable only if we methodically and proactively work together to bring about meaningful and enduring change in the faces at counsels’ row and peering over us from the Bench.

Another important steppingstone to #breakthebias is that we must stop fetishizing being busy. Calls for an improvement in wellbeing have tended to come from the more junior end of the Bar, but a move towards a more functional profession less fuelled by its own sense of self-importance has to start with those who are more senior and well-established and can lead by example.

We must normalise attempts to keep sane working hours; to sleep for 8 hours a night (imagine!); to say ‘no’ to work because we have booked time off; and to genuinely not check our emails when our ‘out of office’ is on and says as much.

Finally, we must put pay to the idea that childcare and caring responsibilities are the sole preserve of women at the Bar. They are not, but the more we ask women to comment in public about how they juggle their homelife with life at the Bar; the more difficult it is to normalise the (uncontroversial) proposition that women are not genetically predisposed to childcare over and above their male counterparts.

That does not mean that we gloss over the very real and enduring price that some women pay for taking time out of their self-employed practice to have children, and we must encourage early and frank conversations between those who have done it and those who want to do it. We do better in the future.

Barbara Mills QC and Charlotte Baker are specialist children practitioners at 4pb. Barbara is Co-Chair of the Bar Council’s Race Working Group. Pre-pandemic, they shared a room together with a number of their other colleagues.

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