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AIBU to ask how any barristers out there cope with their work + family?

(127 Posts)
user1488204592 Mon 27-Feb-17 14:19:29

Hi all-

Long time user but new account for this (couldn't name change because I can't remember password!) I would really love to become a barrister (definitely not crime) and am working towards doing so.

I love the self-employed aspect coupled with the ability to work from home. I only want to have a small practice, I am not overly ambitious and am not the type to try for silk or anything like that. Ideally, I want to be able to go into chambers once every couple of weeks and complete the majority of my work from home, is this at all possible?

Could any ) barristers give me the real inside scoop? Is it as flexible as I think? Will I be able to spend time with my young family and work as a barrister?

So AIBU to ask what it's really like to work as a barrister with a family?


unicornsIlovethem Mon 27-Feb-17 14:22:56

What stage are you at ? Have you done pupillage yet?

sonyaya Mon 27-Feb-17 14:24:44

I don't have a family but to be honest I don't think it's realistic to think at entry level you can just go into chambers every couple of weeks. Commercial law etc is very papers based but you have to work your way up to it by building a client base. In all but the top London sets, this will involve court work, and if you want to succeed you'll need to be prepared to travel.

Plus for pupillage year you'll be working full time, possibly extremely long hours.

I'm absolutely not saying you can't have a family and be a barrister but you'll need to put more hours into it than I get the impression you want to.

Good luck whatever you decide.

Cinderpi Mon 27-Feb-17 15:01:28

My experience would be that it wasn't possible. During pupillage I was working 70+hour weeks, and had to be in chambers or shadowing 8-6 every day. I actually chose not to go for tenancy because I knew I'd want a family, and none of the barristers I knew could commit the time I'd want to - very few days out of court/ chambers, very long hours and lots of take home files. They all had nannies and couldn't commit to being there for important events. Like you, I'd have chosen to have a small practice but I found that the Bar (especially at the junior end) combined the worst aspects of employment and self-employment - no real security and no control over working hours. Clerks control the diary and they try to pack in as many cases as possible to keep profits up. I loved the work but the hours weren't sustainable!

Littlecaf Mon 27-Feb-17 15:10:00

Of the barristers I have worked with, if they had families they tended to have a partner or spouse who worked part time, locally and they had other help (e.g nannies/grandparents). I'm not in the legal profession (or a clerk or a barrister) but they worked bloody hard, and I often wondered how they did it with young kids. Unfortunately the female barristers I have worked with almost always didn't have children.

user1488204592 Mon 27-Feb-17 15:25:01

Thanks for your replies.

I am just about to apply for pupillage but I know that I want a family in the future.

I was aware that I needed to work the long hours during pupillage but (apparently rather stupidly!) I believed I'd be able to work my own hours afterward.

Oh dear... what about solicitors?!

sonyaya Mon 27-Feb-17 15:30:17

How far into the future do you want a family? I want one too but I'm 11 years in and now I can be much more in control of my own diary.

What kind of chambers are you applying to - family law or civil? This can make a difference in the future too. Civil is better for you if you want to mainly work from home.

sonyaya Mon 27-Feb-17 15:31:33

As I understand it solicitors usually work at the very least 9-5 and depending on the firm, usually quite a lot in excess of that! But it may be possible to work part time.

linds2301 Mon 27-Feb-17 15:39:36

I'm a solicitor and find my employers really accommodating. I have a 2.5 yr old and another due in July. I also work full time, 9-5. My daughter attends full time nursery, i'll do the same when my second child comes along.
I would say that it depends on the firm and the area that you practise, good luck smile

BoccadiLupa Mon 27-Feb-17 15:40:52

OK, I am a barrister and I make it work ... I am divorced with two DCs so it takes willpower and organisation but I manage it.
First - it depends what area of law you want to go into. As you know some areas of law are very court based (crime), some are very paperwork based, but most start out as pretty court based at the start even if later on you are in court less. If you don't have kids now, then you'll be fine. Tell yourself that you will need to work hard in pupillage (most sets don't make you do crazy hours, we certainly don't and I insist that my pupil works no harder than 9-5!) and then for the first few years in practice to establish yourself. But then a family is fine, in my opinion. I work 4 days a week and often at home. But you need (a) fabulous childcare/a support network; and (b) a supportive partner who will drop everything if you need to get to court/your child is off sick/everything has gone wrong.
it is absolutely doable and frankly the Bar needs women who come to the Bar and stay at the Bar. We lose far too many when they have children and most sets are now alive to doing everything they can to help (mine certainly is). Very best of luck. I adore what I do!
Oh and one final tip - ask your school for the dates of the Christmas play/sports day MONTHS in advance so that you can book those dates out of your diary yonks in advance and not have to panic at the last moment! grin

ImCatbug Mon 27-Feb-17 15:49:56

I am a nanny who works for barristers with young children and honestly they don't get to spend much time with the kids at all. Maybe a half hour before bed a few times a week, and it's very rare that they both spend all weekend with them. There have been occasions where the kids have not seen one of the parents for multiple days just due to working hours.
You would need a partner with a part time/flexible job or lots of reliable childcare.

Allthebestnamesareused Mon 27-Feb-17 16:00:38

I am a solicitor and also the wife of a solicitor. Linds 2031 - I'd love to know which firm you work at that lets you work 9-5. Jobs like that are very rare indeed.

Also I am assuming that you are happy to remain at assistant/associate level rather than see any form of career progression.

Yes, it would be easier to work part-time as a solicitor (depending on what type of law you specialise in) butgenerally only at a low level or if you have been a partner for a number of years and your business plan would allow say a 60% draw.

MrsMogginsMinge Mon 27-Feb-17 16:04:46

I make it work too - but I was 10+ years call when I had a baby. Other flexibly working parents in chambers tend to have waited a while to establish their careers too. I currently work 3-4 days a week, in court maybe once a week on average (although I have the odd week where I have a hearing every day). I have taken a bit of a hit to my career to do this and will have to really knuckle down in my 40s to get back on track.

Thinking back to pupillage and the first year or two of tenancy, I don't think I could have managed it. I was in court every day, all corners of the country, briefs coming in at the last minute and lots of unpredictable early starts/late finishes.

When you're in court, even with full-time childcare, somebody needs to be there for nursery drop off and pick up. My DH is currently in a job where he can take care of this, but without that we would be screwed. You might be ok if you have a family member on standby or can afford a nanny.

And just in case you were thinking you could do paperwork at home without paying for childcare - no you can't. My DC is in nursery even if I'm working at the kitchen table all day. Children and intellectually taxing paperwork do not go together.

If you can wait a few years to have children and it's what you want to do then absolutely go for it - you're only in the small child zone for a few years. My chambers have been v accommodating and the more parents ask for flexible arrangements, the more normal it will become. But it's not the solution to a work-life balance in itself.

linds2301 Mon 27-Feb-17 16:05:04

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

Sunnie1984 Mon 27-Feb-17 16:21:37

I'm a solicitor and my firm is pretty family friendly.

I generally work 9-5 and can work from home if needed - we are moving towards more home working as standard.

I work 4 days a week and plan to work late at least one of those days. If I am busy I work from home in the evenings after the kids are in bed.

We have a nanny so that if I'm late or have a court hearing, there is flexibility and she can put the kids to bed.

I don't work in London and I don't work in commercial law which seems to require long working hours.

Yes I have to sacrifice career progression by working 4 days and being out of the door on time. But I figure I'm going to be working for almost another 40 years, so I have time to become an associate or partner at a later stage.

Dashper Mon 27-Feb-17 16:25:57

What area of law do you want to specialise in?
I'm a solicitor, about to go back to work 19.5 hours a week but I'm not working for a traditional law firm. I worked 9-5 at my last firm because I have no ambition grin
In my experience local authorities/in-house are much more likely to let you work flexible hours but the hours can still be long.

unicornsIlovethem Mon 27-Feb-17 17:00:10

I gave up being a barrister because my area of practice was absolutely not compatible with ever seeing any children I had - lots of longish travelling so away for weeks rather than hours.

I'm now a solicitor and sufficiently senior that I can have a reasonable amount of control over my own diary and be fairly flexible with WFH/ lates/ early etc. BUT I still have to fit in with the client's requirements.

(Whispering! - solicitor work isn't as interesting as the work I was doing as a barrister!)

superj Mon 27-Feb-17 17:10:38

My oh is a barrister, in crime and I would echo what's been said above. Most female barristers have nannies, otherwise it's V hard to balance.
The pros, random days off/early finishes if a case cracks. Can book all the holiday you want

TR cons, working in evenings. If you have a case in court you have to do it...No taking days off for your own cold, children off school ( I cover the majority of kids sick days) , holidays have to be booked really far in advance otherwise you just can't have day off, uncertainty over where you'll be day to day, some barristers have missed start of holidays due to overrunning cases...We manage but I work pt and my employer is flexible. We rarely get a nice peaceful evening together, there are always emails/phonecalls paperwork to deal with.

morningrunner Mon 27-Feb-17 17:15:28

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

SlatternIsTrying Mon 27-Feb-17 17:27:56

I'm a solicitor with 2 primary aged DC and I work part time.

I say part time in that there are hours I'm not supposed to be in the office, however the amount of extra time I do and the fact that my phone is always on means it's not really part time. Plus I'm constantly being pushed to going back to full time hours, something I am resisting until DCs are out of primary.

Luckily my specialist areas are not court based - I don't know how the hell it would work if I had to go to court! As for working from home - I wish. Clients need to see me and I them, therefor working from home, whilst occasionally a perk, is very rare.

To be honest, this is not the profession for you if you want it to work around your home life. It's More like you make your home life fit around it.

KellyBoo800 Mon 27-Feb-17 17:28:25

Perhaps look at the Government Legal Department. Still bloody hard work but has a lot of potential for family friendly hours and working from home.

Catsize Mon 27-Feb-17 17:36:35

Barrister here, but in crime. My partner stays at home with the children and works from home too. We often split weekends - I take the children out one day so my partner can work for example. It is difficult, and I spend a lot of time feeling guilty, but I also try to make the important events. Still bitter about missing my daughter's first birthday because a case ran over. Also, my aunty's funeral. And then there are holidays missed etc.
It is doable, but I cannot advise too much about the commercial law side of things. It is also true that you can take a month off or whatever should you so choose, but it is unpaid. Likewise, maternity etc is unpaid, as you probably realise.
Life is hard to plan - I never know where I am one day to the next, but it is nice to be able to have some flexibility. For example, if I finish early in court, the remainder of the day is for me to manage as I please - I can do some work or go for coffee! Or both?!
Grew that in the beginning you will be expected to work very hard, but presumably you wouldn't be trying for children at that stage.
Also recommend somewhere other than London.

Catsize Mon 27-Feb-17 17:37:53

Grew = it's true.

user1488204592 Mon 27-Feb-17 19:11:31

Thank you all for your replies.

It doesn't sound like an easy thing to do (though I knew that) but I can at least try to establish myself before I have children. I've dedicated so much to the legal field and becoming a barrister through minis/studying/scholarships etc that I would at least like to give myself the opportunity to try.

For those wondering, I am still exploring the various fields but I'm due a tax mini pupillage shortly. However, I'm still very open to the fields available as tax is a very narrow practice. I was recently published in a field the total opposite to tax.

What does everyone think of going down the solicitor advocate route? Very interested in the flexibility being offered by firms and chambers, would anybody be willing to share? Particularly if you're south east based.

Again, thank you all.

user1488204592 Mon 27-Feb-17 19:13:04


My partner and I have said that I will be predominately relied on for childcare, he adores his job (more vocation) and has to travel for it. So looks like things are looking less likely for the bar.

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