Bar Council eyes solicitor support for fair allocation of briefs

Brief: Fair allocation call

The Bar Council may work with the Law Society to influence solicitors and clients as part of a campaign to ensure a fairer allocation of briefs to women barristers.

Sam Mercer, its head of equality & diversity and CSR, also suggested that chambers are not always as supportive of equality policies for women barristers in practice as they may initially appear.

Writing on the Bar Council website, Ms Mercer praised chambers’ staff, clerks, equality & diversity officers and others “who devote huge amounts of time and energy to getting policies on subjects like flexible working, shared parental leave, harassment, fair recruitment and monitoring of unassigned work right”.

She highlighted three areas the Bar Council would focus on in 2019.

One was campaigning specifically around issues, such as the sitting hours protocol, which aims to give counsel greater certainty over their working day and caring arrangements, and the concept of ‘equitable briefing’.

She explained that this was an approach being tested in Australia which looks at challenging current practices to ensure fairer briefing – that is, who gets briefed, and on what.

“This could involve us also working with the Law Society to challenge both lay and professional clients – it is worth noting some magic circle law firms are already monitoring gender with respect to their briefing practices.

“That said, this work needs to be driven by the Bar to ensure it acknowledges the unique model of working within the profession.”

Last month, the Bar Council called on the Bar Standards Board to review the rules on fair allocation of work.

The rules cover both fair allocation of work within chambers and ensuring that discriminatory requests from solicitors “for a barrister of a particular sex or race for a particular piece of work” are rejected.

Ms Mercer said the Bar Council would also continue to work with the profession “to address any policy/practice gap (chambers/others may not always get it right and aren’t always as supportive in practice as they may initially appear)”.

The third focus would be continued lobbying to minimise the negative impacts of some of the initiatives associated with court reform – reducing the scope of the flexible operating hours pilots “was a win here” – and other policies, such as listing practices.”

Ms Mercer said the Bar Council needed to continue as well with its focus on bullying and harassment, “encouraging and supporting individuals who come forward”.

She concluded: “Success and change isn’t going to be achieved overnight and our work programme will extend beyond 2019, but if we get it right we believe everyone – both men and women – will benefit.”

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