Barristers still face a flexible working “penalty”, the Bar Council admitted this week as it urged chambers to consider rent reductions for those barristers seeking to work reduced hours or away from chambers because of care responsibilities.
At the same time, barristers may need to be flexible over their arrangements in chambers, such as sole occupancy of their room.
A new Bar Council guide to help chambers introduce flexible working policies said that “with continued financial pressure on many practice areas of the self-employed Bar, flexible working is rapidly emerging as one of the more difficult issues for chambers to manage fairly”.
Acknowledging that the theory of self-employed barristers already having flexibility over their work was “often not so easy” in reality, the guide said many chambers require certainty over income generated through rent and expenses. They also need barristers who are available to cover five-day trials, often in far flung parts of the country.
“The impact of flexible working on income also acts as a barrier where barristers are required to make a ‘minimum’ or ‘flat rate’ rent contribution.
“The perception that some members of chambers are contributing more than others can impact on both relationships and the power balance within chambers, often with negative consequences for those who need to work fewer hours.
“To avoid uncertainty and maintain good relationships internally, the Bar Council believes it is essential that any modern and forward-thinking set of chambers has a formal, clearly drafted flexible working policy.”
The guide said that where rent reductions were allowed, the policy should also outline the implications of this on rooms – such as whether hot desking would be expected – library subscriptions and so on.
A Q&A poses the dilemma of dealing with those who wish to work a three-day week, but want to keep their room, meaning potentially that other members of chambers are effectively subsidizing them.
The guide said: “Unless the tenant can reach a room-sharing arrangement with another tenant, they should have to pay full room rent if that is how chambers’ expenses are structured.
“The logic is that the percentage/flat rate expenses are often linked to costs that are only used when the tenant is working e.g. clerking, use of phone etc, so if fewer days are worked those costs reduce accordingly but the tenant’s use of a room does not reduce, because no one else can use it and their belongings are still in the room. So the charge for use of that facility should not be reduced.”
Chairman of the Bar, Chantal-Aimée Doerries QC, said: “The Bar needs to retain talent and some accommodation for those who need to work flexibly to meet their personal needs can make financial sense as well as being the right thing to do…
“We are keen to help both chambers and barristers, which is why the guide includes a template policy for chambers to use as a basis for designing their own policies. However, it’s going to take more than filling in the gaps on a ready-made policy to make it work and our guide gives other advice and tips for chambers considering flexible working.”
The guide comes on the back of a maternity mentoring scheme set up last month by the Bar Council.
Earlier this week, we reported that chambers were seeing more grievances over discriminatory treatment by both employees and members.