Guidance For Knocked-Up Lady Barristers

According to the much esteemed 'Counsel' magazine, The Bar Council is soon to publish a 'Guidance and best practice document for women planning to take maternity leave'. It goes like this: '1. Don't. 2. In the alternative, don't come back.'. Fnar.

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But seriously, this is good news, always assuming that the description above is a slip of Tim Dutton QC's pen rather than an indication that it's guidance for the women who are going on maternity leave in particular rather than for the Bar in general - generally speaking those of us who are or have been in that situation are relatively clued up - and frankly we just get on with it. It's the other chaps that might need a bit of guidance on how to make returning to the bar a little more manageable. And after all it's the bar collectively / chambers that has the equality duty to discharge, not the individual pregnant barrister.

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I've no idea what it will say, but I will link to the guidance when it becomes available.

Over myself

OK I am beginning to see it now. I am NOT the only first time Mum to go back to work earlier than she would have liked and NOT the first woman to attempt to continue breastfeeding whilst working full time. And I am NOT the only barrister who has got on with life at the bar and managed to be a Mum as well. He's almost 7 months now and I think I am coming out of the other side of that overwhelming sense that I am the only one in this boat - the feeling (overwhelming if not objectively justifiable) that no-one has ever done this before.

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I don't suppose the number of women barristers who return to work whilst still breastfeeding is very high but I suppose I shouldn't be surprised to have learnt over the past few months that there are others in this job with the determination to juggle this along with all the other demands of parenthood - fitting in the impossible in not enough time is kind of what we do best (I met one female colleague today who reminisced with me about having her baby brought into the court building for feeding - thank god for the invention of the electric pump!). Not just because it's the kind of vocation that attracts determined people but also because my female predecessors at the bar had to be double determined to forge a career at the stuffy old bar even without having to worry about baby.

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Well, what seemed like a huge big deal a few months ago is just part of the routine now. But what does still remain utterly remarkable my wonderful and ever-changing son. Because of him I rush to get home at the end of the day and find out what new thing he has done. Because of him there is a completely new dimension to my working life: a better understanding of my parent-clients, of the needs of the children at the centre of the court cases and an ever-deepening commitment to this job I do. I hope he will be proud of me when he is old enough to understand why Mummy is always home late.

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PS For anyone out there who is about to embark on the journey of motherhood whilst practising at the bar - don't let the midwife tell you that baby will have to go on the bottle as soon as you go back to work just because you can't promise to express every three hours - it's not for everyone (as they say of prospective barristers: 'don't do it unless you are really sure it's what you want'), but if you have the gumption to have qualified and built a practise at the bar then you have the gumption to manage this...And a squirt in the eye to anyone who says otherwise.

How to express yourself in court

Those of you who are at all squeamish about bodily functions or ladies jiggly bits look away now.

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Earlier this week I was at the Royal Courts of Justice. Glamorous sounding I suppose - but the bogs are just as vile as in any teeny local court. They smell positively Dickensian which I suppose adds an air of authenticity for the grockles (excuse pun). Anyway, I found myself holing up in the lunch break in a toilet cubicle in the lobby, attempting to express breastmilk. Whilst initially amused by the sound of my breastpump wafting past the poor souls waiting outside the loo for an appointment with the CAB and reverberating gently around the hallowed walls of the RCJ grand foyer, I swiftly moved on to mild embarrassment and eventually total mortification at the queue I was causing for the other ladies who needed to answer a different call of nature. When I eventually emerged, pump accoutrements in hand, a young female barrister said to me 'You should really complain - there should be better facilities'.

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Well immediately I thought to myself 'By Jove she's right'. Frankly, I had been so sidetracked by attempting to engineer the timing required in order to deal with court hearings of unpredictable length whilst still breastfeeding / expressing milk (what if the Judge doesn't take a lunch break, will I explode? and other similar concerns) that I had resigned myself to accepting the really rather unpleasant way I have been spending my lunch hours: cramped in a cubicle or, if I am really lucky, picnicking and pumping (gosh we female barristers do love to multi-task) on the ever-so-slightly grimy floor of the comparatively extensive disabled loo. But really, accepting the inadequate is most unlike me. And so I had been jogged into action - no more the martyr, I felt my inner activist rising inside me like - er...milk to the pump? (ew, revolting metaphor)

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And so I spent a laborious hour or so last night crafting a rather nice letter to Her Majesty's Court Service, asking them politely if they might do just a little better for those of us attempting to follow the Department of Health's recommendation that all our babies should be exclusively breastfed for six full months - a named contact at each court, who could be discreetly asked if there was anywhere a bit more private than the toilet stall perhaps? Fully recognisant that this was likely to meet with no or no satisfactory response I vaguely contemplated enlisting armies of support via the FLBA Equalities Officer or some such in order to promote the cause. Breastfeeding lawyers and litigants alike need Justice!

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But I see from reading today's Times that I have really not picked a very good time to be badgering HMCS about breastpumps and such like. They appear to have rather more pressing things at hand. Like the fact there isn't any money for court staff, let alone for court staff who would have time to point me in the way of a quiet room with a nice comfy chair and a little sink in the corner, on account of the mess that has been made of the policy of attempting to make the courts self-financing through fee collection (incidentally it seems to me the policy of cranking up fees in care cases to fund other areas of the court system might lead the cruder amongst us to remark that this appears to build into the system a perverse incentive to take more children away from their parents in order to fund 'justice'. But that's a) controversial and b) a topic for another post).

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Regrettably I will have to bide my time and wait for a more opportune moment to launch the Justice for Jugs campaign (gives me time to think of a more appropriate title I suppose....Lactating Lawyers..,?).