Bar Council eyes greater retention with launch of bar nursery

The Bar Council plans to roll out childcare services to barristers in London before the end of the year in a bid to halt the brain drain among young lawyers with parenting responsibilities.

Bar Nursery Committee chair Fiona Jackson wrote to barristers on Friday (5 October) to update them on the Bar Council’s talks with Smithfield House Children’s Nursery, close to the Old Bailey, and to poll them on their childcare needs.

Through Smithfield House, the Bar Council is hoping to offer its members full-time, part-time and emergency day childcare packages for children aged eight weeks to five years between 7am and 7pm. A full day of nursery care looks set to cost around £68, while a half day will cost £42.

Jackson said that she hoped to be able to provide barristers with a childcare package before the end of the year and, in her email, said that the council was also looking to roll out childcare services for its members nationwide. Jackson added that she had also been contacted by law firms who were interested in buying into the childcare package. Firms would purchase a permanent slot at the nursery to be used in childcare emergencies.

Barristers will pay for their own childcare services, but Jackson added in her email: “In time we may also be able to work with the Bar Council, Inns of Court and others to offer subsidised places for those with greater financial need.” However, Jackson also noted when speaking with The Lawyer that the self-employed nature of barristers meant many were resistant to the idea of subsidising others’ childcare.

The issue of childcare for barristers was first taken up in 2008 by the Bar Nursery Association, which was created by female barristers at 39 Essex Street (1 February 2008), but was dropped after it failed to find any Inns of Court that could double as a suitable site for a nursery.

Baroness Deech, chair of the Bar Standards Board, told Counsel magazine in 2011: “I’m really very annoyed that there’s still no bar nursery. I can’t believe the Inns cannot find the space. I think we could raise the money if we could find accommodation.”

Jackson, a fraud specialist at 33 Chancery Lane who used to chair the Association of Women Barristers, said that she became an advocate for the issue after growing concerned at the number of men and women leaving the bar because they could no longer juggle the job with being a parent.

“It’s a way to help with one aspect of [barristers’] lives and make sure they can continue on their way to becoming the judges and QCs of the future,” she said.

A bar exit survey in 2011, which was prepared for the council by Electoral Reform Research, found that 15 per cent overall and 28 per cent of women said that having children had a negative effect on their careers.

“Indications from the in-depth interviews suggest that being self-employed at the bar is difficult to combine with having children without full-time, expensive childcare arrangements,” stated the report.

Other members of the Bar Nursery Committee are former St Philips Chambers chief executive Chris Owen, 7 Bedford Row’s Derek Sweeting QC, Amanda Jane-Field, and St John’s Building’s Clodagh Maguire.