The Bar of Ireland takes action to support women practitioners
The Bar of Ireland will introduce a range of measures to better support women at the Bar after a survey of female practitioners revealed a number of areas of concern.
David Barniville SC, chairman of the Council of The Bar of Ireland, said it was “clear that more needs to be done” to address inequalities.
The survey was conducted in February in partnership with the Working Group on Supporting Women at the Bar, which was set up last December in response to the attrition rate of female members and the fact that only 16 per cent of 329 senior counsel are women.
The main issues of concern identified by women at the Bar were: access to work; childcare, family responsibilities and maternity leave; working environment and culture; and stability and structure.
Respondents also felt some areas of the law are ‘less available’ to women, such as commercial (21 per cent), criminal defence (32 per cent) and chancery (30 per cent) which are typically male dominated.
Areas such as general practice (68 per cent), personal injury (65 per cent) and family law (42 per cent) were more available.
Some 62 per cent of women surveyed said they have experienced direct or indirect discrimination during their career.
A number of measures to better support female members have already been initiated, including a pilot mentoring scheme which is being operated in partnership with the Law Society of Ireland.
Measures to support working mothers are under discussion, and other targeted initiatives such as CPD seminars on the development of ‘soft skills’ and business skills are also being considered.
Mr Barniville said: “We are encouraged by the fact that membership of women pursuing careers at the Bar has been steadily increasing in recent years, and that female counsel currently represents 39% of the total Law Library membership.
“However, as in many professions, it is clear that more needs to be done to provide equal opportunities at all levels for female members of the Bar.”
Grainne Larkin BL, chair of the Working Group on Supporting Women at the Bar, added: “It is notable also that 64 per cent felt positive about their future at the Bar and in particular about being in practice in the independent referral Bar.
“Through the Working Group, and with the results of this survey, we will work with members to provide initiatives to better support female members.”
Aoife McNickle BL, chair of the Irish Women Lawyers Association (IWLA), told Irish Legal News: “This survey from the Bar of Ireland shows some stark facts that the legal profession needs to consider.
“The rate of attrition at the Bar is higher for women than for men and the results of the survey highlights some of the reasons for that. It is always helpful when bodies undertake comprehensive surveys such as this one because it can only help to inform everyone so that the appropriate plan or strategy can be made.
“We welcome the results of this survey which support what IWLA members have been experiencing. Organisations such as IWLA fulfil a role in addressing some of the difficulties faced by women lawyers by providing a networking space combined with promoting professional development.”