Legal profession is anything but inclusive

 

Sir, – Maura McNally SC, chairwoman of the Council of the Bar of Ireland, states, with absolute certainty, that “the profession is reflective of society as we know it” (“Majority of Ireland’s barristers ‘facing huge drop in income’ during pandemic”, News, October 1st). I suggest that it is not.

The lack of work-life balance in the Law Library, a direct result of the profession’s entrenched resistance to any change to the sole-trader rule, ensures that parents who do not wish to outsource their childcare, or indeed cannot do so, are automatically locked out of the profession.

I know of fellow female barristers who, in the absence of anything akin to paid maternity leave, and out of desperate fear of losing a practice they have spent years building, have appeared in court a mere weeks after giving birth. This appears to be an accepted norm by those in the profession but it should not be.

For those in these circumstances to succeed, it takes nothing short of herculean efforts and profound sacrifice, perhaps most significantly that of missing out on that short and precious period as their children grow.

Honest self-reflection by those in the profession, including members of the bench, would perhaps lead many to conclude that this has indeed been their reality.

For those of us who are not prepared to make that sacrifice, a career at the bar is simply not an option.

Commencement of the provisions of the Legal Services Regulation Act 2015, allowing for the establishment of legal partnerships, would go some way towards addressing this problem.

The Bar Council’s consistent resistance to this system means that measures allegedly aimed at addressing the high numbers of women who leave the profession are nothing more than lip-service.

The suggestion that the profession is reflective from a “socio-economic perspective” and a “race perspective” is similarly not borne out in reality.

The high costs of entry to the profession, both as a result of fees charged by King’s Inns, as well as the period of “devilling” which effectively requires fully qualified barristers to pay, by way of Law Library fees, to work for free, means that in reality the profession is simply not accessible to those from certain socioeconomic backgrounds.

The sole-trader rule again means that those with the right connections enjoy a ready-made route to a successful practice, while those without must take a gamble on getting a lucky break, as they claw their way along a precarious and uncertain path.

Separate to the formal structures of the profession, the need by many in the Law Library to adopt the favoured “cultured” accent, somewhat outdated in wider society and now almost unique to that group, reflects the clear message that entry to the club is confined to those who give the perception at least that they come from the “right” demographic.

The culture of the profession, reflected in its rules of play, is characteristic of something akin to a form of toxic masculinity. A “top dog” mentality prevails. Each member is meticulously ranked according to seniority, with immediate deference paid to those at the top, even when they are wrong. Equal respect for voices or opinions does not exist and the level of respect afforded is automatically assigned based entirely on where a member lies on the order list.

This results in perhaps one of the most significant problems with the profession as it does not allow for self-reflection and therefore growth and change.

When a person’s role is to proclaim how things are and this is automatically accepted as correct, the person soon comes to believe in her or his own righteousness on everything. Categorical pronouncements follow. This does not serve the person or profession well. Growth and change stem from an ability to listen to all voices, and being open to learning from all people, irrespective of their background or perceived rank. Such lack of growth is strikingly apparent in the legal profession, which continues to cling to outdated ideals.

That the chairwoman of the Bar Council is oblivious to problems with the profession is perhaps not surprising. Those who could provide some perspective on the reality of things simply cannot access the profession from the outset. The reality is that access continues to be prohibitive to significant portions of society.

Stating confidently otherwise in a national newspaper does not make it so. It does nothing more than demonstrate an insular detachment from wider reality, characteristic of members of an elite club who are completely unable to recognise their own privilege. – Yours, etc,

RHEA BOHAN,

Barrister,

Balgriffin,

Dublin 13.