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Supervisor tells pupil she looks ‘quite f*ckable’ — report highlights sexism at bar

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Two surveys this week illustrate just how much work bar leaders have to do to drive out the Fred Flintstone attitudes

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A second-six pupil has alleged that her supervisor told her she looked “quite fuckable” and that she ought to wear a jacket in chambers because he was “only human”.

The vivid anecdote was highlighted in a report released yesterday providing graphic illustration that sexism and harassment is alive and well at the bar.

According to the report from the Bar Council, young women pupils and barristers complained of a litany of behaviour that paints a picture of Carry On Chambers atmosphere. Reported one woman barrister:

…when I attended court the solicitor told me my senior clerk had sold me to him on the basis that I had a great pair of legs.

Called “Snapshot: the experience of self-employed women at the bar”, the report came a day after bar leaders effectively admitted that women barristers are destined to be forever in a minority relative to their male counterparts. In a separate survey, council officials acknowledged that gender equality — in numbers, at least — will never be achieved across that branch of the legal profession.

But it is the detailed examples of sexism in the snapshot report that will shock the most. Commented one woman barrister:

There was a lot of sexism about when I was a pupil. I was told by my senior clerk that instead of wearing trouser suits I ought to wear shorter skirts and have lower neck lines because the criminals would talk to each other in prison and they might ask for me next time.

Related another:

[There was] lots of talking to the chest area. I remember that. Someone put their hand on my knee during dinner and just the shock of it. I didn’t say anything.

While another said bluntly:

I got a hand down the back of my trousers once

The report showed that sexist behaviour is not the sole preserve of senior male barristers — clerks also get in on the action. As one woman barrister told the Bar Council researchers:

My senior clerk used to put applications from female candidates for the clerking roles into the bin on the basis they would get women’s troubles.

As bad as it is, women might just have to accept that as long as men remain so dominant in the profession, sexism will be rife.

The council study on the gender composition of the bar published this week cited high post-call attrition rates among the ladies — and it reckons there is pretty much bugger-all that can be done about it.

There is no evidence that women are under-represented in the attainment of pupillage,” wrote the report’s authors, before continuing: “However, notwithstanding the increasing gender balance in called working age barristers, current trends suggest that with the present model of practice at the bar, a 50:50 gender balance among all practising barristers is unlikely ever to be achieved.

The report — “Momentum Measures: creating a diverse profession” — posits two reasons for the conclusion that men will always outnumber women at the bar, despite the pupillage numbers being effectively even. First, once called, women are more likely to decide that actual legal practice is not for them after all.

Second, even when they decide to jump into practice, women barristers have a far higher attrition rate down the road.

According to the report:

The attrition is such that it would require a very long period of substantial imbalance in favour of women at call to achieve a balance of women in practice. Modelling suggests that given current attrition rates approximately a 60:40 split in favour of women being called to the bar would be required to establish gender equality in practice.

The researchers went on to say:

The modelling shows that in respect of practising barristers of more than 15 years call, and of QCs, on current trends the practising bar will not achieve gender balance in the foreseeable future.

The report claims there have been more encouraging advances in relation to ethnic diversity at the bar.

The number of ethnic minority students called to the bar reached parity with the proportion of ethnic minorities in the wider UK population 25 years ago. And indeed, the researchers pointed out that the call figure now significantly exceeds the percentage in the general population.

However, many ethnic minority individuals that are called are from abroad, returning to their home countries to practise. Therefore, the number of ethnic minority lawyers practising at the bar in England and Wales is considerably smaller than the call figure.

Nonetheless, the report said:

Modelling suggests that the bar is on course to achieve the target 20:80 split between BAME [black, Asian and minority ethnic] and white British barristers in practise in the near future. The slightly greater attrition of BAME barristers is more than compensated for by their greater prevalence in pupillage.

Sam Mercer, head of the Bar Council’s diversity department, said the profession’s greatest equality challenge is the retention of women.

The self-employed nature of the profession,” he commented, “is a significant barrier to those who wish to have a family and stay in practice and legal aid cuts are making retention even more difficult as incomes fall and child care costs rise. This research confirms why we need to maintain our focus in this area.

Mercer went on to say:

Keeping women at the bar has been a challenge for some time and we have put in place a number of interventions to support the retention of female barristers. We are already working on several initiatives, which include expanding the bar nursery to the circuits, extending and developing mentoring programmes to help women build and sustain their practice, and offering support and advice in managing family career breaks.

The council also pointed out that the Bar Standards Board requires chambers to have parental leave and flexible working policies.

52 Comments

Anonymous

Perhaps the attrition rate has something to do with the rampant sexism? Sensibly, women facing demeaning behaviour and harassment decide they are better off out of it, perhaps.

(22)(3)

DC

Read page 19 of the report.

(0)(2)

Anonymous

But it’s cool to have a website called barrister boyfriend?

Double standards.

(29)(28)

Anonymous

I’m sorry, but 9 times out of 10, men find it gratifying to be sexually objectified and have their egos boosted by websites such as that. Women, on the other hand as history has shown, do not get bigger egos, they find it degrading to their egos to be pull out on nothing but their looks.

(14)(25)

Anonymous

wow wonder where those statistics came from. oh yeah pulled from your proverbial.

(14)(3)

Anonymous

Rubbish female pupil wannabes use the sexual tension card all the time that’s why there are more female pupils than males and they all look very attractive unlike the first class Oxbridge candidate who was rather large who did not get a look in to the UWE girl who the panel thought was hot !!! So stop moaning girls…

(10)(20)

Commissar Rex

No way a chick from UWE would ever make it to be a bazza. That uni is a glorified hairdressing college.

(28)(7)

Sodslaw

Really exceptionally dismal logic, there

(0)(2)

Ball Turret Gunner Garp

Fuark, what a supervisorLAD. Wish that was me in his role… #bazzabantz

(16)(12)

Jasper

Women can be just as bad. I worked at a firm once with 2 female solicitors and a barrister. They never shut up about men. Often discussed very lewdly.

(14)(15)

Anonymous

Jesus, any time sexism is discussed loads of men find themselves with the capacity for reasoning of a 12 year old.

The point has been made many times far better than I will make it, but the historic (and current) imbalance of power makes the objectification of women far more damaging than the objectification of men. Anecdotally, I have never met a woman who sees men as purely objects, but I have met many, many men who view women as nothing but.

Also, you would have to be the most stupid person alive to think that it’s sound to equate Barrister Boyfriend to having a hand down the back of your trousers or being sold professionally on the basis of nice legs.

(48)(12)

Anonymous

the femi-nazis are out in force today.

(18)(36)

Anonymous

Fantastic point! Well made! Five stars!

(12)(1)

Anonymous

Either you are a law student, in which case I am fairly confident you will never get a job with an attitude like that (you’ll be horrified by the inclusion/outreach initiatives done by law firms!) or you have nothing to do with law in which case you should probably hop off LC.

If you are a lawyer I am sure you are a sad, bitter, failed one to hold such a ridiculous opinion.

(5)(4)

Anon

Either that or he’s a barrister.

(0)(2)

Is this real life, or is this just fantasy?

Put down your gender studies degree and stop trying to create imbalances in the workplace. We do not need 60:40 in favour of women in the workplace. Equity is never the answer. The sooner this SJW behaviour is extinguished, the better. Yes there are a few who are sexist but this does not warrant such broad strokes of the brush.

(18)(17)

Anonymous

Equity is only as long as the Chancellor’s foot.

(9)(0)

Bazza McBallz

You mean his third leg, referred to as the Chancellor’s vascular python?

(5)(0)

Anonymous

How has this ‘SJW’ nonsense entered the legal profession? It’s something that white teenagers on reddit label any feminist as a horrible straw man boogey monster. I seriously hope that you are an immature undergraduate rather than a lawyer.

(8)(3)

DC

Has anyone actually read the relevant part of the report? The quotes are all about things that happened in the past- the “quite fuckable” quote comes from someone who is now a senior practitioner talking about what happened when she was a pupil. Cf “looking back, things were shocking”. The report begins:

“Encouragingly, most also felt times had moved on with
respect to their treatment in chambers, at court and in
practice.
A few provided examples of inappropriate banter and
behaviour IN THE PAST.” [emphasis added]

Wtf Legal Cheek? This is appalling reporting! Is there some sort of regulator of shit blogs that I can report you to?

(31)(6)

Frisky Hard Disks

Oh dear legal cheek

“One senior practitioner shared her experience of sexual
harassment as a pupil, from her pupil supervisor.

‘My second six pupil supervisor came in one Monday morning
(my having had a haircut over the weekend) and said you look
quite f*ck-able with your hair like that… He also once said, put
your jacket on, I am only human… and… remind me are you a
stockings or tights girl…’”

(5)(2)

Anonymous

What ???

(0)(0)

Legal Beak

“IN THE PAST”

To quote Alan Partridge – “Well that’s what Nazi war criminals say”

(12)(0)

Anonymous

Nothing worse than a good piece of sexual harassment wasted on a hater.

(6)(1)

Sappho

Where’s Not Amused?

I expected his usual “THERE CAN’T POSSIBLY BE SEXISM BECAUSE I HAVE NEVER SEEN IT” rant.

Female pupils I know at a reputable criminal set are told if they wear trouser suits they won’t get tenancy.

(10)(2)

Anonymous

I fully sympathise with that view. A woman wearing a trouser suit looks as good as a man wearing a cravat.

(8)(5)

Anon

Wigs look s*** on men and women alike. How they’ve survived the Bar’s keen nose for fashion God only knows.

(1)(1)

I play in court with people who work in court.

I see sexual assaults left and right in most of the situations described in the article. Pupils, victims of the offence should sue these sexually deprived a***holes.

(4)(1)

Anonymous

So it’s sexist to give a woman a compliment now?

(17)(11)

Anonymous

“You look quite fvckable” =/= compliment, especially not in the work place.

(14)(5)

Anonymous

He shouldn’t have said “quite” I suppose.

(13)(1)

Anonymous

I am really surprised by some of the comments on here. There might be issues with the report (and article) dragging up things from the previous century, but what a lot of you think is acceptable behaviour or “fair game”, is pretty disturbing. I can only hope some of you are keyboard warriors or trolls.

(8)(7)

Hardwood

Derp derp derp

(6)(0)

Anonymous

Previous century is only few years ago

(0)(2)

Anonymous

15 is more than a few…

(3)(0)

chambers' cat...

…that’s what she said….

(0)(0)

Anonymous

I demand proof she looked quite fuckable.

The only thing worse than a sexist is a mendacious sexist!

(15)(0)

Anonymous

The stuffy old ***kers that run the legal profession need sweeping away once and for all.

(1)(7)

HAW

“In other news I am an avid Daily Mail reader!” – Anonymous, Jul 24 2015 3:19pm

(3)(0)

Anonymous

“As bad as it is, women might just have to accept that as long as men remain so dominant in the profession, sexism will be rife.”

Or may we all be so bold as to dream of a day where we can all just respect each other, regardless of the statistical gender split of your colleagues?

(11)(3)

Barwoman

As noted in comments above, these quotes relate to behaviour a long time ago. My own view is that such blatant conduct is not so prevalent nowadays, but there are still some – in some chambers, many – dinosaurs at the Bar who don’t openly harass women but certainly believe that they are inferior. In a way this is worse than the open sexism in that it is much harder to identify these men and address their prejudices.

I should add that my clerks tell me that the average solicitor who calls chambers looking for a new barrister will go for a male over a female. At least 50% of those solicitors are female.

(2)(3)

Anonymous

Quite fuckable? Picture or it didn’t happen

(8)(0)

Anonymous

Ladies or the Bar, you are strong people who should have the skills to brush off immaturity of some Bar flies.
In the 1990s, I recall a lady student who said within earshot of one of our Bar School lecturers ‘I would like to shag him!’.
By the time quaified lady barristers get past 40, they might hark back to the days when the received a compliment from (I hope attractive) male colleague.
In a feisty place like the Bar, both men and women need to ‘grow a pair’ and if you get some banter, maybe give it back!

(11)(8)

gill.

whether you are m or f…well said anonymous

(0)(0)

Grapefruit

Well, I was once asked if I was going to ever marry and have kids at an interview. I said yes…..I was not invited back. When I asked for feedback, I was told point blank that I was a liability because of my ‘other ambition to have a family’……Jeesh…..where’s the support ?!

(3)(5)

Anonymous

Course

(0)(1)

Anonymous

You may have just sounded boring…

(3)(1)

Not Amused

No. It was sexism. Definitely sexism. The fact that this sexism wasn’t reported at the time and took the form of a common urban myth is irrelevant.

(5)(2)

Anonymous

This is utterly outrageous and reprehensible, completely aside from the fact that I can off the top of my head think of several highly regarded female barristers who have young children.

(1)(0)

Comments are closed.