Joint initiative to encourage more women to the commercial Bar

20 February, 2020

Essex Court Chambers features in an article in The Times that highlights the event series ‘A career as a commercial barrister: A great choice for women.’

The article, published on Thursday 20 February, spotlights the collaborative events, being hosted jointly by Essex Court, One Essex Court, Brick Court and Fountain Court Chambers, directed at encouraging more women to consider a career at the commercial Bar. As The Times’ correspondent notes, women continue to be underrepresented at the commercial Bar, though the statistics are improving.

To tackle this, Essex Court has joined forces with the other three sets for these events, which seek to dispel common misconceptions around practice at the commercial Bar, particularly as an environment in which women can flourish.

The article quotes Essex Court’s Philippa Hopkins QC, who has been instrumental in organising the events, as saying that the commercial Bar is far from being the preserve of the public’s “traditional” perception of a macho male barrister. “Of course there are a lot of men and some are macho and those are often rather noisy and thus highly visible… but the picture is more nuanced. There are a lot of clever people, but they are not necessarily macho, nor men. There is scope for a range of personality types and advocacy styles…”   In relation to the suggestion that City law firms could be seen as the option that offer attractive in-house benefits such as parental leave and a better work-life balance, she says, “What that misses is the flexibility of the commercial Bar… As a mother of three, I have found it easier to achieve a reasonable work-life balance than solicitor colleagues, largely because I am self-employed… We’re a long way from gender equality at the commercial Bar. It’s better at the junior end than it was, but still not good enough. We hope other such events will comprise a sustained and collective effort by leaders of the commercial Bar for years to come.”

The first event in the series took place on 12 November 2019 in Oxford.  Dame Sara Cockerill DBE introduced the event, and women from all four sets (including Philippa) gave short presentations about their working lives including what the work entails, the variety of commercial work, the early years in practice, and work-life balance, especially combining work with having a family.  The talks were followed by drinks and an opportunity for students to chat informally to barristers from all four sets, including Essex Court’s David Foxton QC, Emily Wood and Helen Morton, and clerk Katie Myles. More than 70 women students attended and the feedback has been extremely positive.

A second event was held in Cambridge on 11 February 2020.  Again, women from all four sets spoke, including Emily Wood from Essex Court, who talked about the nature of commercial work and about the supportive work environment fostered within Chambers. Once again, women from all four sets were available to talk informally to the many students who attended, including Philippa Hopkins QC, Louise Hutton and Freddie Onslow from Essex Court.

A third event is planned for 7 October 2020 in Middle Temple Hall; all, men and women, law and non-law students from London universities and elsewhere are encouraged to attend.  For more information, please email:

Joint head of Chambers, Huw Davies QC, says “Essex Court is very keen to support this series of events and the need to promote the Commercial Bar, and Essex Court Chambers in particular, as an attractive place for women to work and develop their legal careers.  This is all part of our continuing desire to improve diversity, including gender diversity, within Chambers.

Senior Clerk Joe Ferrigno has commented, “We have a commitment to diversity and are taking active steps to seek to improve our diversity within counsel teams and within Chambers more widely. We are also conscious that our professional and lay clients are increasingly keen to see more diverse counsel teams; this is something that is very firmly on our radar. In recent years we have improved our parental leave policy, reviewed our fair allocation practices and have encouraged flexible working amongst our practitioners, including working from home and working in a way that fits in with family commitments.”