Canberra's Blackburn Chambers announced on Thursday an ACT-first parental leave policy it is hoped will encourage more women to join the bar.
The policy allows women barristers who take leave to have a baby, or primary carers for a baby, to pay a discounted rate to the chambers to keep their room while on leave for up to 12 months.
Kristy Katavic is one of about 10 women barristers practising in Canberra. She joined Blackburn in 2012, and had the benefit of an informal version of the policy when she gave birth to her son in 2014.
"It was huge in the sense I could still keep my foot in the door and not leave chambers ... because the alternative is quite radical, and that is pack up and resign as a member," she said.
"And then have the risk of not having a room available when you return to practice."
Ms Katavic, who was also one of the first barristers in Canberra to have a child while at the bar, said the bar was not an easy career to jump in and out of.
"It can be an unforgiving profession, in that if you take yourself out of the game, you can be easily forgotten and it can have a serious impact on your practice, to leave and come back," she said.
Ms Katavic said barristers were self-employed, which meant that when she left to have her son, the expenses continued even though she was not earning any money and effectively self-funding the leave.
It was a very different experience to her first pregnancy, during which she was employed with the ACT government and had the benefit of its maternity leave policies.
She said the chamber's new policy, was important because the dynamic of the bar was shifting.
There is a younger crop of professionals - both men and women - either practicing as a barrister or wanting to practice as a barrister who had young children or who wanted to start a family, she said.
"Now, overwhelmingly the balance has shifted to more of us in Blackburn having more school-aged children in primary school."
She said the chambers hoped the progressive policy encouraged more women to join the bar.
In a statement, head of chambers Philip Walker SC said the management committee was delighted at the level of support within members' ranks for the policy.
“As a private and relatively small organisation, there is of course a financial cost at any time when a barrister takes leave, but our members were of the view that this issue is so important that they were prepared to take that step," he said.
He said they were certain that in the long term Blackburn Chambers and the bar as a whole would benefit from having greater numbers of women at the bar, and a more family friendly profession for all barristers.
The policy begins September 1.
Correction: An earlier version of this article said Ms Katavic was the first woman in Canberra to have a child at the bar. The Canberra Times understands the ACT’s first woman to have a child at the bar was Chief Magistrate Lorraine Walker in 2002.
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