Muhammed Haque QC

Crown Office Chambers

University: University of Oxford
Degree: Engineering, economics and management

The common law Bar remains an attractive option for those who believe that variety is the spice of life. Typically, common law chambers are multidisciplinary and are divided into practice groups so that members can develop and maintain specialisations. Areas of practice can include actions against the police, employment disputes, discrimination law, landlord and tenant, personal injury, professional negligence, family law and criminal law.

Although Muhammed Haque QC gave some initial consideration to a career in the solicitors’ profession after graduating from university, he realised that “my heart always lay at the Bar”. His mind made up, Muhammed completed a postgraduate law conversion – his original degree being in engineering, economics and management – and progressed onto Bar school before gaining a pupillage at Atkin Chambers.

Atkin specialises in construction law, so pupillage there was a “natural segue” from Muhammed’s degree and from there his career has gone from strength to strength. Now a Silk – a barrister awarded the prestigious appointment of Queen’s Counsel – Muhammed is a specialist in commercial and common law litigation. “I have a mixed, broad practice which is based solidly around the principles of contract and tort,” he explains. “I work on commercial disputes ranging from the straightforward to the very high value, which involve the interpretation of contractual terms and the deconstruction of the factual matrices which surround the formation of a contract. Tortious liability cases are often professional negligence cases and they involve going right back to the first principles you learn at university.”

Advisory work and conferences now take up a lot of Muhammed’s time – the amount of court work he does has lessened since taking Silk. “I’m now in court once a month or so, whereas it used to be around three times a month on average,” he explains. “A lot of preparation and research precedes each appearance. For each day in court, I spend about a week preparing.”

“Being a great barrister is about understanding the client and what they want from the case, not simply about being able to apply the law to the facts with which you are presented”

Master of your fate

The most appealing aspect of the Bar for Muhammed personally is “without any doubt at all, the independence that it gives you. I enjoy being, by and large, the master of my own time and that I work without a boss. There is no one telling me how to manage my case in terms of strategy or tactics – all of that is my own. Every barrister has a different approach and this is one of the main reasons that clients choose to instruct a particular barrister.”

In addition to this, the cases themselves are endlessly interesting: “The instructions I receive are for cases which are at the very pinnacle of the legal world and every single case I act on is difficult.”

If forced to pinpoint a negative aspect to life as a barrister, Muhammed would highlight the difficulty inherent in building up strong client relationships within the strictly limited timeframes that barristers are often afforded: “It’s not a huge downside, but we come into proceedings quite late on, when a lot of the work has already been done by solicitors, and this means that we often don’t have sufficient contact with the client at the start in order to find out what they want and what really motivates them – this is something that we instead have to pick up on as we go. This is in contrast to solicitors, who may have spent six months with the client beforehand, during which time they have built up a very good relationship – not being able to do that can be frustrating. A lot of the time, particularly in the case of academic pieces of work, I receive instructions and never actually meet the client.”

Muhammed is also one of the many barristers who can’t help but worry occasionally over the general uncertainty surrounding work at the Bar: “The thing about our profession is that tomorrow you could be instructed on an amazing piece of work that keeps you busy for six months – or not. Whether you’re at one year’s call or 20 years in Silk, you’re always waiting for the next piece of work to come in and you don’t know what it is going to be. This means that you need to be quite a sanguine person and manage your time well.”

A changing profession

Taking a step back, Muhammed describes a period of flux in the profession: “The Bar is going through huge change at the moment. It is largely cost driven and sensibly so, because although it is not quite a race to the bottom, there has been a widespread perception for some years that legal fees are too high. The consequence of that is that people are being squeezed all through the system, which means that with large numbers of meritorious cases, there is simply not the finance to bring them to court. Access to justice may become more and more of an issue over the next couple of years or so. Much will depend on the reforms put in place by Lord Justice Jackson. There is a move toward fixed fees in quite a lot of areas and a wider shift to fixed fees across all areas is almost certainly going to happen now. I support that in principle – I don’t think there is anything wrong with parties knowing exactly what they will be liable for at the end of a dispute. There is also nothing wrong with the amount of money eventually recovered being broadly proportionate to the issues involved. The real question is what consequence this will have on the Bar, as much of the solicitors’ profession has been working with fixed fees for some years. It will require a large number of barristers to adapt very quickly and for the level at which fixed fees are set to be sufficiently robust.”

Muhammed has a couple of good pieces of advice for those with an ambition to succeed as a barrister: “Anyone considering the Bar has to have a determination and belief in their ability to do the job. There will be high points and low points in every junior lawyer’s career, but that is part of life and it is important to be realistic about it. Don’t forget why you’re there and be absolutely resolute in your determination to continue in the profession. The second thing to appreciate is that this career is not all about the law. Being a barrister is a being an adviser, a sounding board – someone who is easy to talk to. Being a great barrister is about understanding the client and what they want from the case, not simply about being able to apply the law to the facts with which you are presented. That is how you are best able to persuade a judge of your client’s case – ultimately you are trying to put the judge in your client’s shoes and persuade him or her that your client’s actions – or inactions – were reasonable. The law is the guide, not the goal.”

Finally, Muhammed offers some advice which won’t help you win cases, but is nonetheless very important for getting the most out of this career: “Being a barrister can be a lonely profession, but it can also be a sociable profession. I didn’t appreciate that a lot of a barrister’s time is spent alone, either on the road, in court or in your room in chambers, where you do all your preparation. This means that it is incumbent on you to make the effort to meet other people around chambers and get to know them, and the same goes for court staff and solicitors. But once you appreciate that, you realise that chambers actually has a very social atmosphere and people are always popping in and out of each other’s rooms to talk. You get out what you put in.”