University: University of Bristol
Degree: Chemistry and law
Media and entertainment barristers have clients in a variety of sectors, including theatre, film, music, publishing, broadcasting, sport and advertising. They advise and represent clients in court and before other tribunals on matters that might include defamation, privacy and confidentiality, contract disputes, advertising standards, sponsorship, intellectual property and restraint of trade.
Three main factors drew Ashton Chantrielle to a life at the Bar: “First, being at the Bar is a great way to specialise in a particular field. Being a solicitor can make things a little more uncertain if you want to specialise, whereas at the Bar you specialise immediately.” Second, Ashton was attracted to the independence that comes with being a barrister. “You’re part of a chambers,” she explains, “but you’re self-employed. You work for yourself and have full responsibility over all your cases.” Finally, Ashton was enticed by the oral advocacy which comes with the role, which most solicitors don’t get the opportunity to do.
Picking the right chambers
After making the decision to pursue a career as a barrister, Ashton gained pupillage at 8 New Square. Although she admits that her time as a pupil was a “steep learning curve,” she mostly looks back with fondness. This may be down to Ashton’s chambers, which she cites as one of the things that she likes most about her job. “It’s actually very important that you pick a chambers that you like,” she advises. “Especially if you’re in a smaller chambers, you will see these people every day for – if you’re lucky – the rest of your career. I feel very lucky to be in the kind of environment I’m in, which means I enjoy going to work in the morning and I enjoy being there.”
Clearly smitten with 8 New Square, Ashton describes the day she gained tenancy there as the highlight of her career. “You spend a lot of time working hard to become a tenant,” she explains. “You’re competing against people constantly and you have to prove to a lot of people that you have what it takes. So after a year of being on constant trial, to get tenancy is just one of the most amazing feelings.”
Surviving the shift from pupil to tenant
Was she intimidated by the switch from pupil to tenant? “It is daunting,” she admits. “When you’re a pupil you shadow another barrister and that is how you learn to draft documents, how to act in court, strategy, how to run a case. Your work is always checked. When you become tenant it changes quite dramatically because all of a sudden you’re on your own – you have to take ownership and responsibility for your cases and try not to mess up!”
If you’re working on a big trial, there’s a lot of paperwork that goes into that – a lot of documents, statements, pleadings and arguments – so you do end up in the office probably more than you do in court than if, for example, you did criminal law.
That said, Ashton says there are two things that get you through. The first is knowing that someone believes in you, which means that you have to believe in yourself. “They think that you can do it and they have all the experience,” she explains. “The second thing is that you can always go and ask a question if you’re not sure. You’re never in a position where you think ‘I’m genuinely alone here’ – you always have people around who can help you if you need it and you learn pretty quickly, so the thought is more daunting than the actual experience.”
Bridging different interests
Since becoming a tenant, Ashton has built up an extensive client list, including several in the media and entertainment industry. Due to the overlap between the two areas of law, Ashton specialises in IP law, an interest which stemmed from her background in chemistry. “I always considered myself a scientist above everything else, but I didn’t want to be a scientist,” she reflects. “So I thought about how I could combine the two and IP is a combination of science and law – I wanted to bridge those two together. Being a scientist is quite a different job – you can end up working on one specific area of science for a very long time. I wanted to dip in and out of different types of subject matter and not be stuck on one.”
“The most important difference between IP and media and other areas of law is that they’re quite paperwork-based,” Ashton explains. &ldquoIf you’re working on a big trial, there’s a lot of paperwork that goes into that – a lot of documents, statements, pleadings and arguments – so you do end up in the office probably more than you do in court than if, for example, you did criminal law.” However, IP and media are unique in that the different courts enable junior barristers to be on their feet right from the outset, which for Ashton creates a nice balance: “You get to do both sides of the job quite nicely.”
In terms of succeeding in her field of law, Ashton stresses that you must have a serious interest in media and IP, as well as the ability to tackle technical cases. More broadly, Ashton advises that anyone considering becoming a barrister should have a thick skin. “It’s not for the faint hearted,” she warns. “You need to know that it can be a bumpy ride.”
When asked about the key issues facing the profession over the next five years, Ashton laughs. “The obvious answer is Brexit,” she exclaims. “There’s a lot of uncertainty around what it’s going to bring and how it’s going to affect the law – especially IP law, which involves a lot of European rights. There have been a lot of questions from clients,” she continues, “but there are no answers at the moment. And when it’s your job to give an answer and you don’t have one, it’s quite difficult!”
“Media and IP are such broad subjects,” Ashton explains. “They cover a lot of things, even things you wouldn’t expect – like breaches of confidence. That’s part of the reason why Brexit is making everything so uncertain, it covers so many different rights.”
Ashton’s main piece of advice for budding barristers is to do your research. “You should research not only your chambers,” she urges, “but also the area of law you’re going into. Every chambers will want someone who wants to be there and who makes an effort in getting to know what they do.” In addition, she advises those going for pupillage to ensure that their application is up to scratch. “It’s the first thing we get,” she explains, “so care needs to be taken when preparing it.”
Although certain aspects of becoming a barrister may seem daunting, Ashton felt fully prepared throughout the process. “What’s good about the Bar is that you’re actually quite well informed, so I knew a lot before I applied. It’s a well-documented industry.” And the best thing? “You can always ask!”