University: University of Oxford
Degree: BA History
Year of call: 2017
Position: Junior barrister
For me, this was never a question. I wanted to be more independent – to be able to run my own cases and have a bigger influence on the strategies and arguments to deploy than I might as a solicitor. I also wanted to be in charge of my time rather than having set hours of work. I wanted to work in a traditional set of chambers, not a modern office. Having worked in the City as a commodities consultant before coming to the Bar, I know all too well some of the frustrations with modern offices – for example, hot desking, waiting for lifts, having meetings about having meetings and glass-fronted rooms that offer no privacy. Working in chambers is so much more personal and intimate, we take our own rooms and chambers is steeped in tradition, surrounded as we are by the Inns. I wanted to spend the majority of my time thinking about legal problems. I didn’t want to spend lots of time doing non-contentious work, admin or frankly (as much as I enjoy meeting my lay clients) managing the client relationship. The fact that the Bar is so intellectually demanding makes it a very satisfying job − even though, as self-employed practitioners, the stakes are high. Relatively speaking, very little time and very few words are wasted as a barrister.
Before I trained as a lawyer, I worked for three years as a strategy consultant with Accenture, focusing on commodity trading and risk management. The job was useful to me for three reasons. Firstly, it got me used to handling clients – especially difficult ones, because it’s a common theme in consultancies that businesses tend not to respond particularly well to fresh-faced graduates coming in to tell them they could be doing their jobs better! Secondly, I learnt about how people do business in various jurisdictions. I travelled a lot, working with clients in Singapore, Germany, Switzerland, Poland, the Netherlands and elsewhere. I had the chance to observe distinct differences in corporate culture, for example, instances where there were good incentive structures, good communication and where productivity was high; and conversely those environments where motivation was low, where there was high staff turnover, and where business was sloppy. The work I do now often involves international clients, and they tend to appreciate some experience of having worked in other corporate environments. Thirdly, it got me used to working in and eventually leading a team. That’s invaluable experience now, when so many commercial cases involve large teams of solicitors and barristers. Having a good handle on how the team is organised is crucial.
Absolutely, I wouldn’t have accepted pupillage without doing a mini. It’s so important to get a feel for chambers – after all, you must be able to stomach at least a year there and maybe a lifetime! You have to like it; it has to fit, otherwise it would’ve been a tortuous pupillage. I knew I wanted to go into commercial law, so I applied to do minis at the major commercial sets. But I also applied to a number of sets that do mixed common law work and commercial chancery work just to see the variety. Minis were an excellent way to get to know some of the faces in chambers, which is helpful given the Bar is a relatively small world. I also got a feel for how seriously chambers took minis and what their attitude to new pupils might be like. For example, some sets were keen for as many people to meet the minis as possible, to get to know them over lunch, and to discuss the challenges and rewards of the job frankly. Other sets dedicated less time to the process. I felt it gave an insight into the way that pupillage would be handled and factored it into my decisions about where to apply.
I did work across chambers’ core areas; professional negligence (solicitors, barristers, insurance brokers, accountants), construction and insurance. I also did work in areas that were growing parts of chambers’ practice but that were a little more specialised: civil fraud; human rights; and international arbitration. Some of the work was live work, and that was the most exciting because your supervisors were grappling with the same problems at the same time. I also got involved in live court work. On one occasion, I accompanied one of my supervisors to a two week long High Court insurance case. It was gratifying to be useful on a live trial and to see the evidence play out. Other times, I’d accompany my supervisors to client conferences. I found it was helpful to see them deal with solicitors and lay clients. I also worked on historic work – which had the benefit of my supervisors’ reflections in hindsight. Most of the time was spent doing written work in chambers and zipping in and out of the library when I needed to.
The biggest lesson is not to send work out as soon as you think it’s done. It’s worth sitting back, going for a walk or returning to it the following day to approach it with fresh eyes. I often made the mistake of sending work off just to get it off my plate. Usually, my head would be full up with the problem and in the course of trying to get the drafting out, I’d lose the wood for the trees and end up with drafts that lacked coherence. These days, I tend not to put pen to paper until I know what I want to say, and then when I’m done, I leave it overnight. The really important edits always happen the next morning.
My work is focused on civil fraud, international arbitration and professional negligence. In a typical day, I might deal with matters arising on three to five ongoing cases. On the day that I’m writing this, for example, I’m waiting for judgment on a heavily contested disclosure application to be handed down, and to be ready to deal with the consequences of it. That’s on an offshore case focused on professional negligence in the finance industry. I’m also starting to read into another case which is in the process of going through disclosure, which is a civil fraud matter. I’ll also be dealing with written submissions on a preliminary issue in an international arbitration, which requires the input of expert evidence on foreign law − so I’ll be considering the expert report and completing a draft. I have other ongoing matters that might require some attention during the day and so I check in with emails regularly. I go to court a fair amount, but not every day and not necessarily every week. I try and make sure I have a good ratio between court work and written work; and led work and my own cases.
4 New Square genuinely stands out as an approachable, professional and fun set. I’m lucky to enjoy the company of so many members of chambers. The support we have from the clerks, IT staff and other staff is outstanding and means that we can focus on pure barrister work as much as possible. I enjoy being physically in chambers: we tend to keep doors open and there’s always a lot of chat (sometimes too much!). There’s a real sense of collective pride about doing the job well and solidarity when it gets hard.
Like most barristers, I find the work can be unpredictable. Some weeks are very intense, and I may be working my evenings and some of the weekend. Other weeks, I can stop work at a normal time and spend an afternoon off doing something else. It all depends on the cases. Most people are very busy most of the time around my level of call. One important lesson I took from my early years as a barrister was that it was important for me to be proactive about booking time off.
Conscientious. Ambitious. Sharp.
Undoubtedly, Dame Sue Carr’s appointment as Lady Chief Justice – everyone here is enormously proud of her achievement, and I personally am grateful to her for giving us so many excuses to have parties over the years!
Minnie Driver’s autobiography, Managing Expectations. I’ll finish it because, as a matter of principle, I like to finish what I start. But reading it feels like someone put a large wine glass in front of me only to pour in a few drops.