University: Open University
Year of call: 2020
What attracted you to a career in law?
Studying the law. My academic background is a little unconventional; I was taken out of school at the age of seven and from that point received no academic instruction at all. I didn’t sit any GCSEs or A levels or undertake any other form of school-age academic examination. I pursued a career in music initially, receiving a conservatoire training before deciding on a different career. I then had a number of diverse, non-legal roles before deciding to study law at the Open University. My aim when I enrolled wasn’t actually to pursue a career in law, instead it was to experience formal academic study. Having, at that stage, tried a number of different career paths it was quickly apparent that the law suited me, and I was suited to the law.
How did you decide which chambers to apply to?
I applied to chambers that conduct the kind of work I most wanted to do. The work we do at the Bar is complex and, in many ways, difficult. I’ve often found that if you’re enthusiastic about doing something and enjoy it, you’ll always do a better job. Securing pupillage is ultimately the first step to becoming a barrister with your own practice and it’s important for both the quality of your work, and thereby the success of your practice, and for your quality of life, that you enjoy the work.
Did you do a mini-pupillage? Would you advise other aspiring barristers to try to do one of these?
I did three mini-pupillages. I think that they’re a really valuable opportunity to learn about aspects of a career as a barrister that are otherwise difficult to discover. As I mentioned above, it’s important to know what work you want to do. This is actually quite difficult to understand unless you have an existing legal career. I’d recommend thinking as creatively as possible about ways in which you can learn about the various practice areas so that you‘re in a position to make an informed decision about why you’ve chosen a particular practice area. This will also help you at the interview stage when applying for pupillage. Original and considered reasons for wanting to practice in a particular area will be important to all chambers.
What sort of work did you get involved with during pupillage?
Pupillage in chambers is structured to facilitate pupils gaining at least some experience of all the types of work that junior tenants can expect to form part of their practice. The subject matter of the work therefore covered all major taxes in both the contentious and advisory context. The form of the work included opinion writing, drafting formal documents, both for the purposes of litigation and planning, and oral advocacy.
What’s the biggest lesson you learnt as a pupil?
The biggest lesson I learnt as a pupil is to be decisive. Ensure you commit yourself to answering the questions your research presents. What does the case/legislation say? Does it apply? If so, why? Never pass these questions over with a maybe. It’s only by doing this that you can reach robust, evidence-based conclusions.
Please outline your area of expertise. What might you do in a typical day?
My area of expertise is tax. It may come as a surprise to some but work at the tax Bar is unusual for its diversity both of practice and of law. My practice includes advising on tax planning which requires a very high-level appreciation of how the scheme of UK taxation works, as well as litigation which requires a more detailed, granular approach to closely defined issues. Then the law we apply falls into many different practice areas because tax applies to such a broad range of activities.
There isn’t really a typical day, but today, as an example, I’ve finished drafting grounds of appeal in a VAT dispute for a corporate client applying EU cases and concepts. I completed some work on an opinion I’m writing for a client who needs advice extracting themselves from a tax avoidance scheme, the substance of that was company law. I then finalised a draft bundle index for a hearing on a matter that concerns the taxation of trusts.
What do you most enjoy about your career as a barrister and why?
I most enjoy the freedom, particularly the freedom to come to your own conclusions in your own way. A lot of the work is very pure conceptually: the client asks you a question that you answer. The value of your work is in the quality of the answer and very little else is relevant.
What advice do you have for budding barristers who are contemplating a career in law?
I’d advise aspiring barristers to focus on becoming a good lawyer. When studying the law in an academic context the focus is largely theoretical: what purpose was this particular law designed to serve, what is the ethical justification for its existence, what logical basis does this legal concept have? It’s important to understand that what barristers do is apply the law. Instead of considering the theoretical basis of a particular law you are considering the strength of the argument that it applies to your facts. This is a very different skill. In its simplest form it requires the ability to take the logical application to your facts of a legal concept and decide whether it’s more or less logical than the application of a different legal concept and to what extent it’s more or less logical. It also requires you to be able to take the result of your analysis and consider the implications for your client and what, if anything, they or you can do to improve their situation.
It‘s not possible to get pupillage if you’re not a good lawyer, even if you have a great CV. It’s possible, however, to get pupillage if you’re a good lawyer even if you don’t have a great CV in the conventional sense.
What is the work/life balance like at your chambers? How often do you have late nights/work at weekends?
Like all areas of the Bar, because of the nature of litigation work it’s sometimes necessary to work long hours. However, it’s possible to choose how often it’ll be necessary for you to do this. There’s real diversity within chambers, for example there are some members who like to be extremely busy but there are other who are primary care givers to their children and who arrange their practice around this. Tax work is well rewarded so there’s the option of significant flexibility for those who require it.
What’s the biggest opportunity you’ve been given since being called to the Bar?
What’s the biggest/most important lesson you’ve learnt since being called to the Bar?
Enjoy the process. It’s easy to become fixated on outcomes, particularly when there’s a lot of competition for something. There’s no difference between exams/pupillage/tenancy and A Panel/silk/bench(er). Try to enjoy what you’re doing for the task itself not just for the outcome it leads to.
What's your favourite movie?
Step Up 2: The Streets.