Back to overview

Meet the lawyer

Fiona Stewart

Fiona Stewart

University: University of Cambridge
Degree: Economics/politics
Year of call: 2019
Position: Barrister
Pronouns: She/her

Why barrister not solicitor?

I was drawn to the meritocracy and autonomy of being self-employed and advocacy. For me, it was only ever the Bar if I was going to pursue a career in law. I’d previously worked on the trading floor in an investment bank, consequently I didn’t want to have to do ‘face time’ in a corporation and I wanted the freedom of structuring my own day.  

How did you decide which chambers to apply to?

I used the legal directories and spoke to various contacts (including those I’d met on mini-pupillages and at the Pupillage Fair) to create a list of the chambers that offered my preferred practice area. I wanted to focus on financial remedies which is a niche specialism within family law – there were only a few sets that’d give me that opportunity.

Did you do a mini-pupillage? Would you advise other aspiring barristers to try to do one of these?

I did several mini-pupillages in family law and in other areas of law that I was exploring. I’d strongly advise aspiring barristers to try to complete mini-pupillages, particularly if you don’t have other legal work experience. They give you an insight into life as a barrister, which can vary substantially dependant on the law you practice. While you may enjoy a particular area of law as an academic subject, you may not like the reality of being a barrister in that area. A mini-pupillage also enables you to explore areas of law you’re unlikely to study, especially if you do the Graduate Diploma in Law.

What sort of work did you get involved with during pupillage?

At Queen Elizabeth Building (QEB) you have three rotations with three different supervisors, and you mainly undertake the work your supervisor is doing. This included drafting position statements, opinions, and other documents, conducting legal research, undertaking financial analysis and assisting in court.

My supervisors also ensured that I went to court and completed work for other members of chambers. This included the junior end of chambers to observe the types of case I’d be doing in second six ahead of starting second six. I was fortunate enough to observe a hearing in the Court of Appeal and to be involved in several high-profile cases in the High Court. In second six I had cases of my own, and by the end of second six I was mainly working on my own cases.

What do you wish you’d known about being a pupil before you started that you now do?

That it’s a marathon, not a sprint! Pupillage is a long and tiring year, but you need to remain determined and focused throughout. It’s also important to find your mechanisms for dealing with stress, whether that’s going for a run or cooking, and ensure you keep these up throughout the year.

Please outline your area of expertise. What might you do in a typical day?

I’m a family barrister, with a focus on financial remedies. A typical day is either being in court or at a conference; or prepping for an upcoming court hearing or conference. I’m usually in court three days a week, which will vary from a one-hour directions hearing to a full-day settlement hearing or multi-day trial. Sometimes I’ll also do discrete drafting work, such as pleadings, opinions or financial analysis work.

What’s been the highlight of your time at the Bar so far?

Appearing unled in an appeal in the High Court. It was a particularly contentious matter around a binary issue, which is rare in family law as there’s usually a wide range of discretion. Consequently, it was all the more satisfying to succeed in our appeal.

What makes your chambers stand out from the rest?

QEB is one of the premier family law sets in the country and we’re top ranked in our core practice area of matrimonial finance law. We have a long history of being at the very forefront of the field and have been involved in many of the most important cases of legal principle.

However, QEB isn’t only a top set, but also an incredibly collegiate and supportive environment and we’re deliberately small to keep this atmosphere. We have tea every day in chambers, lunch together in Middle Temple Hall every Friday and regular socials. There’s a genuine open-door policy, which means you can discuss your queries and your own cases with some of the top financial remedies barristers in the country.

What’s the work/life balance like at your chambers? How often do you have late nights/work at weekends?

It entirely depends on how busy a practice you want to have and whether cases drop out of your diary. The clerks are very good at giving you sufficient prep time and usually busy periods come in waves. During busy periods you can be working most evenings and weekends, in quieter times you can have a few days with very little on. Some members of chambers opt to have a quieter practice and tend to work more 9:00am until 6:00pm, other members prefer to work more intensely but might take longer holidays to compensate.

Describe the chambers in three words.

Driven, collegiate and excellence.

What’s the biggest/most important lesson you’ve learnt since being called to the Bar?

You can say no! Quality is more important than quantity.

What are you reading at the moment?

The Tortoise and the Hare by Elizabeth Jenkins. It was recommended by a colleague in chambers and it’s beautifully written.