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Meet the lawyer

Sarah Walker

Sarah Walker

University: University of Warwick
Degree: History
Year of call: 2013
Position: Barrister
Pronouns: She/her

Why barrister not solicitor?

The advocacy element of a career at the Bar was a big draw for me. I also liked the idea of having a larger element of research/academia within my job.

How did you decide which chambers to apply to?

My main criteria was the type of law that the chambers practised – at the time of applying, I was most interested in commercial/contractual disputes. I did my pupillage at One Essex Court. The reason this chambers was my first choice was because of its prestigious reputation and the fact that a number of particularly inspiring female barristers whom I really admired worked there.

When it came to moving, the type of law remained very important but I also looked for a chambers where I’d have regular opportunities to do my own advocacy.

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

Yes, I did a variety of mini-pupillages at different sets. I’d highly recommend doing some because it enables you to:

  • see the type of law you’re interested in, in practice; and
  • get a feel for the chambers itself and the people that work there.

Please discuss a specific case that you were involved with, outlining your role in the matter.

I was involved in the Tchenguiz v SFO case, which meant attending a variety of different hearings in relation to points on disclosure and assisting in the preparation for the final hearing. In particular, I was tasked with a substantial and detailed research note relating to misfeasance in public office and malicious prosecution. This was somewhat outside of my experience (which had primarily focused on contractual disputes) but it was fascinating.

What’s the biggest lesson you learnt as a pupil?

When an instructing solicitor or another barrister asks for advice or a research note, don’t assume that the question they’re asking is the right one or that their assumptions are correct without checking for yourself; take complete ownership of the advice.

The second biggest lesson is never to be scared to ask a question or to ask for help if you’re struggling.

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

My current expertise is commercial chancery disputes, predominantly dealing with contracts, property, insolvency and a small amount of probate. My typical day depends on whether I’m working on papers or whether I’m in court. Generally speaking, I go to court once or twice a week for procedural or shorter application hearings. However, sometimes there will be weeks when I don’t go to court at all or times when I’m in court a lot more, generally for trials. When I’m working on papers, I’ll typically work on one or two substantive matters in a day. These can be advices (looking at the merits of a client’s legal position and finding a strategy that will achieve their objectives as effectively as possible) or preparing court documents such as applications, pleadings and sometimes witness statements. There will often be other small email queries that I also deal with in relation to the progress of ongoing cases which I am already involved in.

What do you most/least enjoy about your career as a barrister and why?

Some of the things I enjoy most about my career as a barrister are:

  • the advocacy: I enjoy public speaking and going to court (and preparing a case) is exciting and engaging;
  • the flexibility: I have a young family and while there are times when I have to work very hard and my partner has to pick up the slack, I can also intentionally carve times out of my diary to spend with my children; and
  • my colleagues: I’m lucky to call several members of chambers my friends and I enjoy spending time with them and bouncing ideas off them.

In terms of what I enjoy least about my career, lack of financial certainty is one. I’m privileged to work in an area where we’re well paid. However, the nature of being self-employed and the way that barristers are paid means that you never know how much you’ll be paid in a month. There are also far fewer measures to assist with things like parental leave and other necessary time off work. Selborne Chambers has a very good parental leave policy but self-employed practice and the support it gives doesn’t rival the (often) more generous employee schemes.

What makes your chambers stand out from the rest?

We sit at a unique cross-section within the commercial chancery world. There’s more opportunity to do commercial work than a lot of pure chancery sets but we also have far more junior advocacy opportunities than many pure commercial sets. For me, it’s provided the perfect balance of interesting work as well as honing my own advocacy skills with actual experience.

We’re smaller than a lot of the other high-ranking sets which I think makes for a more personal and friendly atmosphere.

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

I consider it to be good. The nature of being a barrister is that sometimes everything has to give to be ready for a big case or trial. However, you’re not expected to work like that all the time. When I was younger, I used to work a lot more late nights and/or weekends. However, that wasn’t so much due to pressure from the clerks but from pressure on myself. Now that I have a young family, I’m more disciplined about evenings and weekends as this is the time I get with my partner and children. I’ve felt extremely supported by the clerks in achieving this. I’d say that many of the other members in chambers take a similar approach, although it’s always a personal choice.

What diversity and inclusion initiatives is your chambers involved with?

On paper, chambers isn’t as diverse as it should be. This is something we’re actively working to improve and we’ve worked hard on our internal policies to improve diversity and inclusion. In particular, we’re very proud of our parental leave policy which is one of the most progressive at the commercial chancery Bar.

We were one of the first sets to sign up to the Chancery Bar’s Charter for Fairness and the Women in Law Pledge. We also participate in several social mobility initiatives, including the Bar Council/Social Mobility Project placement scheme, the Middle Temple/COMBAR placement scheme and the 10,000 Black Interns programme. Several members are part of their respective Inn’s equality, diversity and inclusion working groups/committees. I sit on the Fair Access to Work committee, which seeks to monitor the work opportunities members are given.

As a woman, I’d say that although we’re numerically underrepresented in chambers, I feel respected and listened to. We have a female-focused marketing event every year and are looking to introduce further events.

What’s been the highlight of the past month at the chambers?

I’ve had a busy past month. I’ve prepared for two trials (one in relation to the acquisition of a valuable property and another in relation to a negligent misstatement by planning officers) and have just been instructed in a high-value London Court of International Arbitration case relating to an investment in cryptocurrency. I think that also gives an insight into the diversity of my practice.

What are you reading at the moment?

The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman – I love reading fiction.