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Meet the lawyer

James Poole

James Poole

University: University of Oxford
Degree: Modern history
Year of call: 2016
Position: Barrister
Pronouns: He/him

Why barrister not solicitor?

I really like the nature of being self-employed and having the autonomy to decide how to run my own practice. It’s a unique job in that you can set your own working hours and days to fit around anything else you have going on in your life, from hobbies to family commitments. This is particularly the case in areas of law where you’re not expected to be in court every day.

How did you decide which chambers to apply to?

I first identified the areas of law that I found most interesting during my studies. I then attended pupillage fairs and completed mini-pupillages in those areas to get a better understanding of the work involved and whether I’d enjoy it as a career.

The next step involved searching the areas I’d enjoyed the most via the main legal directories and creating a spreadsheet of all of the sets that were ranked in that area – I included details like the number of pupillages they offered, the pupillage award, and whether they used the Pupillage Gateway, for example. I then applied to most of these sets but my preference was for a set that had a single pupil – I thought this would mean that there’d be a greater focus on training and education, rather than going through a year-long interview/assessment.

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

Definitely! I did five mini-pupillages in total and if I had not done so, I’m not sure that I’d have discovered the area of work that I now practise in because it’s something that’s not really covered in the Graduate Diploma in Law. Mini-pupillages are a great opportunity to get an insight into a chambers and life as a barrister – although one of the things you learn quickly is how each barrister can have very different practices, even within chambers.

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

Basically anything that my supervisors were working on. I had four supervisors: two of which specialised in private client work like trust and estate disputes; one specialised in partnership and LLP work; and one specialised in property and commercial disputes. Towards the end of pupillage, I also started taking on cases of my own – these were mainly landlord and tenant disputes such as possession claims or disrepair claims.

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

My first supervisor had a 13-day probate trial, which was all about whether a will was valid. I helped in advance of the trial by conducting legal research on various procedural matters, which included disputes over the admissibility of hearsay evidence (when a key witness was too unwell to attend trial) and an application made mid-trial by the other side for the judge to recuse himself. The case itself was pretty extraordinary – as well as the recusal application, the defendant also (unsuccessfully) applied mid-way through the trial to amend her counterclaim to include allegations of fraud against the claimants and various London law firms.

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

The best thing is the individual freedom. In general terms, I can work where I like, when I like – subject to court hearings of course. The increase in remote hearings has increased this freedom too. The work is generally very interesting and every day is different – it’s very hard to say what a ‘normal’ working day is like.

The worst thing is that it can be a bit of a lonely profession at times. Unlike working in a firm where you have a team that you collaborate with, quite often as a barrister you can have whole days working on matters where you have no real reason to interact with anyone. As a result, you must be a bit more proactive in seeing friends and other members of chambers.

What skills/strengths do you need to be a successful barrister?

I think that every successful barrister has slightly different skills and strengths – indeed, that’s one of the best things about being at the Bar. At heart, I think all successful barristers are hard-working, client-focused and courageous. I think that last quality is particularly important – you have to be courageous to do your best for clients when they have a weak case or when a judge is being difficult, or to clients of issues that they face when they don’t agree or have received contrary advice from your solicitors.

What advice do you have for budding barristers who are contemplating a career in law?

Try and get some practical advocacy experience. That can be via organisations like Free Representation Unit or legal advice centres, for example. These experiences will help you develop the skills required to be a good barrister and demonstrate to chambers that you have the skills and competences they’re looking for in potential pupils.

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

Generally, I think the work/life balance is pretty good. I’ve not had a quiet week in the six years since I joined chambers as a tenant but I’m rarely so swamped with work that I feel overwhelmed. I tend to work one day at the weekend, which is very much my choice, because it allows me to be more flexible with the hours I work during the week. I also find I can concentrate better on difficult or complex tasks at the weekend, as I’m not distracted by emails coming in.

What is the wider culture like at chambers?

Ten Old Square has a collegiate and supportive atmosphere and is a great place to work. Being a smaller set full of genuinely nice people, everyone knows everyone and there’s no real hierarchy – it’s very normal to see the senior barristers having lunch with junior ones. We also have a great team of clerks who support the barristers rather than control them. There’s an open-door policy and there isn’t a single person in chambers (from the head of chambers downwards) whom I wouldn’t feel comfortable seeking help on cases from when necessary.

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

Our summer party! As we all have our independent practices and lives, it’s great to spend time with other members of chambers and their partners, and to thank all the members of staff for their help and hard work.

What are you reading at the moment?

I’m about to go to Mongolia for three weeks, so have been mugging up on books on Mongolian history and culture – I’m currently reading The Green Eyed Lama by Oyungerel Tsedevdamba.