If I had to give my past self any advice about how to approach the first weeks of tenancy it would be take a holiday. A proper one. Not a Thursday to Sunday kind of holiday where you travel eight hours one way to spend two days cramming relaxation, fun, life, air and the outdoors (all things you haven’t seen for a while) into your schedule but a proper week long holiday. This is for two reasons. The first; you need to have a moment to mend after the previous six months you have had and the second you need to take stock of what is ahead of you. You will no longer be someone’s shadow. No longer can you sit quietly in a conference room and let the big kids do the talking. Now you are striking out on your own, building a business, a brand and an identity as a barrister and that feels big.
But, it is manageable, especially at 7BR. I found myself asking the questions I had been dying to ask during pupillage (but felt would have shown too much ankle) and no one batted an eye-lid. The structure of a set like 7BR is that everyone is willing you to do well. The better you do, the better Chambers’ reputation becomes and the more solicitors and lay clients will turn to 7BR for advice and representation.
Your days are spent in a similar way to those during pupillage, certainly in the early stages. The clerks are very conscientious about filling your diary and no two weeks are the same. No two trains are the same. No two courts are the same.
You might not preface every question to someone in chambers with “I’m so sorry to ask you this but…” or “would you mind terribly if I asked you a question…” and you might not limit yourself to the six questions a day that you promised was your maximum during pupillage. But you will still seek advice and a second opinion.
Cases become longer and more interesting. Whilst I continue to practice in all areas, I am being re-instructed by certain solicitors so one area of practice, at the moment, is my focus. I travel less but I stay away from home more.
Rather than seeing a small slice of a case – an application, a mention or a case management hearing you see the case from start to end. You see full-bodied advocacy in all its forms and, as a result, have far more opportunity to watch and learn from different advocates their styles, turns of phrase, stance and voice. All of this will inform your own advocacy.
Relationships in chambers solidify and strengthen and can move from within Chambers’ walls to outside. Working alongside people you trust, like and can pick up the telephone to is an invaluable resource.
In terms of workload – I work most weekends. This is partly out of choice and partly out of necessity but not all barristers do. To a certain degree this is something you can manage yourself. However, a Monday morning hearing in Sheffield is a reality.
I have support in the form of good friends and family who are suitably interested and disinterested in my day-to-day life, which helps me avoid the curse of thinking that my working day is interesting enough to be distilled into an endless series of anecdotes. I take breaks. Some breaks are planned and scheduled months in advance and some are thrust on me as a case collapses or (better still) resolves. All are welcome and give me time to achieve personal victories like posting a letter or doing my tax return.
Nerves still dog me before I appear in court, of course they do, but I am learning discipline. I have a routine, which I try to replicate before each hearing, which provides some knowns in the vast array of unknowns. There are small tricks you learn along the way, which, although seemingly mundane, can save a lot of unnecessary stress and distraction. (Things like have a spare phone charger in your bag, plan your route the day before, make sure there is breakfast in the fridge, make sure your shirt is clean, do you have tights without ladders?)
My first year has been enjoyable and filled with both the highs and lows that you should expect from a job like this. I have no regrets about choosing this profession. It is unpredictable, testing and satisfying. And now that I am into year two I am eagerly anticipating what it may bring.