A great advantage of these chambers is our broad range of practice. Every junior tenant works across most of these areas for the first two years before starting to sharpen the focus of their practice to two or three areas.
I had a slightly unusual first couple of years of tenancy in my practice accelerated early. I have principally worked on employment, sometimes exclusively so for months. I have been lucky enough to have been regularly instructed on multi-day and in a few instances, multi-week trials.
In recent months my practice has broadened to include personal injury work, which I always did a little of but is now regularly in my diary. At the junior level, a practice area can suddenly take off; solicitors regularly reinstructing you instills confidence. You need a bit of luck and to be given a difficult case in which you can prove yourself and start to build a reputation.
I am in court a lot. I travel all over the country. I regularly work 15-hour days, which is just the way it is. On the way back to chambers I always – habitually – reflect on how the day has gone in court: what worked well, what my opponent did that was good (which I can incorporate for next time); what didn’t work well; how does the judge think and how is the judge approaching the case. I find that constant self-appraisal to be essential in helping me become a better barrister.
All the junior barristers in chambers are in the fortunate position that we can ask our more experienced colleagues for their thoughts: there is a definite collegiate approach which helps to scaffold our learning. I’m lucky in that I sit with very experienced barristers who always kindly ask me how my day has gone or how the case I have been working on is progressing. They have helped me enormously and in all sorts of ways. Similarly, the relationships you make with your pupil-supervisors continue past pupillage.
I very regularly speak with my former supervisors and run approaches past them to get their thoughts. So, once you have obtained tenancy, it is not as if you are cut loose to wreak havoc on the courts. The support is there when you need it.
I am in control of my time outside of court. Of course, you must make sure you are fully prepared: this not only helps with nervous energy before the trial begins but it is, I imagine, the only effective way to do the job. In that context, I’ll decide if I will down tools for an hour to pick my son up from nursery and play Postman Pat and work in the evening instead when he has gone to bed. I can generally keep much of the weekend free. Sunday afternoons and evenings are regularly given over for preparation if I’m in court on Monday. Its important to have an understanding and supportive family.
Being at the bar is not all sunshine and roses. I have had dreadful days when I wanted – in that moment – to be anything other than a barrister. I remember asking one question too many and my opponent hammering me for the next 20 minutes as my case fractured and splintered under the onslaught. (I also made a note of how he did it so I could do the same when a similar opportunity comes up for me!) But I’ve had great days too: winning a late-instruction case in which a deposit order had been made against my client because his claim appeared so weak; receiving judgment after a three week trial in which the judge labelled my cross-examination of an expert as “telling”; even winning an application which I had no right to has put me on cloud nine.
Not every day hits the heights but I have genuinely found that whenever I am in court, whatever the case, it becomes the most fascinating and important thing in my life for those hours; even if, objectively and in the broader scheme of things, it might seem a mundane matter.
So what can you learn, if anything, from my experiences? That it’s good to be an obsessive, workaholic? No, not really. I think it is important that you choose a chambers in which you can feel at home, that you avail yourself of support, that you constantly seek to improve, that you don’t let the inevitable bad experiences – that every junior has – prevent you from recognising and enjoying the successes. You do not begin your career as an experienced barrister. Without wishing to sound like I’ve climbed a mountain in Tibet: you’ve got to enjoy the journey.