Primed & Ready: Q&A with Penny Haslam

Penny Haslam is a former BBC business news presenter who now works as an inspirational keynote speaker on a number of topics such as increasing visibility for brands or businesses and creating personal confidence. She has long experience working as a professional event moderator and panel chair at a huge range of events, and is currently writing a how-to guide called Make Yourself A Little Bit Famous – On Panels

Onyeka Onyekwelu, Executive of the Young Barristers’ Committee, sat down to ask her a few questions before the event next month.

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Raising the Young Bar profile

Junior barristers, now more than ever, face a world which looks increasingly uncertain. Rick Hoyle, Chair of the Young Barristers’ Committee, looks at the worrying trend and what is being done about it

Whilst the Bar as a whole is now larger than ever before, at a little over 16,000 practising barristers, that trend masks much more disturbing news at the junior end.

Comparing the statistics between 2005 and 2017, the number of barristers of five years’ Call and under has shrunk by more than a third (36%). The number in the six and ten years’ Call category has also shrunk by nearly a quarter (24%). We are, in short, an aging profession.

This really matters. Those of you who have ever read a Bar Council response to a consultation paper will notice in every introduction the phrase: ‘A strong and independent Bar exists to serve the public and is crucial to the administration of justice.’ Those are not mere words, but a statement of our core beliefs about the role of the profession in society. If a career at the junior end, or some parts of it, is becoming unviable or less attractive, then the long-term existence of that strong and independent Bar may be in doubt.

 

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Useful organisations at the Bar

Organisation

 

Contacts

 

Society of Asian Lawyers Jo Sidhu QC Jo.Sidhu@sky.com
Society of Black Lawyers Peter Herbert PHerbert5law@aol.com
Association of Muslim Lawyers Amjad Malik QC amalik@36bedfordrow.co.uk
Association of Asian Women Lawyers Hanisha Patel HPatel@7BR.co.uk
Association of Women Barristers Neelam Sarkaria associationofwomenbarristers@gmail.com
Panel of Disability Advisors Sam Mercer SMercer@BarCouncil.org.uk
Bar Lesbian and Gay Group (BLAGG) Claire Fox c.fox@pumpcourtchambers.com and

Hassan Khan hk@4pt.com

A full list of contacts is available here: www.wellbeingatthebar.org.uk/barristers-support/ 

Disability

The Bar Council has a Disability Panel with a range of expertise. Members are able to provide barristers with specific advice relating to a range of disabilities and their impact on practice, including mental health and HIV/AIDS. . In the first instance contact Sam Mercer at SMercer@BarCouncil.org.uk.

Harassment and Bullying

Remember that harassment and bullying is behaviour that makes someone feel intimidated or offended and is unlawful under the Equality Act 2010. It is for the individual concerned to determine whether they feel intimidated and/or offended. 

Reporting to the BSB

Barristers are guilty of serious misconduct if they fail to report serious misconduct by others to the BSB (BSB Handbook rC66 and gC96).

The BSB requires that all Chambers must have an Equality Officer, who is sufficiently senior to be able to act efficiently with complaints.  At the commencement of pupillage, most Chambers now give pupils an introductory manual enclosing a copy of its Equality Policy and which will include a policy on handling grievances and complaints.  If you are not given one, have a look on the Chambers website (many Chambers now publish them publicly) or ask the clerks to let you have it.

For further information and resources please see www.wellbeingatthebar.org.uk.

Equality and diversity

Barristers often think that as they are not ’employed’ they are not subject to ‘normal’ workplace rules of behaviour. They can often treat each other pretty badly as a result, and problems can quickly escalate. If you’re in difficulty, don’t be afraid to reach out for help or support.

The Bar Council provides information, advice and guidance to barristers and Chambers on handling equality and diversity issues and compliance with the BSB’s Equality and Diversit rules. There is an Equality and Diversity Helpline available on 020 7611 1321 from 09:15 – 17:15 Monday through Friday, which promises assistance in:

  • Offering members of the profession, staff and members of chambers, employed barristers, pupils and Bar students confidential advice on any equality and diversity, parental leave or harassment issue.
  • Implementing the Equality and Diversity rules in the BSB Handbook.
  • Advising on making reasonable adjustments and making Chambers accessible to people with disabilities.

For self-employed barristers, there is detailed information on the equality and diversity standards to be set in Chambers in the BSB Handbook.

See in particular the Core Duty not to discriminate unlawfully against any person (CD8) and Rules rC12 and 28 which set out express rules on discrimination, which apply to all barristers, and Rules rC110-rC112 and the Guidance at gC140-gC152, which prescribe the equality and diversity policies to be pursued in Chambers. The BSB publishes excellent guidance and full supporting information on the BSB Handbook Equality Rules.

Rule rC110 places a personal obligation on all self-employed barristers, however they practise, and on the managers of BSB-authorised bodies, as well as on the entity itself, to take reasonable steps to ensure that they have appropriate policies which are enforced. Breaches must be appropriately punished.

As a minimum, your chambers must have a written statement of policy on equality and diversity, as well as policies dealing with anti-harassment, parental leave, flexible working and reasonable adjustments. It must appoint an Equality and Diversity Officer and Diversity Data Officer, conduct equality monitoring, and collect and publish diversity data. The BSB prescribes selection and recruitment procedures in their Fair Recruitment Guide.

The Bar Council’s Equality and Diversity Helpline can offer assistance to those who feel they may have been treated unfairly, outside the scope of the rules.

For further information and resources please see www.wellbeingatthebar.org.uk.

Dealing with criticism

A barrister says: “Don’t fall for robing room games. Some barristers positively enjoy trying to put off their opponents by ostracising or intimidating them. It isn’t you. They’re just playing games. Ignore them, as you would any other bully.”

It is not unusual for barristers, especially those who are inexperienced, to be subjected to unwarranted criticism. You can protect yourself by doing as careful and competent a job as you possibly can. It might be helpful to keep a detailed record of all the work you do on a case: the people you consult, the instructions you take, the conversations you have, the drafting you do, the advice you give – so that in the event the case has to be returned there is a clear record of the professionalism with which you’ve approached your handling of it.

Sam Mercer, Bar Council Wellbeing Project, suggests that never feeling able to admit you are struggling in the profession and the difficulty that presents in recognising you have a problem can be a real barrier to doing something about it.

If you are feel you are being treated unfairly due to your mental health illness within your chambers the Bar Council’s Disability Panel of Advisors may be able to provide advice and support.

For further information and resources please see www.wellbeingatthebar.org.uk.

Mentoring

Mentoring supports wellbeing and helps build resilience. Many Inns and Specialist Bar Associations have mentoring programmes in addition to those run within chambers. The Bar Council also runs a mentoring programme which is gradually being extended to support all those who need mentoring across the Bar.

Details can be found at: http://www.barcouncil.org.uk/supporting-the-bar/bar-mentoring-service/.

Social support from people who understand your background and environment can help build your resilience. There are a number of groups across the Bar: consider getting in touch.

For further information and resources please see www.wellbeingatthebar.org.uk.

Monitoring

Problems with the allocation of work can cause stress, particularly if you feel you are not being treated fairly.

Don’t forget that the BSB Handbook rule C110 requires Chambers to undertake equality monitoring, and to review on a regular basis the allocation of unassigned work. This includes work allocated to pupils, barristers of fewer than four years’ standing and barristers returning from parental leave. Rule C110.3.i requires barristers to ensure the fair distribution of work opportunities among pupils and members of chambers.

Monitoring unassigned work effectively is possibly the most difficult BSB rule to comply with. Those that have succeeded in producing meaningful reports have found them extremely helpful in practice review discussions with individual barristers.

If your Chambers does not have an effective monitoring system you might find it helpful to speak to your former pupil supervisor, Head of Chambers and clerks to encourage them to support one. The Bar Council’s Equality and Diversity Helpline can offer practical guidance on how to go about developing monitoring processes.

For further information and resources please see www.wellbeingatthebar.org.uk.

Handling nerves at court

All barristers have nerves. If you don’t, you will not be working at your best. The adrenalin you generate helps you perform. Your colleagues will be nervous too.  And don’t allow yourself to think less well of yourself because you’re nervous. You will be doing the best job you can, and that is all anyone can ask of you.

  • Never drink a lot of water (or even worse, coffee) before going to court for the first time!
  • Get there early – if going by train always take the train before the one you actually need. The one you need is the one which will get you there no less than ½ hour before your hearing is scheduled to commence – more if you have a client. If driving, allow plenty of time for traffic.
  • Engage with opposing Counsel – and don’t let them intimidate you. Some barristers play games. Don’t be taken in. They’re probably bluffing. And if they have to reduce themselves to trying to intimidate a pupil or very junior barrister, then they are probably not very good!
  • Walk away. Your client, or instructing solicitor (if you’re lucky enough to have one), or your opponent may be distracting or demanding at just the time when you need to get your thoughts in order. Don’t be frightened of finding clear space for yourself to avoid being unsettled by their nervousness.
  • In court, speak slowly, and think before you open your mouth. The judge (or jury) will wait. Do not worry about pauses or delays whilst you collect your thoughts; some of the very best senior counsel do this.
  • If you have a bad day, try and put it behind you. Only one side can win in any given case. There will be times, inevitably, when you will not be on the winning side.

For further information and resources please see www.wellbeingatthebar.org.uk.

Talking to your clerks about your work life balance

Michael Jones, from the Young Barristers’ Committee, says:

 

Stress in Pupillage

As a pupil, it is not always easy to confront your clerks and tell them to ease off. I would always advise that as a first port of call, you go to your pupil supervisor (if, like me, your pupil supervisor was very supportive) or another member of chambers that you feel confident in talking to (perhaps another junior around your age and year of call). If your clerks are good at their job, the prospect of “burn out” should never rear its head. This is because your clerks should ensure that you are comfortable with the level and volume of work that they are providing to you. My clerks were always very approachable. If you feel confident talking to your clerks about such issues, I would encourage this, perhaps after having talked things over with your supervisor.

In the event (and I hope this will never be the case) that there is no one person in chambers who you feel you can speak to about this issue, then your Inn of Court may be of assistance; I always found the education department at Gray’s really supportive in respect of any problems I had as a pupil.

Post-pupillage – building a practice: the self-employed barrister

Once you have gained a tenancy, it is crucial that you begin to build your practice and gain a regular base of instructing solicitors. The early years will, in my view, almost always require some sacrifice on your part; building a practice is a priority and you will often need to work over weekends, missing out on nights out with friends. However, if you feel overwhelmed, you need to make this clear.

As a tenant, you are self-employed and there is no reason that you cannot tell your clerks you need a break. Sometimes I will ask my clerks to give me a “light week” after I have finished a substantial case and they almost always oblige.

As a tenant you have security and have no reason to feel any apprehension in telling your clerk when the workload becomes too much. If your clerking is of a decent standard, you should not have a problem. If your clerks are not receptive, why not consider speaking to your head of chambers or another senior member of chambers about the issue?

Sarah Knight, Pupil Supervisor at 1 High Pavement Chambers in Nottingham says:

“Life at the independent Bar is unpredictable when it comes to caseload. At times you will feel like a hamster on a wheel. When this happens, maintain your stamina and try to keep going. We all need to stretch ourselves at times and the satisfaction that comes from achieving this is well worth it. Learn to recognise in yourself when you are genuinely struggling to cope and address it with your supervisor straight away. He or she is there to guide and help you. Learn to be self-disciplined so that you build up an efficient way of working to suit the strains and stresses of your own life. That’s the beauty of the independent Bar: you tailor the work outside court hours to suit you. No brief fee can compare with the sense of pride in a job you have done well.”

Preparing to speak to your clerk

Many people are afraid of the possible repercussions of talking to their clerks about the volume or complexity of the work they’re being asked to do. Common fears are that there will be adverse repercussions, or that they will be seen as lazy or “light-weight”. In most clerks’ rooms this could not be further from the truth.

Most clerks value communication with their juniors and want to be aware of any issues they have, especially where these relate to the work they’re being given. It is not in your clerks’ interests for you to burn out or make a mistake and upset your instructing solicitors.

Always remember that you need to work together with your clerks. You cannot rely on them completely to manage your workload without effective communication – it is a two way process.

When you are distressed it is all too easy to forget to prepare thoughtfully for a meeting, to ensure you get the outcome you want.

  • Write a list of the issues and your concerns. If it’s the workload that’s bothering you, is the work too complex, or is there just too much of it?
  • Consider speaking to your pupil supervisor or a senior member of chambers about how to approach speaking to your clerks if you’re unsure.
  • Think through different ways in which your problems might be resolved, so that you come to the discussion with possible solutions, rather than what might just seem like complaints.
  • It will probably be advisable to speak to your clerks on an informal basis first; tell them that you have some concerns/worries and would like to speak to them about this. Thereafter, it will probably be helpful to make the meeting official, a type of practice review, and either book a room or go off site. Do not be afraid to make sure that you set up the kind of meeting that’s best for you.
  • Explain your concerns and what you’d like done to address them. Make sure that you make your clerks aware of the impact your current workload is having on you.
  • Be open to discussing different ways of dealing with the problem. Some clerks, for example, suggest that pupils read any incoming instructions for work in order to make sure they are happy that it is within their level and area of expertise before accepting the brief.
  • Remember that clerks are human too: they have crises in their working and personal lives.
  • And always remember that the clerks have a real desire – as well as a vested interest – in helping you.

For further information and resources please see www.wellbeingatthebar.org.uk.

Special help for those with caring responsibilities

Life happens, and it happens to barristers as much as to anyone else. There will be times when you have no option but to look to the welfare of others – parents, children, and spouses in particular – and cannot leave them to cope while you go off to court.

Returning to the Bar after having a family, or having had a period away coping with aging parents or a disabled spouse can be very stressful as you rebuild your practice and juggle work and your caring responsibilities. Inevitably you will also have cash flow challenges.

Assistance is available.

  • If your absence has been children-related, talk to other parents at the Bar: find out how they manage their work loads.
  • Don’t be afraid to talk to your clerks about what you can and cannot do.
  • Talk to Chambers about what financial assistance is available.
  • Put in place as much ‘back up’ child care, or care for the elderly, as you can.
  • Look to carers’ organisations for practical support and advice: see for example, the Carers’ Trust http://www.carers.org/help-directory/dealing-change.

The Bar Council has a crèche in both London and Leeds, and is looking to expand facilities on the Circuits. For more information see: http://www.barcouncil.org.uk/supporting-the-bar/parental-support-hub/.

For further information and resources please see www.wellbeingatthebar.org.uk.

Get help

If you feel you are struggling, the Bar Council’s wellbeing team suggests that you consider the following:

  • Talk to your Chambers’ Equality and Diversity Officer, your head of Chambers or your clerk. It is unlikely you will be the first person to experience difficulties and most Chambers will do everything they can to support you.
  • Go and see your GP or a recommended counsellor.
  • Look at MIND’s resources. There is a lot of information available at http://www.mind.org.uk/. Other mental health charities who provide support and resources include Rethink, the Samaritans, Sane and the Mental Health Foundation.
  • Visit www.wellbeingatthebar.org.uk/barristers-support/ for further information and resources.
  • Contact LawCare http://www.lawcare.org.uk/about-us/. LawCare operates a helpline and can signpost you to appropriate support.

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Fiona Jackson of 33 Chancery Lane comments:

 

  • It is vital to the future of our profession that we can be confident that we are doing all we can to ensure that the best and brightest barristers of all backgrounds, and whether male or female, can commence and maintain a practice. We must ensure that our practice policies enable barristers to work in an environment free from harassment and discrimination, and support them appropriately when they return to work after a period of parental or other long-term leave.
  • If you are experiencing problems, don’t suffer in silence but have the courage of your convictions and speak up: by doing so you may not only solve your own problems but improve your Chambers’ approach to others with similar issues. Most, if not all, Chambers will be anxious to nip problems in the bud sympathetically before they become more difficult to resolve.
  • If you are struggling to get help within Chambers, then contact one of the bar organisations listed here, and remember that the Bar Council runs an Equality and Diversity Helpline to resolve queries and put you in touch someone who may be able to help.
  • The Bar Council also offers mentoring and runs courses designed to advise you on how best to manage a career break associated with parental and other leave, but still return efficiently to practice. See the Bar Council website for details.

Protect yourself

You can take steps to protect yourself and build up resilience to cope with the pressures of life at the Bar. These include:

  • Take breaks between cases or after every couple of cases.
  • Physical exercise (this does not need to be strenuous, just walking for half an hour every day has proved to be beneficial).
  • Sleep.
  • If you have a tendency to dwell on things that haven’t gone well you might be helped by cognitive behavioural therapy – defined by the NHS as “a talking therapy that can help you manage your problems by changing the way you think and behave”. See generally http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/cognitive-behavioural-therapy/pages/introduction.aspx. There are many resources on the internet, as well as advice on courses and therapists.
  • Phone a friend. Make sure you keep details in your phone of colleagues who may be able to help if you find yourself in need of help at court. It may be a good idea to find out if any of your fellow members of chambers or friends at the Bar will be in court in the same place as you, and make sure you have their numbers. Don’t be afraid to reach out for help and guidance if you need it.

Michael Jones advises:

 

  • Make sure that you ask your clerks for ‘prep’ days to be kept free before any lengthy or complex case begins.
  • Take a long-weekend off every 6 weeks or so (I take a Friday afternoon and a Monday off).
  • And TAKE A HOLIDAY!

Chambers Director Simon Boutwood agrees:“If you’re under pressure, the simplest point is talk to your clerks. They really do want to help and they will understand. They ought to be able to work out a plan with the pupil/young barrister to ensure that time is set aside for preparation, and that your diary is managed to ensure you don’t have final or difficult hearings on consecutive days, for example, or by leaving gaps between cases.”

For further information and resources please see www.wellbeingatthebar.org.uk.