Not a member of the Old Boy’s Club

Sometimes I find myself skulking into the corner of a robing room. It is not necessarily a strange or foreign robing room and often is one local to me, that I have traversed a multitude of times. Yet still I skulk. I move through the room quietly, trying not to make eye contact with the “real” barristers and take myself off to the furthest back corner, silently removing my items from my case, fervently ensuring that I make the littlest noise possible; draw the least attention I can. It was not until quite recently, speaking to a few other members of the Bar at a similar level to myself, that I realised these were not actions uniquely attributable to my own sense of misfitting. Many, it would appear, have walked not only into robing rooms, but even into their own chambers and been met with the loud, rambunctious sounds of the “classic” Barristers, the Old Boys (OB) if you will, whose existence fills those of us who are not card-wielding members of the society with the need to turn into total wallflowers.

The interesting common thread I discovered of those who seemed to experience this odd, wall-flower phenomenon was that they were either female, identified as BAME and/or LGBTQ+ and were almost inevitably under 5 years of practice. It seems to me that this behaviour is a very literal example of the impostor syndrome that has become a prevalent topic of conversation among those of us practising at the Bar. Social mobility has become a buzz term at the Bar and rightly so. Much of our action focuses on the necessity to diversify and welcome different backgrounds, perspectives, lifestyles and personalities into a profession that has often appeared shut-off, opaque and unyielding. But what about those of us already trapped within the matrix?

Life at the Junior end is not easy, that is probably something all Barristers, regardless of practice area can agree upon. The hours are demanding, the work ever-increasingly difficult and in many areas, the remuneration simply insufficient. Most of us are very content to take that in our stride; after all, no one is forcing us to remain at the Bar. However, the social anxiety induced by walking into robing rooms that are dominated by a certain group at the Bar is something else entirely. That feeling of exclusion and that one’s opinion, view or even existence is not valued in that environment might well be the straw that breaks many a young barrister’s back.

There have been numerous occasions where myself or a fellow non-OB have voiced a remark or thought in response to what is clearly a robing room wide conversation only to be met with confused, somewhat condemning stares from the almost always all white, all over 40, all public school educated brethren. The OB’s are certainly not restricted to being “boys” either, but rather an archaic remnant of an old guard who range from the well-meaningly oblivious right through to the intentional bullies. It is hard to say what the solution is to this predicament faced by the young Bar, who often find themselves paralysed in these situations and unable to raise their discomfort or intimidation for fear of repercussion. One hopes that the influx of diverse, modern individuals into the junior end will eventually result in an overturn of the status quo. One prays that the recognition of impostor syndrome and attempts to combat it might serve to off-set these feelings of exclusion. One wishes that eventually those creating these insular groups, sometimes without malice or intent, will become alive to the very real impact of their exclusion. The activism and awareness we are seeing in more recent times will hopefully be the catalyst that will change the lives of both future and current young barristers. Not just for the benefit of those from non-traditional backgrounds, but for the benefit of us all.

Aadhithya Anbahan is one of the Bar Council’s #IAmTheBar Social Mobility Advocates, the Midlands Circuit representative on the Young Barristers’ Committee, and a barrister at St. Ives Chambers.

Wellbeing at the [Young] Bar

Ever since the Wellbeing at the Bar report published in April 2015, there has been a positive surge in wellbeing initiatives aimed at barristers. The report was jointly funded by the Inns of Court and the Bar Council, and concluded that there was not a measurable difference in responses when asked about quality of life depending on years in practice. It is natural however that certain pressures have a disproportionate effect on those in the early years of practice. It is important therefore that junior barristers have access to help and ways to combat the pressures that they will invariably face as part of the job.

Judicial bullying

One of the most under-reported issues that young barristers have to deal with is judicial bullying. Young barristers may feel humiliated or not competent enough to represent their client’s best interest as a result of a Judge’s conduct in court. Conduct of this kind is unacceptable and can be reported to the Judicial Conduct Investigations Office (JCIO). However, not all barristers feel empowered to do so.  The Young Barristers’ Committee (YBC) of the Bar Council remain committed to ensuring the wellbeing of young barristers, and are welcome reports and complaints by email (YBC@BarCouncil.org.uk) from those who feel like they have been victims of judicial bullying. YBC hope to collate and send these scenarios anonymously to JCIO, to serve as supporting evidence for how the current system may be failing to protect advocates in court.

Demanding solicitors

As a junior barrister, it can sometimes feel like solicitors have your life in their hands as you start to develop a practice. The pressure of keeping solicitors happy can sometimes lead to stress and panic. It is important to ensure that your clerks are aware of your workload, which includes the additional demands placed upon you in respect of certain cases, e.g. frequent phone calls and document review work.

Panicking at court

Lack of sleep, past court experiences (e.g. judicial bullying) and insufficient preparation time may cause young barristers to dread a hearing or to panic at court. Whilst a healthy amount of adrenaline may improve a barrister’s performance, panic will hinder it. It may be helpful to speak to a more senior member of chambers who you feel comfortable confiding in (even if this means making a phone call when you are at court) and to consider whether you require extra time to prepare the case, or simply need a break.

Strides have been made in the last couple of years towards providing reliable and relatable tools for barristers to confront concerns about wellbeing. For students, pupils and young barristers, these online resources should go some way to helping with the pressure of early years in practice. Further, a recent initiative coordinated by the Bar Council, delivered by Health Assured and funded by BMIF, provides free counselling to barristers – see https://www.wellbeingatthebar.org.uk/eap/.

Alex Cisneros is one of the Bar Council’s #IAmTheBar Social Mobility Advocates, a member of the Young Barristers’ Committee, and a barrister at No.5 Chambers.

Katie Longstaff is a member of the Young Barristers’ Committee and a barrister at Radcliffe Chambers.

You are not alone

I once overheard a previous Senior clerk tell a new tenant on their first day, “Now the hard work starts,” which, after a yearlong intense interview, would probably be hard to hear until you remember: you’re not alone. Now, not only will you have complete instant access to the diverse network of legal brains that are unique to chambers, but also a handpicked, talented support team whose one goal is to make you and chambers as successful as possible.

“The end of pupillage is not the end of training. It’s just the beginning.”

The Bar is a constant learning process and you are expected to perfect your craft on the job. During the early years, your clerks will pit you against members of all seniorities, and you may even secure a secondment in one of the four corners of the world. The experience of a secondment is an essential tool not only to see how your instructing solicitors work but it will allow you to critically analyse what other people are doing, giving you the opportunity to find and perfect your style. I recommend that, at the start of your career, I would advise that you say “yes” as much as possible (without burning yourself out, of course). This will not only allow for a diverse practice, but it will help you to discover the areas that you enjoy, and in time, specialise in.

Marketing! Marketing! Marketing!

Gone are the days of swapping briefs at ‘Dalys’ on Essex Street, or even the traditional barrister-solicitor relationship. Accessibility and likeability are the two key factors to a successful junior practice (or any practice for that matter). The client will take it as a given that you know your stuff; the unique, gruelling training and selection process ensures this. They are looking for the complete package: someone they can work with, someone they can trust, someone they could call out of hours in the case of an emergency who they know will be happy to assist. The way to build these relationships is by marketing – getting your yourself out there. I’m sure the first time you attend one of the big Chambers’ events you will find this daunting, but it shouldn’t be. Its key to get in the habit of strategising before the event i.e. writing down who you would like to talk to, and mapping out what you would like to achieve from the event. Any additional conversations and contacts can be considered a bonus. Remember that not all marketing needs to be expensive or time onerous. A breakfast meeting or catching up over a coffee are just as, if not more, useful to cement the relationship.

Finally, don’t worry if you are not sure how to approach a desired contact, or if you are not comfortable attending on your own as that will come with time. In the meantime, that’s what your clerks and practice Managers are here for!

Use your clerks

Although my opinion is somewhat biased, a great relationship with your clerks is fundamental to a successful career at the Bar, and there is no reason why this shouldn’t start during pupillage. It is important to get yourself in the clerks’ room as early as possible, even if it’s just to say “Good Morning”. The ‘unmarked brief’ is becoming a thing of the past, so we must change and adapt. A large part of my job is matching the right experience and skillset for the job which helps lay the foundations for repeat instructions. The better the clerks know you, the easier this is, so don’t be shy. Whether you come in and tell the clerks about your case that day, or where you went to for dinner, or even something funny you saw on the tube, we’re always happy to hear it! These little snippets of information are what make you, you, and you are the service we are selling. So, the more you tell us, the better! Happy Barristers equal happy clerks and the Bar is stressful, so please do not suffer in silence. We understand that it can sometimes be lonely at the Bar. Whether it be workload, financial worries or something personal, we’re here to help. You’re not alone.

George Bennett is the Institute of Barristers’ Clerks (IBC) representative on the Young Barristers’ Committee and a Clerk at 20 Essex Street Chambers.

YBC’s Ambitions

I recently attended the Annual Bar Conference. The keynote speaker, Lord Sumption, reflected on his career by asking himself three questions: what he had come looking for at the Bar; whether he had found it, and whether one could expect to find it today.

He concluded, rather wryly, that first and foremost he had come looking for money; that he had found quite a bit of it, and that – for certain areas of practice – one might reasonably expect to do the same today.

I gratefully adopt the structure of his Lordship’s submissions. But, as his Lordship acknowledged, the content does not reflect a universal truth.

The Bar attracts characters from all walks of life: the independently spirited, the intellectually meticulous, the ambitious, the curious, the righteous and the wronged, as well as those seeking to enrich themselves.

They may pursue justice, or mental stimulation or a healthier bank balance. But whatever measure of success one pursues, they are unlikely to achieve it alone.

We are the progeny of a system of precedent. From pupillage upwards, we learn by observation and emulation – foundational skills to which we may one day be fortunate to add a flare of originality.  But more than that, ours is a collegiate profession. There are few outside it who will understand the fraught and sickening strains that come of a poorly managed case, fast descending into farce, with sky-high stakes which rest, ultimately, on you. A sense of perspective is vital. And perspective is always assisted by those who have survived worse and are sitting sympathetically opposite you in Chambers.

It’s easy to forget that we are members of a profession. And that despite the independence and the solitary stresses of self-employment, the challenges which affect the Bar affect us all.

Even if you remain unperturbed by the erosion of our justice system by constant cuts and a lack of public and political respect, on a purely mercenary level it is easy to see how discontent with a straw-man band of  ‘fat cat lawyers’ leads to cuts in legal aid today and fixed fees for all tomorrow. Moreover, the advent of ‘virtual’ justice and so-called “flexible” operating hours herald changes for our system as a whole.

The challenges which the Bar faces affect us all. And they should engage us all in equal measure.

The Bar Council does vital work promoting and protecting barristers’ interests in a way that individual barristers would struggle to match. We lobby the government and liaise with the regulator. We marshal responses to the numerous consultations the results of which dictate our profession’s future. We are constantly vigilant to these challenges and changes and we strive to keep the profession informed and equipped to deal with them. We provide training, guidelines, mentoring and an ethics helpline. We organise domestic and international events and promote the Bar – as a whole – at home and abroad. And we do this with the dedicated support of a core of employed and self-employed barristers who are members of the Bar Council and its committees, with a fantastic team of staff, and with the financial support of those who pay their Bar Representation Fee.

The coming year will be a typically busy one for the Young Barristers’ Committee. Already on our agenda are an enormous range of issues including pay (AGFS, mags fees and the LASPO review), social mobility and diversity, the online court, flexible operating hours, wellbeing, judicial bullying and Brexit.

If you are in your first seven years of practice and would like to contribute to the Committee’s work, please write to YBC@BarCouncil.org.uk and let us know. Even if you don’t feel you have the time to be involved on a regular basis, we are always in need of ad hoc volunteers for events or practical input to consultation responses.  It can be hard work and it can be frustrating. But it can also be interesting, worthwhile and a lot of fun. And for some of you, it may turn out to be just what you’ve been looking for.

We look forward to hearing from you.

Athena Markides is the incoming Chair of the Young Barristers’ Committee, and a barrister at Crown Office Chambers.

What does the Bar Council do for me?

“You make Theresa May look like she is working a basic 9-5” is the response I received after one of the Young Barristers’ Committee’s commercial partners read my ‘Day in the life’ blog. I did not have the heart to tell him that my responsibilities had tripled in scale since drafting that piece in my first year at the Bar Council.

From meetings with Senior Judges, Politicians, or companies with a commercial interest in the profession, to international gala dinners, project managing exchange programmes and multi-disciplinary seminars, my role as the YBC’s Executive is even more important now than it was 3 years ago when I joined the Bar Council.

The Young Barristers’ Committee was created in 1964 to act as the voice of the young Bar within the Bar Council and over the past 54 years, this voice has evolved and taken on a life of its own. YBC have championed, represented, supported, and promoted the interests of young barristers as they have overcome regulatory barriers to entering the profession; dealt with career-defining cuts to their fees; evolved their practice alongside technological change; or competed against unregulated legal service providers.

Our world-renowned justice system will always have a need for highly skilled advocates. The increase in knife crime in the capital or radicalised grooming gangs in the regions, the threats to our fundamental human right to privacy by social media apps, and other social justice threats to society can only be challenged and curtailed by quality advocates.

Even advocates need advocates

Access for all to legal advice and representation is a recognised human right in the UK, and yet, it is not accorded the same level of respect by the public as free health care under the National Health Service (NHS), or the right to free education for all. Why? Because the court system and the law are often regarded as something that you’d only ever need if you got into trouble. It is easy to forget that something as basic as downloading an app on your phone or buying a cup of coffee in the morning is covered in some way by the law. Without intelligent lawyers, we would may not have the basic freedoms we currently enjoy, and often take for granted.

Where do I come in?

Barristers are voluntary Committee and Panel members and not full-time members of staff. As the Executive of the YBC, I manage the output of the Committee, and work with barristers to articulate policy positions and act as the dedicated voice of the young Bar in different fora. This is even more important in light of proposed changes to the justice system, and the input that is necessary from barristers at meetings that are time-and-again, scheduled during court time. Barristers are passionate advocates, but it is hard for anyone to make a self-interested case persuasively. My role is to ensure that the young bar’s best interests are consistently and effectively presented.

The Bar Council is reliant upon funding from the Bar Representation Fee (BRF), and my role is no exception. By paying the BRF, you are effectively supporting me and the YBC’s efforts to represent and promote the young Bar nationally and internationally.  The BRF helps us to carry on helping you.

Onyeka Onyekwelu is a Policy Analyst at the Bar Council, and the outgoing Executive of the Young Barristers’ Committee.

Chair’s Reflections on 2018

£46.50 or £90

If you’re a civil or commercial practitioner, like I am, think about what work you would be prepared to do for those sums. How much time you might spend before those amounts were on the clock? Because they are the amounts that a criminal barrister earns for a mention (an application), when prosecuting or defending, whether it is in Croydon or Carlisle, and from which train fares and clerks fees or Chambers rent must be deducted.

I hope you’re shocked by that. I was. And if I’d not been on the Bar Council and the Young Barristers’ Committee (YBC), I might never have known. The Criminal Bar, which both prosecutes and defends, is essential to ensuring the right to a fair trial and the rule of law in criminal cases. But the barristers who do this vital work are paid woefully for what they do. Those of us who operate in more secure areas of practice need to do what we can to support and help our colleagues. If you haven’t already, read the Secret Barrister. You could even write to, or lobby your MP, to try to force them to confront the failures in our justice system.

I’ve spent three really interesting, challenging years on the Bar Council and on the YBC. This year, as Chair of the Young Bar, has been the toughest of the lot. From our three part Primer Series on Small Business, International Law and Media Law at the start of the year, to our much acclaimed Workshop The 21st Century Advocate, in the summer, to the Anglo Dutch Exchange in October through to my speech following the Lord Chancellor at the Bar and Young Bar Conference at the end of November, it has certainly been action packed!

Throughout the year I have not been afraid to speak my mind in meetings with the senior Judiciary, Bar Leaders and the odd politician, as no doubt any of them would attest. It is important that the Chair of the Young Bar does so – it avoids the same mix of very senior people talking to other senior people about what they assume the most junior want. A good example is technology in the legal system. Its benefits to transactional teams are more obvious, but when it comes to the essentials of how to operate court proceedings, caution is needed – something which even the most tech friendly Young Barristers understand. And yet every senior Judge appears to have different ideas about it – which is fair enough on a personal level, but which makes identifying the view of ‘the Judiciary’ challenging, and possibly creates over-dependence on the opinions of individual leadership judges.

On the subject of technology, I have found legal twitter to be a valuable resource, allowing me to absorb and reflect on diverse opinions about particular issues from across the Bar and to ensure that they can be raised as soon as possible where appropriate. The position of Chair of the Young Bar gives unique access to the inner workings of the Bar Council, and it has been a privilege to sit on its General Management Committee and debate with the other Committee Chairs about a whole range of topics.

The Bar Council is often misunderstood, and it is as frustrating for me as it is for anyone when there is a disconnect between what it is trying to say and how its position is understood. It does immensely valuable work – two examples which I and the YBC have tried to promote and support this year are in relation to wellbeing and social mobility. We have made important steps forward this year with raising awareness about the Wellbeing at the Bar project and making that part of normal conversation. Similarly, the #IamtheBar social mobility campaign and our social mobility advocates (including 3 members of YBC) have generated lots of interest. None of this would have been possible without the hard work and dedication of the Bar Council staff, who do not often get the credit that they deserve.

These are, of course, a work in progress, along with many other things. However, I know I leave the YBC in safe hands. I’m delighted that, in Athena Markides and Katherine Duncan as Chair and Vice Chair for 2019, we’ve got a brilliant all female team as we celebrate the centenary of the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act 1919 next year. I wish them every success and I am sure that they will achieve great things.

If you have never been to a YBC event, then come along next year. They are a fun way to meet people from all across the Bar when you might not otherwise do so. We share a common profession, even if our practices look very different. Let’s not forget that.

Richard Hoyle (aka @Barrickster) is the Chair of the Young Barristers’ Committee and a barrister at Essex Court Chambers.

The Bar: Perception and obstacles

Social mobility is an issue of national and international concern, with a number of organisations, such as the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and The Sutton Trust, monitoring its trends and making recommendations. As the Bar plays a crucial part in upholding the rule of law in the justice system, social mobility is particularly important. In order for the justice system to be perceived to be fair, it should have a range of talented individuals from a variety of backgrounds. In support of this contention, the Lammy Review into the treatment of, and outcomes for, Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic individuals in the Criminal Justice System highlights the need for a diverse judiciary in order to increase trust in the Criminal Justice System.

This article will look at two challenges to social mobility: the perception of the Bar, and the financial obstacles.

Is the Bar’s perception a misconception?

The Bar is seen as a profession for the elite; made up of the privileged few. If society views our profession as exclusive, we miss out on attracting talented individuals who feel like their non-traditional backgrounds will hamper their chances of joining.  A way to overcome this is visibility. The Bar needs to be seen as a profession that is open to all. Those from all backgrounds, not just non-traditional, should be a part of this process.

Many chambers already leave the confines of the Temple to attend various events. However, attendance at careers fairs should not be at the elite universities alone. We need to start our focus on schools, where the dreams are first developed. We also need to attend a wider variety of universities. The quality of the advocate is not determined by the (fee-paying or grammar) school or the (Oxbridge or Russell Group) university that they attended.

The financial bar to the Bar

Another challenge to social mobility is the assumption that everybody is on a level playing field. We are not. People from non-traditional backgrounds have had to overcome obstacles at various stages prior to entering the profession. One of these obstacles is finances.

It is quite common for chambers to look favourably at pro bono work when assessing pupillage applications. However, not everyone can afford to undertake unpaid work. Similarly, unpaid mini-pupillages can be a financial burden. In our recruitment practices, consideration should be given to ensuring that a lack of pro bono or other free work experience on an application form is not automatically viewed as a negative. Equally, chambers should consider offering paid mini-pupillages to those in financial need. This could include the payment of expenses and lunch or a more substantial award.

The economic challenges do not always disappear once an individual obtains pupillage. I received a £12,000 pupillage award. Luckily, I could live at home in London, however, even with a roof over my head, there were times where I was frightened that I would be sent to a distant court as I was at the end of my overdraft. Thankfully, my chambers has increased their award significantly since, and the Bar Standards Board is raising the minimum level of award to meet the national living wage, rather than having. However, chambers may wish to consider awarding their pupils higher than the minimum award to ensure that pupillage is a viable option for everyone.

This article does not deal with all of the challenges to social mobility. However, I hope it continues the conversation on how to make the profession open to all.

Natasha Shotunde is one of the Bar Council’s #IAmTheBar Social Mobility Advocates, is a member of the Young Barristers’ Committee, and a barrister at 5 St Andrew’s Hill Chambers.