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.