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. 

Taking the road less travelled

I believe that a modern & humane Bar should provide proper service to those it seeks to represent, embraces diversity, strives to provide have integrity even though at times we have to represent and fight for clients fearlessly.

Service

In 1976 Nicholas graduated in physics with first class honours from a top university. He had the world at his feet. He could land any job in industry and earn a fantastic living. He had many job offers, he was set for life. However, he decided to teach, and to teach English.

Given his qualifications he could have gone to teach in some of the best schools in the country but he chose a school that was recruiting dynamic young teachers in a poor part of south London.

The school population at the time was hitting 2000 pupils. There were on average 38 kids in each classroom. Some of the kids, despite being 13 or 14 years old, could barely read or write. The education policy at the time was against streaming. The classes were mixed-ability classes. Some of the kids were frustrated because the lessons were too difficult, others were bored because the lessons were too easy. Controlling the class was a challenge. Nick, being young and enthusiastic, did not give up.

He took a lot of abuse from some the students because of his appearance but he would laugh it off in good humour.

When he taught English he would bring the lessons alive and captivate the class. He told amazing stories with passion and wit. His pay was low, as he was a newly-qualified teacher, but he would work long hours and was always there for his students if they needed help with homework or with understanding concepts he introduced.

One of his students particularly struggled. He came from a family where books and learning were not a priority. There was no big library at home. But Nick saw promise. He helped this student.

At the age of 15 this student was preparing for his O’ levels. There were a million things happening in his life. And he wasn’t particularly motivated. Nick encouraged him nevertheless. But the student failed his exams.

Nick did not give up on his student. He encouraged him to retake his O’ levels and this time the student passed – just. The student then started his A’ levels and stayed on in the school. Nick was there by his side. They prepared for the exam but again there were distractions in the young lad’s life.

He had his first relationship break up at the age of 16 from the love of his life, went into a depression and by the time of his exams failed them. Nick was again there and helped the young man and encouraged him to try again. He re-took his exams and this time passed. He managed to get into university and decided to read law. In college he went from strength to strength.

By now his life had stabilised and when he eventually graduated in 1984 he came second in his year. The young man never forgot the kindness and the service this teacher gave him. It was service beyond the call of duty.

That young man stands before you today, those events happened 35 years ago.

Nicolas was my teacher.

I’m sure many of you had such a mentor or teacher in your life. This is not just someone doing a job but truly going that extra mile.

This is what service to others truly means: –

When you decided to come to the Bar, you had your reasons for choosing this great and rewarding profession. Now I don’t know what motivated you.

For some it would have been a desire to represent certain clients, for others it would have been the desire to do certain types of legal work.

Some would have chosen this career path for the independence it offers, others still because of status and maybe for some of you because it was expected of you and others made the choice that you went along with either willingly or less so.

Perhaps it was or is the career many in your family have done before and you were expected to continue a family tradition. And yes there are even those amongst us who decided to come to the Bar to make a ton of money.

For some you will be the first in your family to follow this career path. Just as we are all unique and different it is also a fact that the reasons for any of us doing this job are too numerous to be able to make assumptions or value judgments about.

But regardless of what that driver is for you to choose law, we all have a common purpose. A golden thread that unites us all.

We all provide service.

We serve others with the various unique gifts and talents we have in the study and practice of law.

In the story I told about Nick the service given was special and unique, it went beyond the call of duty.

How many of us think like that every time we open a set of papers or meet a new client?

When you remind yourself, you chose a profession where our main goal is to serve.

So what are you doing to serve the community and society that rewards you with so many of the riches one can ever hope for, from this calling that so many other people in our society can only envy?

Understand this, I do not judge any of you for whatever reason or reasons motivated you. That doesn’t matter. We are all different and we have different drivers which propel us along in life. But as I look out to you all today I want to pose a question to each and every one of you.

What will be my legacy? Is that a vain thing to think about? Should you be more humble than thinking about leaving a legacy? But thinking to yourself how you would like to be remembered is important.

I do not think it harms to ask “Will I be remembered for the service I provided?”

Ask yourself this, in 30 – 40 years’ time, when you have reached the pinnacle of your career, how do you want others to remember you?

How do you want your loved ones to remember you?

And when you look even further into the future, because I sincerely wish each and everyone here a long, happy and prosperous life, as you reach the end of your days what is the epitaph that others will write about you?

So here’s my challenge to you today.

Why not mould and fashion that legacy now?  Write your epitaph now.

You see no-one really wants to be remembered simply because they made a ton of money for themselves. As social beings we don’t want to be remembered as being mean-spirited or selfish.

There is so much more to life and life at the Bar than that. We have the power to do great things. Why do you think nearly every millionaire, or I should say billionaire, in the world today is making efforts to being remembered not simply because of the ton of money they made in their lifetime but for other reasons? Bill Gates, George Soros, Mark Zuckerberg and many others have set up foundations to do great things with the cash they made in life.

What’s this got to do with you?

Now I don’t care what law you are doing. I don’t care how you got here. I don’t care whether you struggled to get here from a poor background and suffered unspeakable hardships in your journey here, or from the age of three your pathway had already been carved out for you because you were lucky enough to be born into wealth.

We are all here today and we are all equal in that we are all members of the same profession, we are all learned in the law. We have earned that right, that respect, to be called counsel.

And with that right, with our skills, there is much we can do to improve and assist the lot of others.

How many of us genuinely take the time out of our busy practices with the transferable talents we have to help others, those with greater needs or less fortunate than ourselves?

And I’m not talking about doing the odd pro bono case, although that is a worthy cause and a good start.

Will you be so consumed by work that you never think of others?

Take time to visit the local state school in your area and offer to speak to the children there. Now I’m not just talking about great schools I’m talking about the schools that maybe struggling, the schools that maybe you were fortunate not to go to because they lacked resources, had oversized classes and children from impoverished backgrounds.

Perhaps such schools are alien to you. Maybe such a school is not in the area where you live. But that is even more of a reason to visit such a school.

Perhaps the kids there look nothing like you.

Live nothing like you.

Speak nothing like you.

Maybe they pray to different gods, eat different foods and are culturally strange.

But by offering your time, being prepared to serve them with your knowledge of this fine profession, by showing that you care, offering you time, perhaps organising an hour of your time to explain why you do what you do and how it fits into the grander scheme of things, you touch a younger life.

You may well trigger an interest in the law.

And who knows, a kid from a completely different walk of life might think to him/herself that what you do is so cool, so great, so interesting that they become inspired and you spark that interest that they want to follow in your footsteps.

And wouldn’t it be great if we all contributed to the introduction of new diverse talent into our noble profession? Wouldn’t it be wonderful you took that time?

Wouldn’t it be amazing if we all made that effort?

And I am talking about reaching out to young children who are our future, not just teenagers in Year 10, but the little ones. Year 7 is a good place to start. Because there is enough time for them to be inspired early enough to re-set their course to do what we do.

Anyone who has experience of young kids knows that they are curious and have heroes.

Why not be a hero in a wig?

But why limit our talents to the very young? I actually think our skill-set can be offered across the spectrum of society.

Grassroots organisations and charities which struggle to find good people on their boards and management committees.

Providing assistance to those who are elderly and perhaps what we know might be useful to them.

We are good with the spoken and written word. It’s what we do. Why not give a gift of our skills to benefit someone less fortunate who may need our help? And you know why you should. You’ll feel great. You’ll glow. It’s magical how those small generous gifts to others make what we do seem more meaningful.

We are in a thinking and creative profession, that is what we do.

So we should constantly be asking, “what can I do?”

We should not fall into the trap and think, “I can’t make a difference, so I will just do the day job, I will just earn my money. I am just here for me.”

Thinking about what we can all do to make a change reminds me of the quote,

“You just need to be a flea against injustice. Enough committed fleas biting strategically can make even the biggest dog uncomfortable…” Marian Edelman

Diversity 

A question I am often asked is “Have you suffered discrimination, or felt the effect of racism in this profession?’”

And it’s a really interesting question – but more interesting is who is asking the question and why. Why interesting? Because would that person ask that question if I was a white person who he’d just met? And when you stop and analyse the question and the questioner, it’s not an excuse to say, well, Leslie, he (or she) is just trying to get to know you and is just curious.

The questioner needs to think and ask themselves and answer truthfully, would you ask it of anybody at the Bar?

And, if the answer is no, why not, why would you limit that question to somebody who is a person of colour?

Granted, if asked that question you may well have a different answer if you were a white man or a woman.

I very much doubt that a room full of white men, on the management committees of certain chambers or law firms which are predominantly white, usually ask that question of themselves.

Maybe there could be questions such as, “do you think we discriminate in our recruitment?”  Or, “what more could we do to get our diversity numbers up?”

But here’s the thing, asking the question, “what can we do to improve the diversity situation in our organisation or profession?” is a loaded question.

It’s a loaded question because the precursor question must be, why?

Asking why is such a powerful question.  If you understand the ‘why’ that is the key, for potentially long-lasting and effective change.

So why should we want to change?

Why should we make our profession more diverse?

What is in it for me?

What is in it for us?

Now let’s think about this, if you are one of the over-represented groups in the profession you are in a position of privilege and power, like it or not, and there is an obvious natural tendency to think of increased diversity as a decrease in ‘us’.  Therefore what is the case for change?  It will need to be a very powerful one because it is a normal thing to want to keep things as they are. But regardless of where you come from, or on which side of the divide you fall, or what your current demographic representation is in our profession, diversity benefits us all.

You see, I believe if you understand this, you understand the heart of the problem in our profession.

So it is our job to understand and make the argument for change.

So what is the case for change?

One of the best articles and arguments I’ve seen for diversity comes from one of a series of articles from a New Zealand lawyer and mediator Paul Sills

He argues the following:-

  1. People have diverse aptitudes and skills, whether based on their cultural backgrounds or different fields of interest. It is beneficial to have individuals with various talents, whether in a group, company or social setting.
  2. Diversity encourages individuals to embrace some of the qualities of humanism, not necessarily as a religious or philosophical policy, but rather as a way of relating to others.
  3. By learning about and understanding the different traditions of a friend or work colleague we can become more sensitive to those traditions.
  4. “You cannot solve a problem from the same level of thinking that created it” (Einstein). Different backgrounds and cultures approach conflict in different ways. People with diverse backgrounds can provide insight on new approaches to address difficult moral or other dilemmas.
  5. Diversity educates us. We learn about the traditions of other “tribes” through formal education and life experience and, in doing so, find it more difficult to judge people from those tribes.
  6. Research shows that productivity flourishes in culturally diverse cities and that people are willing to pay to live and work in such fertile environments. The mind expands when encountering modes of thinking that differ from its own. Diversity provides innovation which in turn propels economic growth.
  7. The diversity that globalisation has brought into the world’s most cosmopolitan cities offers tangible benefits – for personal development, communities and the economy as a whole. For people who appreciate cultural diversity and want to live in tolerant, open societies, the vibrancy of major cities like London, New York and Melbourne is a major attraction. Diversity thus acts as a magnet for talent, which in turn further spurs economic growth.
  8. Diversity broadens the range of cultural experiences available in a city or country. The mingling of cultures through immigration leads to distinctive innovation. People are now interested in new holistic approaches to issues that blend Eastern and Western influences, spirituality and quantum physics, ancient wisdom and modern theories.

Sills concludes that:-

“People who have grown up in multicultural societies often find it not only normal but desirable to live with people of different backgrounds. Diversity is not merely tolerated, but something to be actively sought out.” https://www.lawsociety.org.nz/practice-resources/practice-areas/mediation/embracing-diversity .

Paul Sills is a lawyer is prepared to take a different road.  His arguments are powerful and persuasive.

We all have to embrace these arguments.

My biggest fear though is at times these arguments are not presented and argued in a convincing way.  This leads to push back or a reluctance. Sometimes you can see eyes just glazing over as if this is just politically-correct talk.  But it is so much more than this.  You see, we will only just tinker around the edges and never create real, lasting or substantial change unless we change our mindset.  We should not look at diversity as something just to be tolerated, as Sills says, it is to be embraced.

So let us all make the case for change and recognise that is also being able to convince others. It is a less travelled road, but one worth running down.

Leaving a legacy

“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference” Robert Frost

This keynote address was delivered by Leslie Thomas QC (Joint Head of Garden Court Chambers) to the delegates at the Annual Bar and Young Bar Conference 2018. 

The Case for Justice

Justice for all.

Those three words are at the centre of the Bar Council’s logo, and they are at the centre of what the Bar Council tries to achieve. They are not a statement of reality. They are a challenge to those of us who try to represent this profession, they are an aspiration. But over the past years the gap between the aspiration and the reality has widened. Now more than ever, the importance of access to justice, of access to proper legal representation, of the need for corrections to the iniquities of our struggling system, must be re-emphasised. In short, the case for justice must be made once again.

I’d like to welcome the announcement that I’ve just heard from the Lord Chancellor. That is a positive first step, and the comments he has made about the future are encouraging. The case I make for justice is about that future – and the next steps along the way.

I make this case in defence of the public interest, rather than from a standpoint of any particular self-interest. In my day to day practice I am at the Commercial Bar, in an area of law that the Government is rather keen on. But not everyone can pick and choose where they wish to litigate or arbitrate. Most of you practise in areas where the law rudely intrudes into the lives of your clients, your witnesses, your affected parties, at a time and place of its choosing, and if you’re unlucky enough to find yourself in a court centre which is a couple of judges short, potentially it intrudes at several times and in several places in succession. As anyone who has read the Secret Barrister will know, in these areas, the case for justice must be remade.

Barristers from all across the Bar need to stand with our most junior practitioners at the publicly funded Bar as they try to find their feet, build their practices, and defend our most vital interests on little money and even less sleep.

And outside of the Inns and the Circuits, that view should not be a matter of partisan political persuasion either.

In the Legal Aid debates in the late 1940s the great legal statesmen of the age, Labour’s Sir Hartley Shawcross and the Conservative Sir David Maxwell Fyfe, were not divided in point of principle. Is that really surprising? Let’s put it in today’s terms. What could be more Conservative than support for a key aspect of the rule of law and proper access to justice, concepts which have been over 800 years in the making? If the justice system works properly, does it not help those who are just about managing, and if it works badly, does it not hinder them? And the same for Labour. Shouldn’t access to justice and proper legal representation be something that is for the many and not just the few? Does it not contribute to levelling the playing field between the disadvantaged and the privileged? Is it not a means by which the powerful can be held to account?

Now you’ve all heard the Attorney in fine voice this morning. I mean if the Bar Choral Society is ever short a baritone – well, they know who to call. But Mr Attorney we need you to lend your advocacy to the cause of the Justice System, both in Cabinet and during the 2019 Spending Review. As a practical point – and it is not necessarily widely known – the Attorney is currently seeking to dissolve the National Fund, a charity set up some hundred years ago to serve the national interest through the well-intentioned but ultimately futile aim of paying off the entirety of the UK’s National Debt. The Fund is about £450 million – a drop in the ocean for the Department of Work and Pensions, or the NHS, but an absolute lifeline for the Justice System. So when it’s paid back into central funds, make the case for the same amount to be released by the Treasury to the Ministry of Justice.

Put £100 million into the crumbling court estate, which, as the Lord Chief Justice has said this week, is desperately needed. Some of the places that people most enjoy working – think Google – have a real commitment to high quality workspaces, breakout areas and cafeterias, because they recognise the positive impact it has on wellbeing and productivity. Why should our Courts be any different? At a minimum, out of order bathrooms and leaking roofs must surely be considered unacceptable. Value the people, who day in and day out, provide an essential public service.

And on that question of value, commit the remainder of the funds towards increasing the pay of the publicly funded Bar. As I said at the start, what the Lord Chancellor has announced just now in relation to Criminal Defence funding and its targeting at the most junior is welcome. Nevertheless, I have heard the passionate, persuasive, articulate voices of our most junior criminal practitioners – and they all agree that that there is much more work to be done to ensure a sustainable, long term career for them. To know that this is not just a problem for the Bar, one only has to look at the Law Society’s quite frankly frightening heat map, showing the swiftly dwindling numbers and aging profile of our country’s Duty Solicitors – the vital first point of contact for independent legal advice if you are accused of committing a crime.

The question we have to ask ourselves is what we think that a justice system should provide, and the economic question is whether the money that is being spent generates value – which is not always measured in monetary terms. The social aspects of advice and intervention before it’s too late, the constitutional aspects of counterbalancing the power of the state, ensuring the right to a fair trial and maintaining continued confidence that the legal system works justice and not injustice, are not easily costed, but are of central importance to the fabric of our society.

But even with a narrow monetary focus, restoring funding to the types of areas affected by LASPO could deliver longer term savings. Small scale studies indicate that for every pound spend on legal aid, more than a pound is saved elsewhere, in terms of spend on social housing, health, local authorities and so on. The World Bank is currently running an initiative with the International Bar Association across a number of countries to look at these benefits and value the positive externalities in more detail. The Ministry of Justice should be leading on this kind of research – commissioning it, supporting it, demonstrating to the Treasury that when the longer term view is taken, it is a case of spending more money now to save public money later.

I do not suggest that there are any easy answers. There may be things that we as a profession can do better, or adapt for the modern age, which may ultimately reduce cost. But they cannot be done unthinkingly – disruption is all very well as an aim for a technology company, but it sits uneasily with a system of common law and constitutional tradition based on incremental development and change. We must not lose sight of the fact that efficiency and greater use of technology are not ends in themselves, but should be seen as ways of supporting and bolstering our most basic and cherished principles. The problems we face are too big and the issues at stake are too important for resolution by crisis-driven negotiations or short term budget cycles. After a further injection of funds for the short to medium term, one way to consider the long term solutions available would be a Royal Commission chaired by a senior retired judge, coupled with a commitment by the major parties to enact its recommendations.

There is now a small window of opportunity. We have a former Chief Secretary to the Treasury as Lord Chancellor and a former Lord Chancellor as Chief Secretary to the Treasury. We have a Legal Aid Minister who was a practising QC. If, like me, they want to see a future legal profession that promotes diversity, social mobility and talent, that retains people as they progress, and which does its level best to provide justice for all – and from what I’ve heard just now, I believe that they do want that – then they must make the case for better justice funding more vocally; now, through the Spending Review and beyond.

Because when it comes down to it, there is not simply a Conservative case for justice or a Labour case for justice. There is not simply an economic case for justice or a social case for justice. There is not simply a constitutional case for justice. There is a single compelling case for justice of which these are all but individual threads. It is a case which every single person in this room, every single person at the Bar, every single person on the Roll, and every single person in society at large needs to understand, and needs to be making. Lord Chancellor, Mr Attorney, Madam Shadow Attorney – join us, and make that case with us.

This address was delivered by Richard Hoyle aka @Barrickster (Chair of the Young Barristers’ Committee of the Bar Council of England and Wales) to the delegates at the Annual Bar and Young Bar Conference 2018. 

Young Bar Pro Bono Champions

In November 2017, the Young Barristers’ Committee teamed up with the Bar Pro Bono Unit to recognise and celebrate the pro bono efforts of five young barristers. Read their stories below:

[pdf-embedder url=”https://youngbarhub.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/Combined-Summary-and-Certificates.pdf” title=”Young Bar Pro Bono Certificates”]

The state of the Criminal Justice System

 

The Young Barristers’ Committee (YBC) supports the position of the Criminal Bar Association (CBA) in relation to funding under the new Advocates Graduated Fee Scheme (AGFS) and the state of the Criminal Justice System.

The Young Barristers’ Committee further endorses the statements made by the Bar Council of England & Wales and the Young Legal Aid Lawyers. Read the full YBC AGFS statement here.

Anglo Dutch Exchange 2018

Welkom bij Londen.

The Anglo-Dutch Exchange 2018 is past its 50th year, and is one of the longest standing bilateral international legal exchange programmes in the World.

The intention of the Anglo-Dutch Exchange (ADE) is to give Dutch lawyers an insight into the British legal system. This includes tours of Criminal and Civil Courts, lunch at the Inns of Court’s fine dining halls, drinks receptions at some of the biggest and most lavish law firms in the Capital, as well as a tour of one of the 5 Circuits to see what life and practice outside of the City is really all about.  Do not fear, it wont all be work-work-work; incoming delegates will also have an opportunity to sample London’s finest (including its infamous nightlife) bars and restaurants in the evenings, after the drinks receptions. 

There will also be an opportunity for Dutch lawyers to explore London, and then take the time to get ready for the highlight of the week: a Black Tie Gala dinner on the final night.

We would welcome applications from barristers who are interested in hosting young Dutch lawyers during their stay in the UK. Please complete and return the attached ADE 2018 Application Form to YBC@BarCouncil.org.uk.

The ADE 2018 Committee are currently working on a brilliant programme for the Dutch lawyers, and would welcome your thoughts on what might be worthwhile and of benefit to them, during their visit. Please feel free to share your thoughts via email: YBC@BarCouncil.org.uk

Met de beste wensen

ADE 2018 Committee