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.

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.

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.

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. 

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.

Continue reading Primed & Ready: Q&A with Penny Haslam

Anglo-Dutch Exchange: 50 Years On

I decided to sign up to the Anglo-Dutch Exchange after receiving an enthusiastic email from one of my old pupil supervisors. In his email, he encouraged junior members of my chambers to consider the trip, having attended the exchange and hosted Dutch lawyers in the past.

Unbeknownst to me, it was the 50th anniversary of the Exchange. I was excited, partly because I had no idea of what to expect, and partly because I had never been to The Netherlands.

On arrival at Schipol Airport in Amsterdam, I met members of the Anglo-Dutch Exchange Organising Committee and fellow English lawyers. We travelled to Loyens and Loeff, a law firm in Amsterdam. This was my first visit to a Dutch law firm, and this law firm was extremely impressive. Through the modern reception area was central space with a glass ceiling, wooden accents and green plants lining the walls. I made my way to the back room to meet the rest of the delegates, Loyens & Loeff lawyers, and the Anglo-Dutch Exchange Organising Committee. The setup of this room gave us all an opportunity to network, and the fact there was a bar serving drinks didn’t hurt. It was also my first opportunity to try typical Dutch snacks and started my love affair with bitterballen; a meat and potato ball, covered with breadcrumbs and deep fried. I also tried herring for the first time, which was surprisingly tasty, and had lots of raw meat and cheese.

We then made our way to our hosts for dinner; some of whom were in Amsterdam, while others were in Rotterdam or The Hague.

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Day two was spent in Rotterdam; a very modern city, in comparison. Our tour of the city started at the Port of Rotterdam. We were kindly given an interesting lecture by the Head of the Legal Department Mr. Frans van Zoelen, and his associates. We then travelled to Euromast by water taxi, which is now my favourite way to travel. We had lunch at Euromast, an observation tower, which commanded impressive views of the city.

After lunch we went to the Court of Rotterdam; the only court in the Netherlands which allows proceedings to be conducted in English. We were given a talk by two judges about the Dutch legal system. This talk was particularly interesting because it highlighted the similarities and differences with the Dutch legal system and the system in England and Wales. One example of the differences was the need for parties to have lawyers in order to present their case and the limits on litigants-in-person. We were then given a tour of the building, which concluded with a trip to the cells. This was very familiar for me, as a barrister with a criminal practice,  but this was the first experience for some of the other delegates.

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We then made our way to the Royal Maas Yacht Club for a lecture by Conway & Partners law firm on arbitration, followed by drinks and Dutch canapes. The lecture was interesting whilst the Club afforded spectacular views of the river.

We had dinner at Tenn Holter Noordam Advocaten law firm and had drinks with the Rotterdam Young Bar Association. Members of the Young Bar Association were very welcoming and this  gave us an opportunity to chat and network with our Dutch counterparts.

Day three started in the historical city of The Hague.We met with an enthusiastic tour guide who gave us a stimulating tour of the city and the no so amicable history of Anglo-Dutch relations. Lunch was at Wladimiroff Advocaten, a boutique law firm in a beautiful building. Lawyers from the law firm kindly joined us for lunch, which gave us an opportunity to get to know them and learn about the work that they do.

After lunch, we headed to the Supreme Court, where we were greeted by a man who showed us to the cloakroom area. He waited patiently while we deposited our coats and jackets, and took various selfies. I soon came to realise that he was none other than the President of the Supreme Court! The President took us on a tour of the impressive offices, and even allowed us into his room, before sitting with us in the canteen. He welcomed our questions, of which there were many, and answered them in such an honest and inspiring way. The President’s generosity with both his time and hospitality was humbling and greatly appreciated by us all.

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We then attended the office of Pels Rijcken & Droogleeven Fortuijn; a law firm specialising in government defence work. We were given a fascinating talk about the Urgenda climate case, in which the district court of The Hague in 2015 ordered the Dutch government to reduce its greenhouse emissions in The Netherlands by 25% in comparison to 1990. The case raised a number of issues in relation to the applicability of international treaties and conventions to domestic law, and the ability for citizens and NGOs to rely on international law.

Bird & Bird treated us to a fabulous reception with many traditional Dutch foods. Here, I continued my love affair with bitterballen, whilst trying other Dutch dishes and meeting the amazing lawyers there.

The final day started off with a guided tour of the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. The tour guide took us on an Anglo-Dutch themed tour of the museum, which gave us an interesting insight into historical Anglo-Dutch relations.

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Despite having three and a half hours of personal leisure time planned, we couldn’t help but eat lunch together, cementing our bond. Jealousy also ensued when it took an extraordinary amount of time for half of our group to receive their meal. I kindly shared my bitterballen with the some of the starving group, grateful that my meal had arrived promptly.

We had a lecture at De Breij Evers Boon law firm, who gave us a quiz in order to test our knowledge of the Dutch legal system. We were treated to drinks and canapes by the law firm which were greatly received.

On the final part of our trip, we had a fantastic dinner at the Royal Institute of Tropics with our hosts. The venue was spectacular, the food was amazing and the company was impeccable. Our last stop was a bar for drinks, where some of us danced the night away. Some took the party further and allegedly stayed out until 7am. I, sadly, had a 08:50am flight to catch in order to attend my chambers AGM.

All in all, the Anglo-Dutch Exchange was an unforgettable experience for which I feel privileged to have been a part of. A huge thank you to the Committee in The Netherlands for organising such an informative and pleasurable trip.

Natasha Shotunde

Barrister, 5 St. Andrew’s Hill

Natasha Shotunde is a young barrister who accepts instructions in landlord and tenant, civil, family, crime and extradition at 5 St Andrew’s Hill.

Young Barristers take the IBA Conference 2016

I attended the International Bar Association Conference in Washington D.C. in September 2016. I was able to attend the event thanks to the Bar Council and the Criminal Bar Association International Legal and Professional Development Grant.

The IBA conference took place over five days and 7,000 delegates were in attendance. It was an opportunity to hear from leaders in the field, as well as to network with lawyers from around the world.

The keynote speaker for the Opening Ceremony was Christine Lagarde, Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund, who addressed the conference on corruption. She said: “Enhancing integrity in public and private sector governance is critical in mending the trust divide we see in societies today.” The Welcome Party was held in the Air and Space Museum and the Native American History Museum – where the networking began in earnest.

20160919_232849733_iosAs the conference was held in Washington, there was an address from a high ranking member of the American government every day. We heard from Colin Powell, former Secretary of State; Loretta Lynch, Attorney General of the USA who was speaking only days after the shootings in North Carolina; Jeh Johnson, Head of Homeland Security; and Tina Tchen, Chief of Staff to the First Lady. The week concluded with a symposium where Justice Kennedy of the United States Supreme Court, addressed the conference on the rule of law.

Seminars were held throughout the day, covering every practice area of law imaginable. Some of the highlights for me were the IBA Human Rights Institute’s forum, which debated the human rights issues in the USA and drafted a letter to the next President of the United States; the War Crimes Committee mock trial on whether the USA had failed international justice by not signing up to the ICC; and the Family Law Committee’s session on the Rights of the Child. It was incredibly interesting to be discussing international law with people at the height of their practice, who were eager to learn best practice from other countries. It was quite startling to realise the esteem in which Barristers from England and Wales are held – even if, as in my case, they are only a few years into their careers.

20160921_103735000_iosIn the evenings, there were a large number of cocktail parties and receptions hosted by different jurisdictions, firms and organisations. The Bar Council, along with the Faculty of Advocates in Scotland, and the Bars of Northern Ireland and Ireland, hosted a reception at the British Ambassador’s residence. The aim of which was to promote the UK as an attractive jurisdiction to work in, and to litigate in. Initially, the networking seemed a little intense but because everyone else was there for the same purpose, it became very natural to introduce myself and hand out business cards after exchanging information.

The closing party at the National Portrait Gallery gave everyone a chance to enjoy themselves with food and wine whilst being surrounded by the portraits of American Presidents. Most delegates were there to meet lawyers from other jurisdictions who they could work with and receive referrals from.

20160920_035338000_iosThe Bar Council and the Young Barristers’ Committee were very active throughout the conference. Not only did they host the reception at the British Embassy, but they also met with other countries’ respective delegations in order to promote England and Wales as a place to do business. There was a small and diverse group of young barristers from England and Wales who tried to meet with as many different people as possible, and to soak up the expertise from the global leaders in our respective fields. It is very encouraging that the Bar has such a confidence in the Young Bar that it seeks to encourage and support young barristers at international events.

I would strongly encourage anyone considering international practice to attend an international conference as it really opens your eyes to the work and the opportunities which are available, and the career you may wish to build. The conference was a good reminder about the importance of the rule of law, and the vital role lawyers play in our societies and in the world.

Katherine Duncan

Barrister, 5 St. Andrew’s Hill

Katherine Duncan is a young barrister specialising in family, criminal and public law at 5 St Andrew’s Hill.

What does the future hold for the Young Bar? A Family Law perspective

When I was looking for pupillage, which is longer ago than I care to think about (1983), I was repeatedly told by everyone in the profession that getting taken on in chambers and establishing a practice was extremely difficult. I can still remember thinking that quite a few people had achieved it, and why should it not be me? I also remember responding in an interview to the standard question as to why I wanted to become a barrister by saying, amongst other things that I thought that being a barrister would be fun.  Lucky for me (because that would have been thought a frivolous answer by many an interviewer), that answer struck a chord with the panel.

Although the work we do can be very challenging, and at times extremely emotional if you are a family lawyer, some 33 years later I believe that my early sense that the Bar would be an enjoyable career, and where success was eminently achievable, was right. There is nothing like fighting a case on behalf of a client, and nothing like doing your very best to persuade a tribunal to make the decision for which you are advocating. In family law (and no doubt in other fields as well) there is also the greatest satisfaction in team work and negotiation.

One of the biggest difficulties faced by the would-be young barrister is financial. Although some scholarships are available from the Inns, it is likely that many a talented graduate is put off by the thought ever more debt. Although the profession is acutely aware of this, the engagement of the junior bar in helping to advise as to practical solutions is crucial for those who follow..

If the individual manages to surmount the difficulties – and is prepared to persist, I am convinced that the Bar remains a very worthwhile career.  Of course it is not for everyone. There are some who will find that the unpredictability and lack of stability are too hard to manage, and will leave the Bar to become employed.

For those who wish to remain at the Bar and to concentrate on family law, there are significant challenges. Not least is the future of publicly funded work.  During the course of my career I have seen a reduction in publicly funded fee levels, a raising of the threshold for obtaining public funded, and now the abolition of public funding in most private law family cases. No doubt there will be more cuts, more changes.

The answer to these challenges, in my view, is for the young barrister to make sure of striking a balance in the work that he or she does and to be alive to new areas of work that are developing. I suspect this is true in whatever specialism, but in family law, even if you have a desire to confine yourself to a particular field in the long run, there is a great deal to be said for being willing to do what you are given within the first few years of your practice (within reason of course). Even if you want to be a money practitioner, it will improve your advocacy skills to do public law work.  If you enjoy public law work (and I speak as someone who very much does), you should do other things too. There is a huge amount of private law children litigation in the courts, for example. Although many litigants are driven to representing themselves there is a significant group who will wish to be represented as long as they can be reasonably certain of the cost.  The junior bar will benefit from this, especially those qualified for public access.  International work is a growing area (and Brexit is likely to add to this), and so is surrogacy. Many say that family lawyers should become more involved in Court of Protection cases.  By doing a variety of work you will not only gain in skills and insight, but you will be better protected if a particular type of work disappears through a change in the law or the government removes certain work from the scope of public funding.  Advocacy, negotiation and problem solving are desirable and adaptable skills.

Finally, be prepared to get things wrong and to make mistakes without feeling as if it is the end of the world. It is inevitable that some cases will go well and less not. It is part of a process of learning in a difficult job, and everyone does it. The important thing is to learn from it, and then to take that forward to the next case.

Frances Judd QC, Vice-Chairman of the Family Law Bar Association (FLBA) and a barrister at Harcourt Chambers.

 Frances Judd QC is a barristers at Harcourt Chambers. She is Vice-Chairman of the Family Law Bar Association (FLBA) and is a Deputy in the High Court.

 

The Bar’s Eye on Brexit

The Bar Council was neutral as to the result of the EU Referendum. It limited its activities to producing a hugely informative set of notes on the consequences of either an ‘in’ or ‘out’ vote. If you want to understand the potential ramifications for the referendum vote you could do a lot worse than read these papers, which can be found here:

Where the Bar Council is emphatically not neutral, is in the view that it needs to do whatever it can to help the profession to mitigate the risks and take advantage of the opportunities of the Brexit vote. That is why the Bar Council has established a Brexit Working Group, the remit of which is to do just that. I am the Young Bar representative on that group.

However, before the Brexit working group can march off confidently in the direction of helping the profession, it is of course important to work out what the profession actually wants. To this end an open meeting was held at Serle Court in Lincoln’s Inn to garner views from the profession. The meeting was very well attended, with people travelling from all over the country. A huge number of issues were identified, but a number of key priorities emerged.

First, the Bar Council must do its utmost to ensure that those who practice EU Law and who, for example, exercise practicing rights in the Court of Justice of the European Union by virtue of the UK’s membership of the EU, can continue to practice EU Law and exercise those rights.

Second, the Bar Council must seek to ensure that the issues of jurisdiction, the enforcement of judgments and other such matters are appropriately dealt with in a way which serves the interests of justice and the profession.

Third, the Bar Council must do all it can to make sure that the Bar is well placed to take advantage of the considerable amounts of work which will be generated by Brexit, particularly in government.

Many important consequences for domestic law were also identified. However, it was thought that it is important that work is not duplicated across the profession and much of this work is already being undertaken by specialist bar associations, who are in any event better placed to carry out such work. The role of the Brexit Working Group will be to coordinate these efforts, if required, and to identify gaps in the work being done.

If you would like feed in your views in relation to any of the priorities identified above, or if you think further priorities need to be considered, please email the group at  brexitwg@barcouncil.org.uk.

Duncan McCombe – Vice Chairman of the Young Barristers’ Committee