Day in the Life of…Katie Cromwell

Katie Cromwell

Katie Cromwell, Institute of Barristers’ Clerks (IBC) Representative Member of the Young Barristers’ Committee  

Chambers: Keating Chambers

Role: Practice Manager

My alarm goes off at 5.30am because I have to be at a meeting of The Institute of Barristers’ Clerks (IBC) at 8am, I was co-opted on to the IBC Committee 4 years ago as a graduate clerk, and subsequently joined the Education Committee. The education of clerks is important to me and I am always thinking about seminars I think might be valuable to both junior and more senior clerks.  After the Management Committee meeting, those of us on the committee for the annual IBC Conference stay behind to discuss the conference content, sponsorship and the general logistics.

I arrive at chambers at around 10am, and having checked and prioritised emails on the train, deal with the ones that cannot wait. Being a clerk requires exceptional organisational skills because whilst there is an element of routine and planning to the job, a lot of what we do is reactionary and we can never be in control of how thick and fast emails and calls come in on a given day.

Today I have taken a call from a solicitor who needs urgent advice from a junior this afternoon in respect of enforcing an adjudication, July is a particularly difficult month for a clerk as barristers disappear on holiday or put down the shutters ahead of vacation, thankfully I find someone with the requisite availability, although slightly out of the price range of the solicitor. With some creative clerking, we settle on a fixed fee for the job and everyone is happy. Not all calls from solicitors are work related.  Having spent several years building relationships, a solicitor I know well calls to ask if I can obtain a ticket to an industry event held by an organisation she does not happen to be a member of, I ask a favour from a barrister who is a member and call a very happy solicitor to confirm the ticket is on its way.

Whilst it is traditional for most clerks to dine “Al Desko”, proper lunch times are actively encouraged at my new set and so I catch up with a clerk from my old chambers. Maintaining a network of clerk contacts is vitally important, you never know when you might need a favour and since the world of clerking is small and tight knit, your peers are an invaluable source of advice, wisdom and of course, favours.

After lunch the Senior Practice Manager and I have a Practice Development Meeting with a Senior Silk. This particular Silk is well established and so the meeting is easy. We discuss the work done so far, the aged debt, as well as the various reports for marketing and distribution of work.  We also discuss the work the Silk would like to obtain over the coming year and the steps we can all take to make that happen. Practice Development Meetings at Silk level take place around once a year.

The afternoon brings more dealing with emails and calls, placing cases and confirming that each barrister has all the information they need for the following day, as well as following up on enquiries that have not yet landed. In the evening, I will often have drinks with a client, or perhaps attend a seminar with one of my barristers. Depending on the client, these can sometimes be very late nights. I find that having a drink with a client cements relationships in a way that isn’t possible over the phone. Knowing your client’s personality and expectations is every bit as important as knowing your barristers.

If I am not conducting business development, I can usually be found on the netball court or catching up with friends. After nearly a decade of clerking, I am used to a fast-paced life and am not very good at sitting still, however, in the moments when I do, maybe at lunchtime in Fountain Court, I am always very grateful that I get to do this wonderful job which is every bit as rewarding as it is difficult.

Day in the Life of…Michael Jones

Michael Jones - Deans Court Chambers

Michael Jones, Member of the Young Barristers’ Committee  

Chambers: Deans Court Chambers (Manchester)

Year of Call: 2008

Practice Area: Family law (children- public and private), Court of Protection

My day usually starts about 6.30am depending on where I am in court (if I am travelling further afield it may be earlier), as a general rule I don’t tend to work early mornings (I prefer to do late nights), so I will usually try to go for a run, maybe go to the gym on my way to Court (my single concession to exercise).

Court hearings in family cases tend to start at 10am, with parties at court for 9am, so I am usually at wherever I need to be at 9am to meet my client. Family lawyers will tell you that it is normally a case of meeting the client, going through any bits of evidence they may not have seen, providing advice and taking instructions. The majority of my work involves public law care proceedings, so my client may be a parent or a child, on the other hand it may be a local authority. After discussing matters with the client it is then a case of going to meet the other lawyers and having further discussions.

It is rare that everyone is geared up and ready to go for 10am, so often it may be a little later before we are ready or get called into court. Hearings can last for any amount of time – the phrase, “how long is a piece of string” is probably apt in describing how long the average hearing in a care case lasts. It can range from 30 minutes to well over an hour, or even hours if a matter is contested.

Sometimes I will have one case, sometimes two or three. Today I had one hearing in the morning, got into court at 10.45am, finished around 12.50pm. I was acting for a local authority so I needed to take around an hour after the hearing drafting an order and attendance note.

I managed to get back to chambers by 3pm and collect my papers for the next day (two cases for local authorities, one having about an inch of papers, the other 3 lever arch files full of papers).

So I am home for 4pm, where I begin prep for the next day – I do one case at a time, read the papers, draft a case summary and order – I take a break for about 90 minutes at 6pm to have something to eat (I missed lunch today – hazard of the job, any family barrister must always ensure an appropriate supply of flapjack and sports/energy bars are kept in the glove compartment of any motor vehicle they own). I finished work at about 10.30pm, then check my emails…..I have 17 emails!

Emails range from requests from the client for advice on some issues that cropped up at court today, to requested amendments to today’s order from other parties. I amend today’s order, send an email to the judge, then respond to the other emails in my inbox.

By 11.30pm I am in bed, comatose after a long day.

Some days vary – sometimes I am finished by 12 noon and finish work by 5pm – these days are rare, but it can happen.

Peaks: any time you get the result in a case that you want – there is no more rewarding feeling than getting a result in a finely balanced case. Sometimes even if it is not the result you actually want for a client, you can feel that at the end of the day it was the right result for the child, which gives you some comfort in cases where you don’t succeed.

Pitfalls: the impact of the job on your social and family life (sometimes I actually question whether being a family barrister is Article 8 compliant!).

Day in the Life of…Onyeka Onyekwelu

Onyeka OnyekweluOnyeka Onyekwelu, Executive of the Young Barristers’ Committee 

Employer: The Bar Council

Year of Call: 2013

Role: Policy Analyst – Legal Affairs, Practice and Ethics & Equality and Diversity, and Corporate Social Responsibility

This particular day starts with me sheltered from the rain, below the alcove of the Quad entrance of the Royal Courts of Justice (RCJ) at 8:15. Prior to my role at the Bar Council, I had only ever been in the RCJ to lodge appeal bundles; unglamorous to say the least. This morning, however, I grace the higher quarters for one of many high level policy meetings that I have been scheduling with the senior judiciary since the Chairman of the Young Barristers’ Committee’s (YBC) appointment in January 2016. We sit to discuss impending proposals for the reform of the civil justice system and their effect on young barristers; the assistance the young bar can provide the judiciary; and the retention and progression issues at the Bar and Judiciary. It is my responsibility to debrief the Chairman of the Bar, her Special Advisor and the Director of Policy once I return to the office, so I take great care to accurately note take what is being discussed, and the policy implications.

My 10am meeting at Middle Temple is cancelled, so I walk back to the office to begin my day with everyone else in the Policy Team. I manage to draft and send a few emails to key stakeholders, calling for their assistance with the Young Bar Workshop, the YBC’s flagship event for 2016.

Aside from managing the affairs of the YBC, I am also responsible for the Bar Council’s ADR Panel, so at 11:25, I dart off to a meeting at Field Court Chambers to discuss an exciting new initiative with the Panel’s subgroup. The subgroup discusses how it might change the culture and perception of ADR in Chambers, and how to improve the awareness of ADR as an alternate income stream for Chambers with management staff. The subgroup agree to reconvene and discuss further after the publication of the CEDR Audit 2016, at the Civil Mediation Council Conference.

I have a brief lunch break, and end up running back to the office for a policy team meeting at 14:00. This is a follow-up meeting from our Away Day to discuss the Mission Statement and Action Plan for the Policy Strategy, and its impact on the Bar Council Strategy for 2017. As part of the Legal Affairs, Practice and Ethics team, I inform the team of the projects and initiatives I am currently working on, and how best this can be incorporated into the overall strategy. I unfortunately cannot stay for the duration of the meeting, as I also have a foot in the Equality and Diversity and Corporate Social Responsibility team’s work, managing the Bar Mentoring Service and assisting with the Wellbeing at the Bar project. As a result, I hot-foot to the ‘First 100 Years’ knowledge share event at 15:00, to learn more about the BSB’s work to improve the retention rate of women at the Bar. I like that most of the work I do overlaps, and I find myself tweeting from the @YoungBarristers account about the event, and the project. I contribute to the discussion by querying what impact the project and the BSB’s consultation will have on access, retention and progression of women at the Bar, and am left slightly perplexed by the answer I receive (!) before returning to my desk.

I don’t sit down for more than 5 minutes at my desk before I have to shut down my desktop and run to BPP at 16:45, to setup for the Lord Justice Briggs Open Forum in collaboration with the Bar Council. This was an excellent initiative, open to all members of the Bar, to gather the views, concerns and questions about Lord Justice Briggs’ Interim Report on Civil Justice Reform that have not already been addressed by the Bar Council in its response, or the Chairman of the Young Barristers’ Committee in her paper at the World Bar Conference. I create and display the #BriggsOpenForum to enable Bar Council to track the responses via Twitter, and allow for members of the Bar unable to attend, to participate via social media.

My day concludes at about 20:00, when I catch a train back to town, before catching a late (and irregular) bus and wind up back home around 21:30.

Peaks: My role is flexible as it mirrors the nature of the profession i.e. no two days are the same (as cliché and over-used as that line is, it is true). Since starting at the Bar Council in January, I have had the opportunity to assist with the 25th Anniversary of the Bar Mock Trials and dine with leading Judges and QC’s on the top floor of the Old Bailey, something that would not have been possible for at least another 30+ years in practice. Not to mention sitting across a table from Lord Dyson in a private meeting –  definitely my dinner party tale of late with my law school peers.

Pitfalls: The saying that you have as much time as Beyonce does in a day is underrated! Between managing projects, drafting letters and guides for E&D initiatives, and attending important meetings, my day seems to fly by in a flash. As a result, I am joined at the hip to time-management tools and hacks like a baby to an umbilical cord.

Day in the Life of…Diana Deju

Diana A. Deju

Diana Deju, Member of the Young Barristers’ Committee 

Employer: Government Legal Department

Year of Call: 2011

Practice Area: Communities and Local Government

I am an employed barrister with the Government Legal Department (GLD), which is a non ministerial government department that acts as the government’s principal legal advisers. Over my career, I have been able to work in both litigation and advisory roles, which has really helped me to develop a strong grounding in public law.  At the moment, I am working in an advisory role for the Department for Communities and Local Government.

I normally begin my day at about 8 am; other lawyers tend to arrive anytime between 8 am and 10 am. Advisory lawyers are usually located in the same building as their policy colleagues, which means they are embedded into the department and that they are able to more easily learn about the department’s goals, understand the unique legal and practical challenges it faces, and appreciate how a legal role fits into the machinery of the department. Each lawyer covers certain streams of work.  I currently have a broad portfolio which includes special controls in planning.

One of the attractive features of working for GLD is that no two days are the same. My day to day work includes advising on the development and implementation of government policies and decisions, drafting secondary legislation and working alongside parliamentary counsel on primary legislation. For example, I can be asked to advise on whether a policy can be implemented under existing legislation, or whether new legislation is required. If new legislation is required, lawyers often get the opportunity to work closely with officials and ministers, and to support ministers in Parliamentary debates.

In policy development, our role involves considering legal implications and ensuring that the result will withstand external scrutiny. I typically spend a working day researching, drafting advice or other documents (such as statutory instruments), and in conference with policy colleagues or other lawyers. On a typical day I head home at about 5pm, although this varies.  For example, some days I may be needed to attend ministerial briefings or to support ministers in Parliament.

Prior to pupillage, I worked as an adjudicator at the Financial Ombudsman Service, which is where I built my interest in the public sector.  I was drawn to GLD when I learnt about the variety of work, and opportunities to move between different government departments.  From the beginning I have been supported in gaining a broad spectrum of experience. The training period is structured so that you see a variety of policy areas through different postings, and in every posting I have had a broad portfolio of work. For example, as a pupil barrister in immigration litigation I was involved in cases at all levels, including a case before the Supreme Court.

I have found that there is a great deal of training available giving a taster or a more in-depth look into legal topics and other work streams. The variety of postings really allows you to develop into a well-rounded lawyer. There are also flexible working opportunities, which mean that you can work from home on certain days. For me the most satisfying part of any day, regardless of what it may involve, is working as a member of a team alongside policy colleagues towards an end result.

During my GLD pupillage I spent six months in immigration litigation and six months on secondment at Landmark Chambers. After qualification, I went on to spend six months in advisory postings in the Home Office and later at Her Majesty’s Treasury. I have found a huge variety of work on offer at GLD with the opportunity to do interesting high-profile work from early on in my career. There have been many highlights along the way, but what truly stands out is the first time I attended the House of Lords.  I had been working, alongside parliamentary counsel and policy colleagues, on a clause in the Serious Crime Bill (now the Serious Crime Act 2015), and attended Parliament to provide support to the minister during Parliamentary debates.  This was a challenging piece of legislation, which raised interesting points in Parliamentary debates but working on the Bill was equally rewarding – there is nothing quite like watching law being developed right before your very eyes.

Day in the life of…Duncan McCombe

Duncan McCombe

Duncan McCombe,Vice-Chair of the Young Barristers’ Committee 

Chambers: Maitland Chambers

Year of Call: 2012

Practice Area: Anything Chambers will give me but, broadly, Commercial Chancery.

My day starts with a 6am get up. For reasons that I still do not quite understand, I signed up for a Half Ironman triathlon which takes place in July, so training has now started in earnest. A disturbing facet of this decision is that I have joined the MAMILs (Middle-Aged Men in Lycra) prematurely, a feeling which is not helped by the fact that my 6am alarm is the Today programme on Radio 4…

After a session in the gym, I am at my desk and working at about 9:30am; late for a barrister! This is just in time to meet my Pathways to Law Student whom I am hosting for the morning. Pathways to Law is a programme run by universities which aims to get school children from non-traditional backgrounds to study law and become lawyers. This is a competitive programme to get involved in, so unsurprisingly Amber is extremely impressive. I have been tasked with setting her an advocacy exercise, which is a challenge given she has not studied law. I choose an application to adjourn a trial, which has the positive side-effect that I get to play a grumpy District Judge (not that any District Judges are grumpy, of course). While Amber is preparing I manage to get some work done on a thorny sale of goods problem for a client. Looked simple at first glance; it isn’t. Amber then performs her advocacy exercise and I give some feedback. The idea that I am qualified to teach anyone anything is still slightly beyond me, but I do my best. After which – Amber having performed with distinction – we have lunch with the member of Chambers who is organising the scheme.

The afternoon involves more work on my sale of goods problem. It is legally fascinating, and would be enjoyable, if I didn’t actually have to give some practical advice at the end of it. At 4:30pm Bar Council duties call. I am Vice Chairman of the Young Barristers’ Committee (YBC), which means that I do my best to support the agenda of Louisa Nye, the Chairman. This year that involves raising the profile of the YBC, especially amongst the senior judiciary and policy makers, which is just as well given the newly-published Interim Report of Briggs LJ into civil justice. Our 4:30pm meeting is with the Master of the Rolls, Lord Dyson, the head of civil justice. Much time is spent on discussing Briggs LJ’s report and emphasising to the MR what effect this is likely to have on access to justice and the Young Bar (bad, in a nutshell) and the potential knock-on effect on the senior Bar and judiciary of the future. One of the best elements of being involved in the YBC is the opportunity to meet leading members of the profession and the judiciary and the respect accorded to your views. The meeting with the MR is no exception.

The meeting with the MR is immediately followed by a meeting of the YBC, where numerous matters are discussed from high policy (Briggs, Magistrates Court fees) to fun (the Young Bar dinner). This is followed by YBC drinks in Davy’s and bed… eventually. No good for the Half Ironman training.

Day in the Life of…Louisa Nye

Louisa Nye

Louisa Nye, Chair of the Young Barristers’ Committee 

Chambers: Landmark Chambers

Year of Call: 2007

Practice Area: Real property law and Landlord and Tenant.

Being Chair of the Young Barristers’ Committee is an exercise in multi-tasking and organisation! I have to maintain my practice, while also attending various meetings and events as of the Young Barristers’ Committee (YBC). I am also involved in writing responses to consultations and papers for the Bar Council.

My day starts around 6.45am, not too early. I get into Chambers around 7.30am to go over my notes and papers for the meetings I have during the day.

I also spend an hour looking over a case that I have been asked to advise on and to draft proceedings in, and send an e-mail to my instructing solicitors indicating some points on which I believe difficulty may arise as a result of professional ethics.

At 9.30am I have my first meeting of the day; a meeting with a District Judge to discuss a reference for an application. While I am Chair of the YBC, I also have to ensure I am developing my own practice and taking the opportunities I can to expand the work opportunities available to me.

By 10am I have made my way to the Royal Courts of Justice for a meeting with Sir Adrian Fulford, the Senior Presiding Judge. My Vice-Chairman, Duncan McCombe, and the YBC Executive, Onyeka Onyekwelu, also attend. We discuss the technological developments in the courts; the good and bad points of Better Case Management and the potential for an Online Court. Duncan and I spend time outlining the concerns in relation to access to justice, and the potentially detrimental effect of the proposed changes on the Young Bar. We also discuss succession and ensuring that there is a strong cohort of young barristers who will be the QCs and judiciary of the future.

After the meeting, Duncan and I have a coffee to touch base. I then go back to Chambers to collect papers for cases, that I then take to the Bar Council Offices to work on in the afternoon. Thankfully there is usually a spare desk so I am able to sit and work alongside the staff at the Bar Council office. This enables me to do my work on cases, while at the same time being on hand to discuss issues as they arise with Onyeka and other member of the staff.

At 12.45pm Duncan, Onyeka and I have a lunch with the Chair of the Bar Standards Board. We discuss the realities of life as a junior barrister and the current problems with the BPTC, and the effect that this has on early years of practice financially.

After lunch Duncan and I hot-foot it over to Fleet Street for a meeting at 2.30pm with Gerard McDermott QC, Chair of the Bar Conference Organising Board, to discuss the Annual Bar Conference and Young Bar Conference.

At 4pm I return to the Bar Council Offices. This gives me an opportunity to sit down and check my e-mails. I also spend the time advising on a leasehold enfranchisement case and giving an opinion on whether to commence proceedings.

I finish at about 6pm and head home, continuing to keep an eye on my iPhone for any e-mails that might come in! I have some dinner, do some yoga, and watch some rubbish TV so that I can decompress from the day.

The greatest benefit of being the Chair of the Young Bar is the opportunity to speak to senior members of the profession and the judiciary. It is a privilege to be in a position where I can put across the concerns of the Young Bar, and am met with interest and true respect from the individuals that I am dealing with.

The greatest challenge is balancing my work as Chair with a full working practice. I effectively do two day jobs at once, so I have to remain as organised as possible and keep on top of e-mails and phone calls, as well as meetings.

The highlight of my time as Chair so far, has been being asked to speak at the World Bar Conference in April 2016, and being able to address the leaders of the referral Bars and others on behalf of the Young Bar of England and Wales.