Life at the Bar · Tenancy · The Future

New Tenants’ Survival Guide Part 1

Survival_07webCongratulations. You have made it, you are through the door, your feet are under the table, your head is in the clouds, your eyes are gazing on a distant future and your ears are burning.

Now what?

There are two traditional matters to concentrate on, and one brand new one. This post will deal with the first traditional matter.

That matter is the external ladder which you must climb. You have to build yourself a practice. Traditionally this came from doing other peoples’ returns and devilling. Now it also comes from being part of a team. If your Chambers is highly specialised there may be only one team. Otherwise, you should try and join every team going. You won’t know what you like (you may have an idea) until you have tried it. You are trying to maximise your exposure to work. Do everything once and the clerks will always be able to rely on your previous experience. The best time to do something for the first time is very soon after call. There are some exceptions to this rule: for example, soon after call isn’t the best time to argue that proprietory estoppel point in the Supreme Court (never let it be said this Blog is not up to date). But as a rule of thumb, it works.

You should also be the junior tenant who likes to say ‘yes’. Your clerks will not thank you for ‘well, it’s not really my field’, or ‘I don’t feel comfortable’ or (God forbid) ‘I’m sorry but I’m too busy’. Of course you’re uncomfortable. Your comfort envelope is hardly big enough to put a stamp on. But it will not grow unless you are prepared to stretch it. You have more time than you would believe (hard though it may be to accept, new tenants are barely working compared to the hours they will have to put in if they take off) so use it: swot up on new topics, go and see things being done in Court and read law reports. Then say yes to whatever you are offered unless it is really laughable. You should be able to judge what you should and should not take pretty quickly and your pupil supervisor, who should have a good idea of your capabilities, will help you.

You also need to impress your solicitor. The solicitor is more important to you than the lay client, who may well only ever need to consult you once. Even more important, if you are doing crime or pi, is the solicitor’s clerk (or paralegal as they now tend to be known). This is the source of your work. Be nice; be polite; be interested; know the name; ask about the children, the tomatoes, the morris dancing, the philately – whatever it is. Do not, as I have heard being said of junior counsel, be not worth briefing ‘because X’s head is so far up X’s bottom that X would not hear anything I said’.

Do what you are asked to do. Ring up after cases and tell the solicitor what has happened. Provide Advices and Opinions in double quick time. Give you opinion when asked – do not hedge it with a University type answer.

Constantly review your own performance. Do not sign the paperwork off until it really is as good as you can make it. The drink will wait. Dinner will wait. The love fest with the new significant other will wait (although, as rather too many barristers have discovered, the significant other may not). Do not put the brief away until you really do know not just what your submission is, but how you are going to put it and in what order.

But this is to shade into the next topic, which is how to climb the internal ladder. The final (new) topic is how to work as part of a team in Chambers. So, as they say in all the best cliffhangers:

To be continued…


15 thoughts on “New Tenants’ Survival Guide Part 1

  1. As a solicitor I cannot stress enough the importance of reporting the result of your case back to your instructing solicitor. A delay in passing on the news won’t change the result, however much you hope it will. Don’t forget, we have clients who are also awaiting that result, whatever it is. Well known are the Counsel who report a successful conclusion before they’ve barely left the court room, but who become strangely uncontactable if they’ve not achieved the result you wanted. Your relationship isn’t just built on asking about the children and the tomatoes, it’s about honesty with one another and maybe on the next case you can advise those who instruct you what was missing last time and what evidence / submissions you need to make to ensure a successful result next time.

  2. Thank you for this – and of course you are right. Sometimes it isn’t counsel’s fault that the result is adverse – each case or application has a winner and a loser. But we do worry about being shot for delivering the message (and sometimes about being shot because we didn’t do that well). It’s no excuse however.

    I still think the children and the tomatoes are worth an enquiry though 😉

  3. I would add two further tips. These might seem like things that should have been inculcated during pupillage but that is not always so.

    First, know the facts of your case inside out. Neither clients nor judges are impressed by someone who seems not to know precisely what is in issue between the parties. Perhaps more importantly, your examination and cross-examination of witnesses will flow much more naturally (and should ensure you cover all relevant ground) if the facts are in your head rather than (or as well as) summarised on paper.

    Secondly, make sure you know the limits of the Court’s jurisdiction. Many a judge likes to test beginners by asking whether he has power to make a particular order. A one-page crib sheet cross-referenced to the relevant rules is usually all you need as a reminder, but it will make a big difference to your own confidence to know that you can answer procedural questions instantly.

    And whatever you do, avoid waistcoats, watch fobs and loud ties.

  4. I agree with everything except the dress code tips. A watch fob is a bit over-mannered and you have to be able to carry it off. Your tie can be as loud as you like if you have to robe anyway.

    Moreover, I actually regard a waistcoat as preferable. When I came to the Bar (and that means when most Judges did) it was compulsory. Silks wear one. Without it there is an expanse of (often unironed) shirt and sometimes tummy too. Men are not good at closing their jackets and, in any event, single breasted suits button too low. I would absolutely recommend them – sorry.

  5. The problem with waistcoats (aside from the wearer looking right a prize pratt when away from court – same for men and those wheelie bags) is the modern shape of men’s ready made shirts, which tend to be square cut and, therefore, make the wearing of waistcoats uncomfortable for men who are not of the portly variety.

    Absent a waistcoast, a single breasted jacket has to be fully buttoned and, as any right thinking man knows, one should not use the bottom button, unless one is an estate agent, that is.

    The solution is obvious. Dispense with gowns and wigs, and introduce a hoody for court wear. In proceedings where a wig is required, the barrister can put their hood up instead. QCs can wear a silk hoodie and, perhaps, have the right to award red hoodies to juniors.

  6. I seem to have stumbled into a pit of desperate squalor.

    Single-breasted suits button low only if you instruct your tailor to make them that way. And as for “ready made shirts” … are they still available?

    Good grief, you chaps will be wearing bri-nylon next.

  7. Have tried emailing at the address given cryptically above but was told you don’t exist on netserve dot net.

    Fear for your well-being. Please confirm breathing continues .

  8. I think the kids/tomatoes enquiries are worthwhile as they do indicate that you’ve remembered who I am.

    But (speaking as a solicitor) my top tips would be (1) Do what you were asked to – which does mean reading the brief all the way to the end, when you are given it, inlcuding the bits about whether you need to speak to me / arrive early to meet the client at court /write down the client’s instructions and get him to sign them, *before* puting his offer to the other side – that information or request is in the brief for a reason, and in addition, if you don’t do the (apparently minor) thing I’ve requested (such as phoning me with the outcome) I will stat to wonder how much of the rest of the brief you read, and whether I can feel confident entrusting you with further work in the future.

    (2) make friends with your clerk(s) I’ve known them for years and if they tell me that Ms X or Mr Y is not available but they have a new tenant and am I willing to instruct them, I’m going to take into acount their view about that person. If [Clerk I’ve known for 10 years and come to trust] recommends you I’ll consider you. If they sound doubtful about you, I almost certainly won’t.

  9. I’m a fan of the 3 piece suit. It makes one stand out from the increasingly informally (and generally badly) dressed crowd, and more importantly, it carries with it an air of solidity, respectability, tradition and seriousness. BTW, a 2-piece SB suit will only button low when it is either badly cut/fitted or it has a 2 button closing, but the extra coverage of a waistcoat (or more properly, “vest”) is nevertheless welcome.

    Watch fobs are, I would agree, a bit ostentatious and I think loud ties, flamboyant pocket squares and stripy socks are probably best saved for when one is older and less likely to be criticised for being showy or eccentric.

    All IMHO, of course….

  10. I’m with Mr Pill entirely about informal dress but with him only partially about the benefit of standing out through one’s attire.

    It’s always sensible to try to look at things through the lay client’s eyes. You are Fred Innocent charged with something you didn’t do, or you are Robbie the Roofer who hasn’t been paid for his work.

    What do you want to stand out in court? Your advocate’s attire or the truth of your case? You want your “brief” to look the part but you don’t want his/her attire or manner to be a distraction.

    Overdressed or underdressed, an advocate risks distracting attention from his function. Your function is plain and simple, albeit often far from either plain or simple in its execution. Your job is to present your client’s case as well as you can.

    Never get above yourself by thinking that you are more important than the evidence. Never fool yourself into thinking that striking clothing (either informal or formal) will influence the tribunal in your client’s favour. And never assume that you know more about the facts or the law than your opponent.

    Just do your job. Do it as objectively as you can. Prepare thoroughly and trust your own judgment.

    As time passes you will look back at cases you did five, ten, fifteen years before and shake your head in disbelief that anyone could conduct a case like that. But, if you have any sense, you will then ask yourself “did I do it as well as I could at the time?” Provided the answer is in the affirmative you will have done your duty. That you would have done it so much better with more years under your belt is neither here nor there. You didn’t have those years then … and the judge knew it – that’s why he sat quietly and listened respectfully to someone who was doing a fine job considering their experience.

  11. Personally, my work as a tenant is going great, solicitors are very happy and I am building confidence. My problem is one or two of the clerks. They are faux polite and undermine me to solicitors sometimes.

    I get on with most of them but some are extremely bitchy and have a certain crowd of barristers, junior and senior, who they favour. Trying to be nice to them is the only option and putting up with it. The head clerk who is always professional does stick with the clerks. To complain in anyway apart from privately about the clerks to anyone is career suicide. The treatment and work they dish out is not distributed fairly or in accordance with ability or seniority. Many of them, especially when drunk, are clearly racist and most other ists in the book. They appear to be free from any censure and do as they please. Having seen the case of the barrister claiming to have been kept of work by the clerks at her chambers – she has been made to sound bitter and incompetent – but I can well believe it.

    Any advice on dealing with clerks like this or just continuing to grin and bear it.

  12. Thanks, but evidence is no good; there would be nothing to be done with it. The bar is a small world and most of the clerks have connections with most other clerks as do sets and barristers. If you make complaints as someone very junior, however justified, it appears it can only have bad consequences for you. As for greener pastures, I do not think I have built up enough of a practice yet to go set swapping.

    Grin and bear it I guess.

  13. I’m fairly horrified by this Anonymous – my clerks are very much bound to distribute work fairly etc, and I can’t see them ever behaving the way you describe. Do other juniors in your chambers share your view? If so then I would think you should speak to the Head of Chambers or Senior Clerk if either is a reasonable person – given that Four New Square case most chambers are becoming increasingly aware of the potential for claims against them so anything you say should be taken seriously. I do understand your concerns about raising the issue though. If you feel you can’t raise it because neither Head of Chambers nor Senior Clerk is amenable then I think you should have your eye on the door and grin and bear it until you can leave. I don’t think you will find the clerks the same wherever you move, I have not encountered this sort of problem nor have any of my barrister friends. Clerks with a bit of attitude, yes; unfair/discriminatory/racist/sexist clerks no…

    Good luck, I feel for you!

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