Congratulations. 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.
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…