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How cycling made me a better lawyer

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If he knew then what he knows now, ‘Cycling Silk’ Martin Porter QC would have kept more of a sense of perspective as a young barrister building his career — and done more exercise…

Knowledge is a valuable thing. The ready access to information is what has revolutionised not just practice at the Bar, but the entire way in which we conduct our lives over the period since I started practice 27 years ago.

Then, if you wished to acquire knowledge you had to speak to someone knowledgeable or go to a library to consult a book or journal. Now an internet search from a computer or even a telephone will provide answers or at least leads in moments. You are even accessing these words in a way that was not remotely possible at the beginning of my working life. Back then my clerk would barely countenance the use of a telephone and the latest device, proudly displayed in a cramped clerks’ room that also served as a clients’ reception area, was a spluttering telex machine whose gurgitations became unreadable after a day’s exposure to the light.

With today’s emails and electronic diaries, I am sure I would have been spared the couple of humiliating occasions when I turned up to court for a hearing that had been agreed, and for which my attendance was no longer required. Or the even worse miscommunications which led to the ‘Where is he?’ call followed by a hurried dash to court. Everyone now knows, or at least has ready access to, all the information which I wish I had known back then.

Most important, though: keep a sense of perspective. Work hard and appreciate that the work you do is of real importance to your client. However, allow time for other things and look after your health. From being a fairly active oarsman at university I descended to nearly 20 years of almost total physical inactivity while I busied myself acquiring first a legal practice and then a family. Illness amongst dear friends and colleagues led to my examining my expanding waistline and finally resolving to kill two birds by embarking on bike rides in support of charities researching into the cancers that were carrying off my friends. If you are still fortunate enough to be in your 20s or 30s you can take to exercise earlier in life, as I wish I had done. Certainly I regret leaving significant exercise until after I had taken silk aged 43.

The form of exercise does not of course have to be cycling, though nothing else, to my mind, fits so conveniently with a busy lifestyle. Whether you ride a bike or do something equivalent, you will feel so much better and think so much more clearly both when in the saddle and when at your desk (or standing in a court) between bike rides. If a perception of danger puts you off, try some training or read and digest ‘Cyclecraft’ (see, I still look for knowledge from books), or join the many currently campaigning for cycling infrastructure of acceptable quality.

My top tip, more likely to save your life than any other, is to treat every HGV as if it were on fire. My second and related tip is not to allow a highway engineer to dictate where you ride. You will soon find that your reinvigorated brain puts the dangers, along with everything else, into a proper perspective and I have no doubt that your legal skills will benefit.

I cannot pretend that you will not encounter a degree of stress and tribulation given today’s crowded roads and the conflicting senses of entitlement that some feel to possess them. The compensation is that this somehow appears to de-stress the remaining parts of your life. You may also be humbled by the collective responsibility that so many will heap upon you for the sins of others whose sole connection with you is their choice of transportation. Maybe that too is good for you, helping you to resist any feelings of self-importance as you rise in your profession.

Contrary to the claims of some, you will not be saving the planet — the planet will carry on happily for a long time after humans have gone from it — but do it for yourself. Your contribution to a better living environment for all is just a bonus.

Martin Porter QC is a barrister specialising in personal injury and professional negligence at 2 Temple Gardens. He blogs at The Cycling Silk.