Why I left my dream barrister job at Matrix Chambers to become a personal trainer

Eloise Le Santo got through pupillage at top set but decided the bar wasn’t for her

LeaD13

Eloise Le Santo has a very interesting story.

A single parent to two small children, one just a year old, in 2006 she decided to bite the bullet and do something she’d always wanted to do: pursue a career as a barrister.

Putting her advocacy skills to good use years before she qualified, Le Santo managed to persuade the University of Lincoln to let her enrol on their LLB course, despite her not having a single A-level to her name.

She threw herself into her law degree, got a first, went to bar school in Nottingham — and then came the hunt for the elusive pupillage.

Le Santo had her heart set on Matrix Chambers, a prestigious London-based set that specialises in human rights and public law. Lincoln Uni-educated Le Santo didn’t think she stood a chance:

I didn’t think I had a hope in hell of getting into Matrix. Matrix really was my dream set, but looking at profiles of juniors I just didn’t think I could compete with them.

But she could and she did.

Family in tow, Le Santo moved her entire life down to the capital. After a stint at the Law Commission — an independent body set up by parliament to review and recommend law reforms — she started her pupillage in 2012.

In what must read as a fairy tale for aspiring barristers, Le Santo then managed to secure tenancy at the big name set, that currently offers a hefty pupillage award of £50,000.

She was a successful junior barrister with buckets of potential; but fast forward three years, and things haven’t quite gone as one might expect for Le Santo.

Progress not perfection

A photo posted by Eloise Le Santo (@eloiselesanto) on

She’s now a London-based personal trainer, yoga teacher and nutrition coach, who also runs her own wellness blog. Her barrister days, though just a few months behind her, are gone, she tells me. And she has no desire to reignite them. She continues:

There is just no way I’d go back. I feel I’ve just found the light at the end of the tunnel, and there’s no way I’d want to step into the darkness again.

Though they’re words that may make law students shudder, it’s clear from Le Santo’s story that thoughtful consideration of your career plan doesn’t always equal a happy career:

Once I got there, I realised being a barrister was everything I expected it to be, but I just didn’t enjoy it as much I expected to.

Speaking to Legal Cheek, Le Santo was very candid about her reasons for leaving her (and we’re sure many aspiring barristers’) dream job.

Ultimately, life at the junior bar is no walk in the park; it didn’t take Le Santo long to realise this. She explained:

I threw myself into my law degree and my BPTC and made a lot of personal sacrifices in the knowledge there was a deadline, an end to all this hard work: that I would finish whatever I was doing come September and could relax for a bit. I managed to keep this up during my pupillage, just telling myself ‘I just have to keep working this hard until my pupillage is up.’ Then I got taken on, and I realised there was no deadline anymore; I really would be working this hard for the rest of my life.

In the end, Le Santo confessed the whole experience was starting to make her ill. It was during this time she found sanctuary and comfort in fitness and nutrition, and began to think idly about a career change. Come the beginning of this year, Le Santo took time out to think long and hard about what she really wanted from her life — and the bar wasn’t it.

But did she make the right decision?

Many will think Le Santo has made a mistake. She has waved goodbye to the — pretty much unparalleled — prestige that comes with working at a top set, as well as the huge financial costs and time commitments inherent in barrister training.

Le Santo knows this. She admits personal training, financially anyway, just isn’t in the same league as advocacy — but that doesn’t mean she has regrets:

I can totally understand why some people would think I’m crazy, and really it’s that that stopped me quitting for such a long time. Matrix is an amazing place to be, but now I’m just so much happier.

For aspiring barristers feeling disheartened and confused by Le Santo’s story, she has some advice for you:

I wouldn’t want to discourage anyone from a career at the bar but I think you need to think very, very carefully. The junior bar is a stressful place, and given the financial investment involved I’d definitely caution people.

Comments are now closed.

177 Comments

Jonty

Now she has the prestige of being able to put “PT” after her name on facebook.

(41)(15)
Anonymous

Only a beta wage slave cuck does a job because it’s ‘prestigious’.

(18)(7)
Anonymous

As there are some law graduates looking at this, I think it is worth pointing out that no matter where you are in the legal profession, when you are junior, the work is junior.

It will ever be thus in a profession with a middle class structure…you cannot have junior people taking work of the duration and complexity which will pay for mortgages, fees for education, cars and holidays etc even if they are so well trained, and the work is so formulaic (a lot of the time), that they can do it.

It occurs to me, reading what is googleable about Eloise’s work for a few minutes that she
(i) assisted with the investigation into a death in police custody while seconded to the IPCC
(ii) was seconded to a solicitors’ firm to assist with the phone hacking disclosure
(iii) did pro bono work
(iv) was involved with a judicial review of a costs order that was requested by a Local Authority in a Non Payment Council Tax case at the local magistrates, which got into the law reports.

I would be pleasantly surprised if (i) (ii) and (iii) were not paralegal or trainee style assignments that could have been done by Eloise, or anyone else, as a BVC, Filex or LPC graduate.

In (iv) I would be pleasantly surprised if the Local Authority in the original Council Tax matter had devoted much time to the costs order or to the judicial review: – The amount of costs at stake, and the chance of recovery of those costs in a meaningful way, would have been small. There is some skill in drafting an application for judicial review, of course, but it occurs to me that the arrival of this brief may have reflected the magic of Matrix Chambers or a pro bono effort by Eloise to get some experience in the High Court.

The point about the Local Authority’s poor pleading of their costs is not a difficult point to take, but getting the brief requires luck or pro bono effort, I expect.

Once you have got a High Court judgment in your hand, it is a relatively small task to see if a law report company will take it and publish it. They have column inches to fill.

Wherever you are, the price paid for junior work will be low and I don’t think being at Matrix Chambers would change that. (Check with them, or a similar chambers, if you get chance). Once upon a time the work for the Phone Tapping enquiry may have been as a junior barrister devilling for a QC, in which case the pay would have been relatively high. But nowadays there will be a knowledgeable assessment of what the work actually requires, and who has the kind of profile and charge out rate that someone reasonable can afford to pay. There may even be a “3 quotes” competition or tender process to see which institution can provide the worker for a particular budget.

Perhaps that is the scenario all the way up the tenancy ladder nowadays.

You can see Eloise’s Personal Trainer website. She offers a free consultation there too. I bet being self employed as a Personal Trainer is tough too.

I think young lawyers would be well advised to turn their gaze away from the rank and file members of a middle class profession, or from a junior barrister who became a personal trainer, and start looking at the likes of Fidel Castro and Mohandas Gandhi, and see what you can really do with your skill set and vision 🙂 You can try and find a niche which will deliver you a middle class living as a lawyer from (i) the commercial maelstrom or (ii) the harvest of the poor and desperate, but this is like the parable of the gateways to heaven and hell, is it not ? The gateway to hell is broad and wide and many people walk through it, the path to heaven is through a narrow gate, which , hitherto few people find, and fewer still enter and scale…

See if you can find the narrow gate. Amen

(14)(40)
Anonymous

that comment descended from sensible observation to sheer madness in 2 paragraphs

(112)(0)
Anonymous

Yeah, I started out thinking I’d throw out a “like” at the end. I didn’t.

(21)(0)
Anonymous

OF: “that comment descended from sensible observation to sheer madness in 2 paragraphs”

The point is that two lawyers (Castro was once a partner in a firm in Cuba, Gandhi was either a partner or a sole practitioner in India who then went to be an in house lawyer for a Shipping Company. They each did advocacy.) reached a point in their lives where they decided not to live a rank or file middle class existence. The breadth of experience each had as a lawyer, and their skill set, stood them in good stead for breaking out of the mould.

Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that, really, a lot of law students wish to enjoy the intellectual challenge, responsibility, money, housing, motor cars and life chances for themselves and their children that go with a middle class profession. This is why some of them can be seen getting involved with pro bono work such as deaths in police custody, death row appeals in America, cases against the DWP or support work for FRU or the Citizen’s Advice Bureau.

For some the doors do open by doing these things. However, the number of doors is far less than the number of triers and, as Eloise and others have observed, the treadmill of the workload does not slow down when you are self employed. It is hard graft if the pay you get does not make the lifestyle you lead a luxurious one.

Some people get through the doors without having to try so hard. For example, they can afford to get tuition for the modern day equivalent of the 11+, go to a prestigious day school or boarding school, get the sort of CV and A level grades that admit them to a top university in England, go to a top American or European University to do a Masters, do some work experience at a prestigious UK or foreign organisation and get into the Legal Profession that way.

In both cases the exposure and insight they have into other people, the economy and political systems is similar to that of Fidel Castro or Mohandas Gandhi. They each spent time at the high and low end of society, with the poor and with the rich and powerful alike.

However, in the case of those two, rather than their aim being to perpetuate a middle class career and lifestyle and help people or businesses as a corollary of that, they are taking in that experience with a view to changing society for the better. It is as if, in the case of Castro, he decides to take communism as a client, rather than capitalism or parliamentary democracy, and assert communism’s interests as a political case, rather than as the legal case he might have taken for a client when he practised law. Asserting a political case is more of a challenge and is totally fulfilling, I am sure he would say.

Gandhi started to assert satyagraha and ahimsa in the same way he would advance a client’s interest, it seems to me. Judging by his demeanour, that was a totally fulfilling lifestyle, in spite of the stress and the troughs.

In both cases they help far more people than they helped as lawyers.

Each were young when they started on the path, which is why I suggested that law graduates – many of whom will struggle -, like Eloise seems to have done (given that she left Matrix, I think that is a fair comment), like many of us still do, and turn their gaze in a different direction.

Each of Gandhi and Castro had a religious style conviction, which is why I mentioned the once well known parable.

There are other lawyers who have done a similar thing – Nelson Mandela and Anjem Choudary more recently. All of them started along the trajectory of a middle class profession.

Did these people look for the narrow gate ?

Is it good or bad advice to suggest that young lawyers give thought to parable of the narrow gate ? So many thumbs down suggest it is bad advice, but the odd thumb up has made me return.

There are some profound observations in this comments section – is the Bar really a sound profession for the childless or for those who are able to align their personal ambitions or soul to their career ambitions, as someone suggests ? That comment jolted me, particularly as it seemed to come from someone youthful looking up at the profession.

If you look at the lawyers on Youtube, and the Judges in the Court of Appeal who are involved in the case about the Labour Party members’ voting rights – is it really that hard or difficult a job at the top, such that you either really must slog your guts out to be as good as them, and accept it when you are told – or treated like – you are not that good ? Or does that clip of the great and the good look similar to a video clip of any one of us struggling through standard training exercise on a Filex, LPC or BVC course ?

I suggest that the standard of those in that video is easily attainable whether you are 15, 25, 35, 45, 55, 65 etc. We are dealing with a situation where, unlike the parable, the wide gate is actually not wide enough for the number of people who are capable of trying to enter and walk through ! So why not, if you are still relatively free, try and look for the narrow gate 🙂

(13)(9)
Boh Dear

Publish this as a book and I may read it. Unless it’s about God. Last book I read about God didn’t really do it for me.

(3)(1)
Anonymous

I had assumed the elephant in the room was a man paying for this either her children’s father or a new man. Very very few women (or men) however hvae the luxury of reducing their income simply because they think doing a bit of yoga might be more fun. Let us hope I am not funding tax credits and housing benefit for her from my council tax.

(2)(11)
Anonymous

Ah, the “as a taxpayer” line, the battle-cry of the idiot.

(16)(3)
Anonymous

Passable academics, a convincing sob story, and a top-flight chambers wanting to demonstrate how socially progressive it is. The result is a ‘diversity hire’ who can’t hack the work for more than 12 months. I’m sorry if that sounds harsh, but that is the most obvious interpretation of this story.

I am also a little curious about her previous life. She was a ‘single parent of two small children’, who could afford to:

– Take four years out to study for the LLB and BPTC
– Move her family down to London to work for the Law Commission (salary circa £25k)
– Give up a lucrative career as a barrister to become a personal trainer (salary circa £20-40k)

Something doesn’t add up.

(128)(44)
Anonymous

You think you are from better stock, but your comment displays the opposite!

(15)(12)
Anonymous

Well, she was in practice for longer than 12 months actually. She was a tenant at Matrix for over 2 years. If she was just a sympathy hire, wouldn’t her ‘inability to hack the work’ have been obvious sooner?

(29)(2)
Annoyed random comment

Nothing to do with the fact she is a woman clown. More the fact she has no A Levels, rubbish Uni, non-traditional background being a single parent compared to the high achieving 20 something year old, who get positions at places like Matrix.

(8)(12)
Shirley

What is a “woman clown”?

Perhaps you meant, “woman, clown”.

Anyways, fuck off.

(6)(3)
Bumblebee

A woman clown is the female equivalent of a man clown. I would have thought that was obvious.

(14)(2)
Anonymous

WOW – that is harsh!!! “woman clown”??!!?? so rude. so unnecessary. so WRONG!!!
Get back to your cave troll.

(5)(1)
Anonymous

And how much did she make at Matrix that allows her to give up work as a Barrister to be a PT?

(6)(6)
Anonymous

This post has been removed because it breached Legal Cheek’s comments policy.

(1)(0)
Anonymous

No mention of whether she had researched the daily life of a barrister before she pursued a career as one. Take it she did, but either way illustrates the value of doing your homework.

(18)(14)
Anonymous

there is a huge difference between being what you hope it will be like, and the actual reality of living the life at the Bar. Many people believe that the hours will be worth it, but once behind the curtain decide that the reality of the aggressive, all-consuming solitary work culture isn’t for them. It’s hard to know quite how you will react until you’ve lived it.

(18)(0)
Anonymous

I imagine “persuading” the University of Lincoln to let her in was along the lines of:

LS: Can I join with no A’levels?

Lincoln: Can you pay the fee?

LS: yes

Lincoln: then of course you can

(148)(11)
Anonymous

Goodbye first class university education, hello the University of Lincoln

(14)(3)
Anonymous

Good for her. But I suspect that practice at Matrix would make many flee to a different career. The self-righteousness must be suffocating.

(60)(5)
T101P

Could you expand on ‘self-righteousness’? I haven’t heard this about Matrix yet…

(7)(2)
Morpheus

Do you want to know what the Matrix really is? Are you ready to follow the rabbit down the rabbit hole? Here, take this red pill…

(11)(1)
Anonymous

This post has been removed because it breached Legal Cheek’s comments policy.

(1)(1)
Anonymous

Can we add hypocrisy to the description too…..

Standing up for human rights and then hobnobbing with international despots for that large chunk of cash…..

(9)(3)
Anonymous

Can confirm that it only gets more stressful. I thought that once my practice had built up it would become easier….nope.

(22)(1)
Lord Lyle of No A Levels

Matrix is mainly a commercial set, but will do human rights cases if there is enough dosh in them.

They are very good, good clerks and 5 mins walk from the high court.

Not for the faint hearted though.

(11)(4)
T101P

I wish that Katie had asked a few more ‘probing’ questions during this interview. It’s Eloise’s life, and maybe she doesn’t want to reveal more private reasons for quitting (or perhaps the toll on her health really was so great that it was a big enough reason, who knows), but all the quotes from her in this article sound like pre-prepared, positive sound-bites.

She has children, so it wouldn’t be mad to assume that this played quite a crucial role in her decision to quit the Bar? If the article gets the dates right, she already had very small children when she first started studying law, so I can only begin to imagine what it was like juggling parenting with academics. Massive leap of faith that clearly paid off when she got pupillage at Matrix, but I’d have wanted to hear a few more reasons other than not wanting to “work hard” anymore. Had she not believed people who told her it would be tough? Had she not met enough City lawyers or barristers who outlined the personal sacrifices? Is she going to miss the intellectual rigour of the profession, now that she’s a personal trainer? Why did she completely abandon the law when she could have left the Bar and gone to work at a legal NGO, given her human rights specialism? What did other tenants at Matrix think?

As a female graduate law student aiming for the Bar, with Matrix very much on the wish-list, these are questions I’d have loved to hear the answers to!! If I make it at the Bar then the whole ‘motherhood vs. career’ juggling issue is likely to crop up for me, as well as for many other female Juniors.

Eloise, if you’re out there, talk to me! And LC, please take note – more in-depth interviews are required when it comes to something as drastic as quitting the Bar for something so completely different.

(124)(2)
Time to oil up

This post has been removed because it breached Legal Cheek’s comments policy.

(3)(1)
Tyrion

This is a great comment, and very informative. I’ve always been under the impression that a pupillage at these top sets is like a golden ticket that opens up a lot of doors. Considering she was also kept on, surely there must have been other things she could have done. There are in-house counsel jobs at city firms, national firms, local authorities, charities etc. where she could have been paid well and worked fewer hours (other than the city firms of course). So why completely leave practice to do something so different? It feels like she didn’t really love practicing law which would then beg the question why put yourself through 5 years of studies to get there. And how can you go from a steady income to an unsteady one in London with two kids.

(16)(0)
Anonymous

Maybe she has a partner who earns money?
Also, your comment about why she would have put herself through 5 years of study if she didn’t like practising law is strange. She wouldn’t have known what practice was like when she was a student. She gave it a go, didn’t like it and is doing something she does like. People can criticise all they like but what is the actual point of making yourself ill doing a job you hate? You’re not going to get a medal for it.

(15)(1)
Tyrion

My question/comment makes perfect sense. If I spent 5 years working to become something, and ended up at the best place for that, if it did indeed make me ill doing it, I would scale down before walking away completely. That means trying out life at the employed bar or as a solicitor or in-house or even working for a charity or in politics. Something that made me feel like it wasn’t all a waste. But everyone is different.

Your comment about having a rich partner is speculation, but if correct would perhaps suggest that other students not follow her path without financial security. I always find it interesting how certain people lecture others to follow their dreams and do what they are passionate about but never tell the true story e.g. Zac Goldsmith won’t mention family wealth; Theresa May loves to sacrifice for public service but forgets to mention her uber rich banker husband; Sami Chakrabaty (sic) loves public service and human rights but forgets her rich solicitor husband that gives her a good lifestyle. This is how working class kids get duped.

(18)(1)
Anonymous

It’s nice for you that you would just ‘scale down’ and stick it out just because you studied hard for many years. Firstly, at the junior bar, it is unrealistic for a baby junior to announce that they are ‘scaling down’ their practice. The pressures are enormous and despite being self-employed, barristers rely on clerks and solicitors to feed them work, especially when they are newly qualified. Secondly, if the job is stressful to the point of making you ill, working a little bit less isn’t really going to help. It’s still going to be a large part of your life, even if you now work 4 days rather than 6 per week.
For many people, being in a job that makes them unhappy is just not worth it. It’s not worth the impact it has on your health, your relationships, your general well-being. And for what? The ‘prestige’ of being a barrister only really brings you kudos in the legal world. Once you step away from that, you realise that as long as you are happy and have enough money to be comfortable and are doing something interesting, it really doesn’t matter what other people think.
I am not sure if you are a current law student. However, I can assure you that studying law in no way prepares or gives you an insight into what legal practice is like. I have been where Eloise is- the realisation that the career you worked so hard for really is not what it is cracked up to be. When you are in that place and you can see how your job is taking its toll on you, the decision about what to do about it should not be influenced by how many years you studied. She’s young and would have about 35-40 years of working left. Should she really put herself through that just because she spent 5 years studying and doing pupillage? I left the legal profession and I can honestly say that I have never, ever regretted that decision. It affected me to such a fundamental degree that leaving was the only option. Alcoholism and depression among lawyers is rife- check out the lawcare website for more information on that. I know many, many people who have left the profession. They all studied hard to get there, but there comes a time when you have to put yourself and your well-being first. Eloise will be earning less money but won’t have that horrible gut-churning feeling before going to sleep before a day in court.

(21)(1)
Anonymous

As this erudite poster has noted, I rather suspect the pressure/stress of the job simply overcame everything else and she actually took what I consider to be the intelligent choice, she left to do something else.

Far too many people struggling with depression/stress in a career/job that is slowly killing them for my liking, though I engaged in a rather different method, leaving a different career to become a lawyer.

(9)(0)
Tyrion

Scaling down as in moving to do something less stressful and time-consuming as a lawyer as I suggested, e.g. the employed bar or working in-house for a company. I at no point suggested she should have scaled down her practice and appreciate that is not possible in top sets or even other lower ranked sets. Please read comments fully next time before writing essay like responses.

Many solicitors who have had enough of the stresses of the City move to the regions, in-house, overseas etc. I do not know any solicitors who are 2 years pqe and just starting out their careers who just quit to become a PT or a pastry chef. Even the ones who do leave the law go into some other form of employment. Which is why I think it is important to understand and also to advise others with context.

(4)(4)
Anonymous

Seriously, in-house is not an easy option. Still stressful and long hours. Sorry for reading your comment incorrectly but I stand by what I said about how if you truly don’t enjoy what you are doing, worrying or being dictated by your previous study is not a sensible option. If you’re ever in the unfortunate position that I was in (and which Eloise seems to have been in), you will understand what I mean.

(10)(0)
Anonymous

This post has been removed because it breached Legal Cheek’s comments policy.

(0)(0)
Lord Lyle of No A Levels

Sorry, got Matrix chambers mixed up with Maitland chambers. I never dreamt of instructing Matrix. Just too weird for me.

(8)(7)
Disgruntled Boh Dear

So glad I worked my ass off during A-levels to get into a RG university and someone else can blag their way into toss university, get a toss 1st and everyone then treats toss 1st like it’s best thing in the world.

(17)(43)
Anonymous

So cos they didn’t go RG they are immediately less qualified than you? She probably had lots of experience, and had done several mini’s and got at least as good a grade as any RG student. Typical RG snobbery and entitlement.

(27)(16)
Disgruntled Boh Dear

You seem to assume that I just have a RG degree and a wing and a prayer?

(3)(4)
Anonymous

This post has been removed because it breached Legal Cheek’s comments policy.

(1)(2)
The Real Earl of Dublin

A touch of jealousy? My guess is she is at least as bright as you and must have impressed Matrix to get both the pupillage and the offer of a tenancy. They may be committed to diversity but they don’t pay 50k a year pupillage award unless they think they will get a return on it.

(8)(1)
Anonymous

Yeah, despite your school performance at age 18 being good, people still think you’re a tosser and won’t give you a job. Shame…

(8)(0)
GraysInk

Had the pleasure of working with Eloise a couple of years back on pro bono projects. She’s a fab woman. Good on her for having the guts to say no, not for me.

And for those reading who are worrying about it – this is why you do the minis. Ask the new tenants/pupils about how it really is (away from more senior members). You’ll get a better idea of how tough it can be, but also how rewarding it can be too. As a current pupil, I’m utterly exhausted too, but I still know in my gut that this is the job for me. Some people know in their gut it’s not, and that’s absolutely fine.

(18)(2)
T101P

Thanks for posting 🙂 Obviously I don’t know Eloise, and her experience will of course be unique. For me, though, the niggling thing is just why she would abandon the law altogether when she has worked hard and got a pretty impressive CV against some tough odds. She could still contribute to areas she’s passionate about, just not at the Bar. Hence all the questions I listed further up! ^^

(4)(0)
Stany

I went to university with Eloise. I too have faced struggles with career paths etc. What I can say is that I saw how hard she worked and she deserved to have the doors open up. Good on her.

As for the decision to leave, we all make our own decisions.. It’s our right… I certainly wish her the best!

(9)(4)
Anonymous

Your career struggles are probably because you went to Lincoln Uni mate.

(7)(17)
Anonymous

Another one wishing that this interview had been a bit more probing. I’m a pupil about to start tenancy at a good set. Frankly I’m already thinking about quitting — the work-life balance of the junior tenants is shocking and I’m genuinely unsure whether I have the stamina for it. But it’s obviously not something you can discuss with people in chambers…

(19)(1)
Anonymous

What area of law? I start pupillage in October and would love some insight as there just isn’t any out there with any real substance.

(0)(0)
Anonymous

Commercial. I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s really hard to give any insight on lifestyle stuff at the bar, since people’s expectations vary so much. There are people in my chambers who work a 12-14 hour day 6 days a week and genuinely consider themselves to have a great work-life balance because they also meet friends for drinks after work, have lunch with other tenants and go to the gym a couple of times a week. I also think that the happiest barristers are really into the “prestige” of being a barrister and thrive on competition (in and out of the courtroom) and pressure. For people motivated by this stuff the bar is great. Basically childless people who can align their personal goals and values with what is necessary for job success are happy at the junior bar.

(18)(0)
Junior tenant

This basically describes me. I love my job….it is a hobby, passion and one of the most fulfilling parts of my life. Very sad to admit it. I probably do 50-70 hours depending on what is going on. Earn quite a bit …but always seem to be paying VAT!

(3)(3)
Barista Bob

Hi Tunde. I’d enjoy my job too if I was able to crack the whip and pump ten unpaid interns working for me.

Smashing good setup you got there mate.

(4)(2)
Other Pupil

See I think it depends on Chambers. I am finishing a commercial/chancery pupillage to start tenancy, and my work life balance is perfect. Even during the worst times of pupillage I never really had to work more than a 12 hour day. I regularly wander into Chambers at midday, and work through till 8/9pm instead. I think then longer days are OK for me because I know I can manage my own agenda/timetable – If I want a 4 hour lunch then I can take it. Its sort of the closest thing to being a Student revising for exams that I could find.

(4)(0)
Pantman

Ok, so what is your problem? What was not clear to you before you applied for pupillage?

I don’t think there is anything particularly unique about the Bar. Being self-employed and being successful (ie being able to earn a living) means working all the hours you can. I roll around laughing when I see people write “I want to be self-employed so that I can work when I want to” – what they really mean is “so that I can take off as much time as I like”. Unfortunately the reality of “work when I want to” is working 10-16 hours six or seven days a week and not taking a holiday for years at a time.

(4)(6)
Anonymous

Shouldn’t we be challenging that culture? There are uniquely stressful aspects to work at the Bar, particularly arising from the nature of adversarial court work, the stakes, the solitary environment, unstable income flow and a culture which fetishizes ‘proving yourself’ by working every waking hour and sleeping hardly any. Much of that could be changed if we looked more closely at creating support systems and stopped acting like there is something weak or wrong in wanting to have balance in your life. Why should we act like it’s inherent to being a Barrister that you can’t have a family life or indeed any life outside of work? Or are you assuming that only the childless, those with extensive family support, or who want to pay nannies to do the caring for them in the 10-16 hours a day are capable of being a barrister/have the requisite commitment? We should be challenging the structures which mean so many young women in particular leave the Bar and so many people in the profession develop health problems rather than shrugging it off with a you-can’t-hack-it attitude.

(23)(4)
Senior Clerk

Clients and clerks must love you…..

Clerk: ‘I know it’s 4pm on Friday, but you would do us a massive favour by prepping this case over the weekend for trial on Monday?…it’s a client (mr toss pot) that has instructed us once or twice and does the sort of law that you always tell us on review that you would like to do more of….(i.e anything that is not legal aid family work).’

Changing culture barrister: ‘thanks..can I get back to you in 20 mins…’

…..35 mins later….

Changing culture barrister:….’hi Gary, yep, sorry I kept you waiting….look, I’ve reviewed this AR matter and, frankly, I just cannot get through the paperwork over weekend I’ve got too much on. Plus I refuse to do work for a solicitor who can’t sort themselves out and get me the papers 63 days in advance. I know I can work as hard as the junior male tenants in chambers, but I don’t think I need to put myself under this type of pressure…..’

Clerk: …..(‘mental note…..don’t waste time asking changing cultures barrister again for first dibs on work when I’m under the cosh time wise….I could be fucked now…..’)

Clerk: (picks up phone and rings pragmatic (barrister), ‘hi steve, got case on Monday, can you please help me out…3 bundles.’

Pragmatic barrister: ‘how much’?

Clerk: ‘£3k’

Pragmatic barrister: ‘stick bundles in pigeon hole and I’ll collect on Sunday’

2 months later…….

Mr toss pot: (telephones chambers)….’hi Gary, got a few briefs to send pragmatic barrister’s way…he did a good job on that case a few months back….can you please give me a quote……’

(Repeat 100s times over many years)

Surprise surprise…..pragmatic barrister has thriving self employed practice after many years hard graft and, if lucky/good, might be able to cherry pick the work on way to silk…..changing cultures barrister however….continues to gripe about her practice….only being instructed by shitty little firms and bemoans the fact that the whole industry hasn’t yet altered its ways to suit his/her needs

(21)(11)
Scouser of Counsel

It’s true- it’s a very much “you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours”
situation. If you help out a solicitor and do a great job at short notice, they will send you more work.

It’s the same in-house, though. Volunteer for a Saturday morning remand court or 8pm police station shout for your (already extremely busy) solicitor boss and you may be rewarded with regular pay rises, flexible working when not in court and the ability to take days off at short notice, not to mention an excellent working relationship.

If you love the job like a hobby, then the Bar (self employed or employed) is a great career, but if it’s “just another job” to you, then the hard work will undoubtedly put you off.

Advice to students: think long and hard, do your research and do plenty of mini pupillages in different sorts of sets BEFORE committing to the BPTC.

(6)(0)
Other Pupil

Also just want to say, the quality of the Set is relevant here. A really excellent chambers will have a good enough reputation and good enough work that you can just say “Actually can I just work 3 days a week”. The good sets (but not top top sets) are more likely to be wanting you to go to Court every single day.

Basically don’t do Commercial, Crime and Family, do Chancery you get paid more, fewer hours and an easier life.

(0)(1)
Anonymous

This is not my experience at a good commercial chancery set. Lots of pressure at the junior end.

(3)(0)
Senior clerk

Being a pupil says it all really…..no room to pay for yet, not chambers rent, no accounts, no VAT returns, no feeling that others are out performing you, unlikely to have a family etc etc. Come back in a few years junior and tell us whether or not you are still doing 3 day weeks

(3)(0)
CriminalPupil

Who the feck has time to think during pupillage, let alone waltz in at midday?

(6)(0)
Anonymous

Sorry, why is changing culture barrister a woman?

I personally think you have to do a bit of sucking it up in your first 5 years (at least) and just say yes unless there’s something really, really, pressing you can’t get out of. But if changing culture means we don’t assume that women are going to be the ones to turn down work (or if they do, that it isn’t for a good reason) then sign me up.

Pragmatic (female) barrister.

(11)(1)
Senior clerk

For two reasons (1) because the anonymous poster to whom I addressed my response referred to young women leaving the bar and (2) in my experience, it is mostly women who complain about ‘changing structures’ which is a euphemism for not working flat out. I’m not saying men don’t want to slack off, but it is less likely to be expressed in such disengenuous terms. In order words, they don’t work as hard as some colleagues cos, frankly, they don’t want to. They don’t hide behind some nonsense and rally together mankind D to try and force clients to be more responsible to their needs

(4)(8)
Unimpressed

There is nothing disingenuous about describing a refusal to put work above your health and family at all times as consistent with a change in the culture that says that barristers should be expected to put work above health and family at all times.

You suggest that female barristers tend to be more dishonest and work-shy. I suppose there’s no chance that they are more likely to be primary carers for children? Is that their fault also? I’m glad you’re not my senior clerk.

Yours,

A pragmatic female barrister who wants to stay at the Bar after having children but doesn’t want to be forced to choose work over family

(13)(1)
Anonymous

There may be very good reasons for not working flat out. As the comment below alludes to that can often be because of an exception or requirement that the woman is primary caregiver to children or other family members. That does not equate to being “work shy”. Your comment does not reflect reality and is a prime example of why the culture does need to change. Turning down work because you’ve got drinks to go to and turning down work because you need to pick your kids up from school or because, frankly, your mental health is suffering should be neither a gendered issue nor confused with a “disingenuous” attitude to work.

(0)(0)
Anonymous

sorry should be “comment above” and also meant to say there is a difference between turning down work because you’ve got drinks to go to and etc etc, which should not be a gendered issue.

Blame late nights working. Us disingenuous work-shy female barristers just can’t cope with it.

(0)(0)
Anonymous

Jesus, I hope you’re not really a senior clerk. If you are, then I feel sorry for the female tenants at your chambers with such a misogynistic person feeding them work. You do realise that the men at your set usually have the freedom to work long hours yet still have a family and kids because they will have a female partner who will pick up the slack? Female barristers can either choose not to have a family or they can have a family and be thought of as lazy by the likes of you. Men never have to make that choice. I presume you don’t think it’s wrong or a waste that very, very talented women are abandoning the Bar? Probably not, given your previous comments.

(8)(3)
Senior Clerk

I don’t feed my barristers work; they have their own practice. 13 barristers from pupillage to silk….must be doing something right

(3)(4)
Anonymous

Pretty small chambers then. Do you have just the one token woman working there? Clerks can make or break practices in the early years as well you know. Your comment “don’t waste time asking changing cultures barrister again for first dibs on work when I’m under the cosh time wise” explicitly demonstrates that you make direct choices as to whom to allocate work. I see you didn’t bother responding to my (or other posters’) comments about the extreme pressures that female tenants face juggling family and work commitments, a pressure that is nearly non-existent for male barristers. For the sake of any women in your chambers, I pray that you are one of those ancient senior clerks in their 60’s and close to retirement.

(8)(0)
Anonymous

I’m a male barrister single father, and have to ensure I’m working at home for at least a day most weeks to look after the nipper.

I hope people don’t think I’m lazy. In reality I’m working to about 3am once he’s asleep…

(7)(0)
Anonymous

As someone who has wide experience in being self-employed I can tell you with some certainty that there is nothing unique about being in that mode of employment and being a barrister. Many other trades/professions have the same issues – if you want to be a the top of your game.

(5)(0)
Anonymous

Well, actually my experience is most barristers do downplay the amount of work they do and pressure they’re under. Partly because, as I say, some people genuinely don’t see the hours as stressful and partly because ime there’s a strong culture of not wanting to be seen to be “not coping.” And when they’re doing their advertising and student outreach the magic circle type sets do actively tout themselves as offering a good deal for women (because they’re desperate for female members) due to the job’s flexibility without really stopping to consider whether it actually is a great option for someone who is the primary carer for kids.

(7)(0)
Trigglypuff

Wow just wow what is this cisheteronormative bullshit? Don’t you know that some women do not have wombs and that some people with penises are women? Take your archaic ideas back to the time if Ghenghis Khan already.

(1)(4)
Ghenghis Khan

I know lots of men without penises. That’s what you get if you displease me.

(4)(0)
KMC

Who thinks work becomes an easy ride a year after qualifying, you’re only just starting out!?!

(7)(0)
Trumpenkrieg

What exactly are her qualifications to provide all the fitness and nutrition services she is offering? Another chancer passing themselves off as a PT. I would not employ anyone as a personal trainer who hadn’t produced gold medalists in some sport, or at least had a degree in sports science.

(8)(1)
Trumpenkrieg

Gold medalists don’t need to be at Olympic level you muppet. Some sort of track record in producing athletes or strong people generally. And no, encouraging some slob to skip and do 5kg kettle bell swings does not count. Otherwise what’s the point? So some marketer can sell you “knowledge” that is freely available on the web, or “motivation” that you can get by joining a gym class and/or not being a lazy sod? I’d rather, and indeed I do, train myself. Personal trainers are confidence tricksters 90% of the time.

(2)(1)
Harambe

Ok, you’re the expert Donald.

Show us how big your hands again please.

(0)(0)
LadyJustice

I’m so stressed at the Bar I think my head may explode and I will die young. Non-stop pressure. Would be bored out of my mind doing anything else, though.
Live fast…

(5)(0)
Raging Grizzly

As a largish bear, I have very much enjoyed life at the Bar. I mauled an opponent of mine in the Dudley CC toilets today after he made a sneaky point in a credit hire matter. ‘That’ll learn you’, I bellowed over his bloody corpse.

(23)(0)
Anonymous

How can this woman be so stupid to think that once she qualified as a Barrister in a MC chambers her life would be easier than when she was student?

It’s only Amal who gets that gig.

Her back story also suggests that she’s a butterfly, and in a few years time we.’ll all be reading how she has jacked in her gym bunny work to become a nuclear scientist.

(16)(1)
Random comment

This! I suspect her life circumstances are a reflection of her inability to commit to things for too long.

(13)(2)
Umm...

Sorry, what does ‘MC’ stand for when you say an ‘MC chambers’? Haven’t come across this acronym yet.

(0)(0)
MalcolmX'sMum

I remember Matrix had a trainee in 1999 who received a lot of coverage. At the time the outfit was relatively small, with a white woman and a black guy, in particular, leading things. They had real faith in the trainee. They had an associate who was a bit treacherous, but we all know what fate awaited him. The trainee received a wide-ranging traineeship. He became highly skilled and destined to achieve great things. But then the unthinkable happened. All of a sudden, however, he was able to get up from what at first looked like a shock defeat, and was able to achieve what he set out to achieve.

I forget the trainee’s name.

(4)(4)
banty mcbantface

This post has been removed because it breached Legal Cheek’s comments policy.

(1)(0)
Dr Bantz

This post has been removed because it breached Legal Cheek’s comments policy.

(0)(1)
Material

Shows that no matter how hard you’ve worked, no matter how smart you’ve become and no matter how many responsibilities you’ve taken on … allowing your subconscious to dictate your actions based on your addiction to vacuous Instagram fitness/fashion/makeup selfies may be inevitable. Wake up females.

(8)(9)
Trojan Rawdog

This post has been removed because it breached Legal Cheek’s comments policy.

(0)(2)
Anonymous

Seems possible that the father of the two children may have found himself funding four years of study for the single mother to qualify for a career which she found she didn’t fancy when she got there. You can’t knock equal rights, can you?

Incidentally, how many members of Matrix have a tattoo?

(12)(15)
Anonymous

This comment probably wins the “most speculative, most sexist” on the thread, which is quite the achievement.

(13)(4)
Anonymous

Realistically, being real – how else would she have supported herself during that yime?

So not one pound of monthly maintenance went towards study / travel / books etc?? Or the whole thing was done on savings?

Be real.

(2)(3)
Anonymous

Also, it would be equally objectionable for a male with custody of children to do that to a maintenance paying woman.

(1)(1)
Anonymous

I too was thinking of the father of this single mother.

Firstly, I don’t like the use of “single mother” in cases where the father is still involved in the care of the children, as it implies that “sister is doing it all herself” or suchlike. It helps perpetuate a myth that most men on relationship breakdown will walk away from the kids too, which is largely false and an unhelpful assumption.

Secondly, did she move away from the father, down to London, against his wishes due to the difficulty that would present in terms of him bringing up the children too? Clearly a separated parent shouldn’t be completely chained to her current location, but equally with parenthood comes deep responsibility not to charge off to a far away city on a whim, thus impeding the father-child relationship.

Thirdly, how much contact did the father have with the children? If say they spent 50% of their time with him, this puts the single mother stuff in perspective. Still tough don’t get me wrong, I should know as a parent myself, but different kettle of fish from being left completely alone to care for two kids.

(10)(5)
Anonymous

Instead of “father of this single mother” it should read “father of the children” obvs.

(2)(0)
Anonymous

Seriously? It’s so sweet of you to care about the father of her children and also to give some opinions about how single motherhood is an unfair label because it suggests too much hard work on the part of the mum. Despite the fact that on separation, mothers tend to do the vast bulk of childcare. You sound very insightful and knowledgeable.
Basically, you don’t know whether the father is in the picture at all. Despite your claims that the vast majority of men remain fully involved on separation, sadly the actual reality is a bit different. There are hundreds of thousands of fathers who choose not to play a very active part in their children’s lives. Even if he is in the picture, this mum had a chance of a highly lucrative career. She did not move to Timbuktu, she moved 3 hours away to London. Are you saying that she should remain chained to the area just because the children’s father lives there? It’s pretty offensive to speculate and invent facts in order to make some snide point about how she’s a bad mum.

(5)(7)
Anonymous

You sexist. The majority of men stay fully involved with the children on separation.

In many of the cases where the father falls off the face of the earth, it is because the mother has repeatedly denied him access.

Your views belong back with the dinosaurs.

(4)(5)
Anonymous

Nobody forces you to have a child with someone. This woman had not one, but two children with someone.

When you choose to have a child with someone, you realise the implications of that. Essentially that you have a responsibility to co parent from that day onwards, no matter what happens. Not to go gallivanting down to London to pretend to be Cherie Blair for a year or so.

If you can’t live with that, think twice before having not one but two children.

(2)(2)
Anonymous

Certainly all the Matrix people I’ve ever seen with their kit off seemed to have illustrations. Some very tasteful ones.

(2)(1)
Anonymous

All is good except for …

1. The would-be pupil who didn’t get a place because she got it instead.
2. All those Matrix people who spent £££ and untold hours on training her, only for her to depart because she couldn’t hack it after all.

(11)(4)
Anonymous

You’re right. She should be forced to work there forever. FOREVERRRRR!!!!!!!!

(9)(0)
Anonymous

Pretty sure she was on tinder in the not too distant past – I recall finding a Matrix barrister around her age, and I think it was the same name. I right swiped her but she must have left swiped me 🙁

(9)(0)
Anonymous

This post has been removed because it breached Legal Cheek’s comments policy.

(0)(0)
Anonymous

what a load of invented nonsense…as if someone puts their full name, job title and chambers / firm / place of work on tinder…….#epicfail

(0)(1)
Anonymous

Why would I make up getting rejected on tinder?

It was either tinder or happn – I did both. There was definitely the workplace there, I remember it clearly, and the first name was used as is the custom on those apps.

(1)(0)
Anonymous

This post has been removed because it breached Legal Cheek’s comments policy.

(0)(0)
Tricky

When y’all see LC comments, do you do what I do and try to out-smug the last smug guy? Ahh I love LC commenting. It makes me feel all smug inside when it rains outside.

(5)(0)
Anonymous

She should have allowed someone dead set on a career at the Bar to take the opportunity. But then without taking it, she wouldn’t have got all sad and found her hippie stuff. And then this article wouldn’t exist. And I might have been doing something more productive right now.

(9)(0)
RLD123

Yeah, I really hope that when the pupillage panel was choosing it didn’t come down to her and someone who was on their last chance after passing the BPTC 5/6 years ago….

(4)(0)
Anonymous

The general rule with Chambers is that, ‘if no other set wants you after 5 years of trying, nor do we’.

(4)(0)
RLD123

Generally true, but then there are people who do the BPTC and, if after one or two years of no success, might decide to put their advocacy/drafting training to good use and work abroad/join an NGO/do further grad study etc. Especially common in some of the practice areas that Matrix barristers specialise in. I’d be surprised if they hadn’t had a few candidates who put off pupillage apps for one or two years after completing the BPTC.

(2)(0)
Rumpole

She deprived one of her contemporaries of a pupillage and a chance of a tenancy at Matrix.
There are only about 400 pupillage vacancies annually and fewer tenancies. There are three times that number looking for a pupillage every year.

(5)(0)
Anonymous

Quite. It’s like people who qualify as doctors and then jack it in. Someone else would have made good use of the place you didn’t value.

(3)(0)
Pantman

It’s a game of chance whichever way you look a it. The “choosers” make the best guesses they can, and sometimes they get it wrong. It goes all the way back to… wherever (some kid gets top 11+, but fails his A-levels because he has an existential crisis, another gets great A-levels, but drops out of Oxbridge after a year because he just discovered dope… maybe that’s the existential crisis!?).

(1)(0)
Anonymous

I don’t know. I am really committed to a career in law, but never having actually practised… it’s just not really possible to know what it will be like, or if you do know what it will be like, how YOU will feel about it. I know a lot of lawyers working in my field and have a lot of legal work experience, but no one has told me what it’s REALLY like, and maybe it’s not the sort of thing that can really be communicated and everyone’s experience of it is different anyway. I just won’t know if I’ll be happy doing it until I’ve qualified. Anyone who aspires to practise law and thinks 100% that they will stick to it is a bit naive. Life can surprise you. We shouldn’t pretend we’re invulnerable.

(8)(1)
Anonymous

What a very sensible and mature comment. I wouldn’t recommend that you ever share your thoughtful view with any potential employers, but you sound as though you’ll make a good lawyer: a practical, realistic outlook is worth a great deal in law.

(1)(0)
Shirley

For £50K pupillage award you are going to have to bill £150K to justify your existence.

There are many people who train at Magic Circle firms who bail after a few years.

This barrister’s story is no different.

(5)(2)
Anonymous

She should work as a part time barrister. It’s a waste of a pupilage, isnt it?

(1)(1)
Anon

I’m a partner in a law firm and I make shit loads of cash. True, I can’t do a downward facing dog, but I’ve got shitloads of money and at the end of the day that’s all that matters.

(3)(0)
Anonymous

Why is this considered to be newsworthy? Being a barrister is a job. Eloise didn’t like her job, so she got a new one. How is that interesting? Lots of junior barristers decide that they fancy doing other things after a few years, in the same way that many people decide to switch jobs or careers. I can see what’s in this for Eloise – it’s a canny piece of promotion for her and her new business. But why has Legal Cheek indulged her?

(2)(3)
Uni Lincoln undergrad

I’m a final year law student at Lincoln. I’m bitterly disappointed at Eloise. She has damaged the previously good reputation of Lincoln students – from now on people will be more cautious about employing us as they’ll think we wont last.

(3)(5)

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