Interview: The Linklaters solicitor and the 5 Paper Buildings barrister who swapped cases for cakes
They have very different stories, but both agree working in law made them “miserable”
Harpreet Baura and Olivia Potts do not know each other, but they have both done something many law students simply wouldn’t dream of.
A former Linklaters lawyer and a former 5 Paper Buildings barrister respectively, Baura (top left) and Potts (top right) ditched the ‘glamorous’ world of legal practice for something very different: cakes.
Legal Cheek spoke to them both to find out their stories.
Chatting to a chirpy Baura against a background of bakery noise, it’s almost hard to believe she hasn’t been doing this all her life.
Though she’s now the founder and head pastry chef of Crumbs Couture, things started off very differently for Baura. After graduating from UCL and then BPP Law School, she began her career at the magic circle.
In the early days, Baura loved her job, and so too did ex-criminal law advocate Potts. With a degree from Cambridge and a passion for social justice, she seemed the perfect fit for the bar, so imagine her delight when she bagged a pupillage at top criminal law set 5 Paper Buildings. Reflecting on this time, Potts explains:
It was a really great chambers full of kind, clever, skilled people. I don’t think it’s possible to do a non-stressful pupillage, but it was made much more bearable by the people around me.
Though the narrative is different, personal issues were at the heart of both Baura and Pott’s exits from the law.
Potts’ mother died unexpectedly during her pupillage, and shortly after being taken on as a tenant her love for criminal law advocacy began to wane:
Shortly after pupillage ended, I realised that the things I found stressful during that time just weren’t going away. I put it down to mourning at first; it took me a long time to realise that, actually, being a barrister just wasn’t the job for me. There was always the fear of moving onto the next case, the next stress; I thought I was going to thrive off of that, but I didn’t.
Now a freelance food writer, cook and Cordon Bleu student, Potts admits she found “the responsibility” of the job particularly hard to bear:
The more experience you have the more serious the cases are, so the more you progress the more that can go wrong. Having someone’s liberty in my hands made me feel very anxious, and very miserable actually. I just couldn’t go home and switch off.
Though the narrative is different, Baura’s experience of life at the coalface bears similarities to Potts’ in its — to put it bluntly — miserableness:
Once I’d got stuck into doing deals at the firm, a few personal things in my life happened and I developed depression. Even though there were hundreds of people working at Linklaters, I still felt really lonely.
I would wake up in the morning and my heart would sink realising I had to go to work. Everyone thinks it’s glamorous, but it’s not very glamorous when you’re in the office at 1am still wearing the clothes you’ve been in since 7am. Sometimes we even slept under our desks.
Jacking in the magic circle six months after qualification was a decision met with shock and discontent from some of Baura’s friends and family, but her health improved greatly in a short space of time and she has no plans to return to the profession. Though it clearly wasn’t the job for her, she remains grateful for her time as a solicitor:
Doing a training contract definitely sets you up, it gives you clout and means you’re more seriously as a businesswoman.
For aspiring solicitors reading this article, Baura encourages you to “aim really high”, but to “never be afraid to change direction”.
Potts’ advice is similar. Though she persevered with her barrister career for some time longer — about five years — she too has now found solace away from law practice. To wannabe barristers, she says:
Be pragmatic — if you find yourself in a job where you’re miserable, you need to find out whether this is a surmountable blip or something more than that.
For her, it was the latter, and a career in the legal profession is very much behind her:
If I wanted to return I probably could, but I don’t want to. The thing I miss the most is the people. I still like the narrative of criminal cases; I still read crime novels. As a job, it was just not right for me, or rather I was not right for it.