Open thread: What’s it like to be a barrister?

Share your experiences with the next generation of bar wannabes below the line

To some, the bar is the pinnacle of legal practice, a home to the nation’s very best law brains. To others, it’s a freak show, made up of an unlikely combination of savants, chancers and high society offspring.

Most agree that different types are attracted to different practice areas — with the brainiest gravitating to magic circle commercial sets like Brick Court, Essex Court, Fountain Court, One Essex Court and Blackstone, and the performer types heading over to the criminal bar where they can woo juries.

Of course, there are a whole host of other specialisms, each appealing to different personalities.

But what’s it actually like to work as a barrister? Which chambers are the nicest? Which are terrifying Darwinian hell-holes? And what advice would those who have made it to the bar give to the next generation of wannabes?

Share your wisdom in the Legal Cheek comments section below.

108 Comments

Tim

If it weren’t for the posh, white and straight males it would be great. The bar needs to get in touch with real people and be more diverse.

(25)(65)
Anonymous

agreed the Bar needs more diversity; more ethnic minority’s, working class & more women!

(25)(21)
Trumpenkrieg

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

(1)(5)
Trumpenkrieg

The bar is getting low for censorship these days. Stop being such a bunch of triggered cucks.

(12)(15)
Tim

I know we are opposites politically, but lets join forces to make one super troll! My mum is out doing the shopping now, why not come to mine, we can sit in my basement room and scheme together.

(5)(1)
DiverCity

Totally agree.

I think the bar should also do more to attempt to employee more ex service personnel, and also ex convicts. These two groups of people traditionally struggle to find any employment and often need a helping hand. Getting into the bar is always difficult, for anyone, so these people REALLY need an opportunity. I am sure some of them would be fantastic so the profession is really losing out. And given the importance of the profession, out country is losing out.

(6)(34)
Anonymous

This may be somewhat of a sarcastic joke but ex servicemen and women would certainly improve many professions, not quite sure about the ex-cons at the bar though.

(6)(1)
DiverCity

I do put it in somewhat of a sarcastic way, but, in actual truthfulness as a raging liberal, I agree with you not only regarding the ex servicemen and women but also ex-cons.

(1)(4)
Anonymous

Do you mean that people who have committed sufficiently serious crimes that they have been incarcerated should be able to become officers of the court on a widespread basis?

(4)(0)
Snowflake

How is this comment not against Legal Cheeks policy?! Blatant racism.

(9)(1)
Anonymous

Im a white, straight male and neither my race nor gender has ever affected how i represent my asian, gay asylum clients. Bar should be about merit and blind to race and class.

(27)(4)
Sam

I don’t think that is called into question. No one is saying you are less able to do your job as a straight white male. The conversation is about how those attributes may have, unknowingly, assisted you in getting to the position you are in. It’s important to be grateful for these advantages we have and keep aware of the fact it is a harder profession to access for others without these societal ‘foot ups’. Don’t feel threatened by this or like it is an attack on your achievements just see it as an opportunity to help widen access through your lucky position

(28)(18)
Snowflake

Such a load of tosh – I am a white male and did not receive any of these hand-outs you so readily lean upon. I completely appreciate that some people have a hand up through connections etc, but to state that this applies to all straight white males is utterly repugnant.

Utterly frustrating that a thread such of this has to be immediately dominated by discussions of race.

(21)(12)
Anonymous

I think what they’re saying is that being white and male gives you inherent advantages over other groups just from being white and male, and that’s before you start looking at other advantages that people may have had (such as being rich, having good contacts, etc).

(11)(7)
Snowflake

Won’t have it – if you’re good enough you’ll have no problem progressing through a successful career, legal or otherwise. If, however, you moan, point the finger of blame elsewhere and shield your own inadequacy with handy sound-bites then the issue is most probably not an external one.

(6)(7)
Anonymous

Top tip: remember to have a pre-hearing poo every time.

It helps.

(6)(0)
CPR tree fiddy

During-hearing poos are permitted without notice provided an on-notice poo is fixed within 7 days

(2)(0)
Pete the barrister

I’m rich beyond my wildest dreams and all the hot chicks love me. All thanks to that Practising Certificate.

(45)(2)
Candice

Working at the bar has been a mixed bag of experiences for me. I found it very hierarchical when I was a pupil, and reaching the very top of the profession seemed totally unacheivable to me. But hard work and gd guidance has helped me build up a successful practice and I’m confident I can make it to QC level in the next few years. Role models are important – find them quickly. Throw yourself cases that challenge you early on. Don’t let nasty clients get to you, they don’t want to be in their situation and they can sometimes take that out on you. Spend time reflecting on cases that didn’t go your way

(63)(3)
Anonymous

I would really like to see some positive feedback on this thread. I’ve been working as a solicitor for years and am about to start my bar exams. It would be nice to have some constructive advice.

(12)(2)
Anonymous

In a similar position, so any positive advice would be welcome.

(2)(1)
Barrister 1

Best advice I can give you – do not do the bptc if you don’t have pupillage.

(4)(2)
Original Barrister 1

The second Barrister 1 is an impersonator.

The answer is because it is a huge gamble and there is little to be gained as the great majority of sets, and virtually all decent sets, recruit a year in advance.

(8)(0)
Hopeful

Possible exception: I haven’t got pupillage yet but an Inn of Court scholarship that, together with an Advocacy Scholarship offered by my BPTC provider, covers the full fees. Add to that the Residential Scholarship that I was also recently notified of, and the whole year is free for me. I think under those circumstances it’s not too much of a gamble…

(6)(2)
Richy

Bar Exams – why not do your higher rights then cross-qualify ?

(0)(0)
Anonymous

Personally, I find most barristers arrogant, unfriendly and unwilling to make meaningful eye contact with women. Stop it, its an embarrassment to you only.

(6)(31)
Not a barrister

I love to make deep, meaningful eye contact with women. To enter a woman’s eyes with my gaze is almost as fulfilling as other ways in which I like to enter a woman.

(35)(9)
Not a barrister

How exactly is that creepy? People get far too easily creeped out these days.

(2)(1)
Trumpenkrieg

To feminists, all male heterosexual desire is creepy, unless it is the male heterosexual desire of Mandingos and swarthy refugees, for then it becomes redistributive racial justice.

(12)(20)
Liberturd Leftie

Methinks you have “small hands” and other insecurities like your name sake. It’s Ok…

(5)(3)
Tim

Small hands is a disability, you disablist. Say that again and I’ll report you to the Equality and Human Rights Commission.

(3)(2)
Trumpenkrieg

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

(0)(1)
Criminal Barrister

Life at the Bar is not a ticket to riches unless you go for one of the more lucrative areas of law and are bloody good at it too.

Doing Legal Aid work means financial struggle in the early years (tip: live at home if you can and save for a house deposit or you’ll be renting for life), but interesting and fulfilling work.

(13)(0)
Anonymous

The remuneration in most practising areas leaves a lot to be desired. I’d advise creating another stream of income if possible. I’ve personally undertaken several work experience placements with the local street gangs, and have been entrusted with control over several portions of the estate.

(58)(1)
Anonymous

At a good commercial set.

Good things:
– consistently interesting work
– pay
– independence

Bad things:
– stress (no team to fall back on if you make a mistake)
– long hours
– male dominated nature of the profession (makes career progression harder if you are a woman wanting led work; frustrating feeling your talents/hard work are not recognised bc of your gender)
– work can seem a bit empty/pointless/hairsplitting in grand scheme of things

(16)(6)
Anonymous

With you on the last point, but at least you get to make a difference some of the time – think of all the people who have to work, and don’t even get that benefit.

(0)(2)
Anonymous

Life at the bar is highly rewarding but to get that sense of achievement you need to really out your whole commitment and effort into it.

Be flexible with the practice areas you aim for because my greatest successes have come in areas i did not originally envisaging practicing.

Most importantly dont drop your standards or ethics for anyone. I know many people for whom this is still a noble and honourable profession and they are a credit to it.

(17)(0)
Patrick

Being a barrister is not nearly as good as being me.

Do you like Huey Lewis and the News?

(4)(1)
Anonymous

It depends on practice area. As a young tenant at a criminal set, it’s all consuming. A deeply unpredictable and demanding environment, where lots of study and effort to get there don’t feel worth it at all. In a way, it is seen as a right of passage by more senior members. But the reality is that right of passage is no longer financially rewarding enough to make it tolerable. The criminal bar was never relatively financially rewarding, but now it is at crisis point at the bottom end unless you are independently wealthy. Work is drying up at a hastening rate, as solicitors firms ditch criminal work and the remaining firms keep as much work as they can.

(10)(0)
Your Friendly Local Grammar - you know what

Come on man, if you’re going to use the phrase “rite of passage”more than once, learn how to spell it

(4)(2)
Anonymous

I agree with you entirely. I’m in my first year of practice and £50 / day isn’t a rare occurrence. Not only is the remuneration a source of constant crisis, but added to this you’re messed around left right and centre by both professional and lay clients. I wouldn’t encourage anyone to pursue the criminal bar unless you have other means to support yourself. I’m already looking for a way out as the nonsense you must put up with, the hours, the unpredictability and remuneration are completely soul destroying.

(4)(0)
Anonymous

Was at a decent civil set:

Pros:
– getting a good result for desperate clients
– working with often brilliant colleagues
– decent variety of work
– occasionally having good anecdotes
– your parents get to brag about you
– potential for limitless wealth (sort of)
– you could become a QC, which I assume would be great

Cons:
– short-notice travel all over UK (train-stress plus lugging 2 vols of the White Book everywhere turns into a real grind after about 18 months)
– constantly being on-call
– routinely cancelling social / family events
– lack of genuine control over career etc in the early years
– that Sunday night dread
– being paid irregularly (getting a mortgage was difficult although all my friends assumed I was loaded)
– doing lots of free work (preparing for seminars, writing articles, having a ‘quick look’ at a case)
– not much black letter law
– sorting out your own taxes, pension etc (having to be a mini-business)
– bad money for interesting cases usually

In the end I decided that my own time / well-being was more important than the money I could earn. I now work for the government earning a modest wage doing interesting / important work but with plenty of time to spend with the family. Leaving the bar was the best decision I ever made, but I think my few years in chambers were important to help me work out what I really wanted to do.

(46)(0)
Anonymous

Second volume of the White book is dead weight. But otherwise, fair comment

(3)(2)
Massingbird

The publically funded bar is in real crisis. Legal aid fees have been cut for the last 15yrs and Local Government and the GLD/Tsol have gotten smart and competitively tendered for fixed fees on their churn cases (massively pushing fees down) so its very difficult for ‘jobbing’ barristers in that end of the market to make a decent living – in the early years definitely but also just generally. The top sets and top practitioners still do ok (because they can nab the best work outside of the fixed fee tenders, are well clerked, and get the private fees in) but the more average ones are struggling, and unless you are ridiculously bright or have double 1st from Oxbridge many of the top sets are a closed shop.

I did pupillage in 2010/11 in a deeply average small common law ‘high st’ set doing local gov work and crime (it wasn’t the dream but hey who turns a pupillage down!). I struggled for two years not being well clerked and doing crappy mags work for £100 a day (which you are then never paid) and then ran out of money and went into employed practice In house- which has been great for getting on my feet financially after higher ed. In four years I have paid of my debts, got a mortgage and built up some contacts and experience.

I am now planning a return to the self-employed bar at a better set and will hopefully be able to make a more go of it with all that experience behind me, and recognising where it went wrong last time. But if not, I can go back to employed practice with a clear conscious.

When the job is good, its perfect – a jury trial acquittal is a rush like nothing else, seeing a really good admin court judge understand your case better than you 5mins after having seen it for the first time and then trying to keep up is brilliant fun, and members of the bar are (generally) great people to work with and against and take their integrity very seriously.

When its bad, its awful – quiet periods, excessively busy periods, not getting paid for months at a time, crap awful clients, no paid leave, no pension.

That said, I’ve no regrets and I’d do it all again. You could make more money in banking or some other corporate sh*t-munching – but it would be dulllll as anything.

(23)(1)
Anon

I am a young tenant at a good commercial set. The main advantage is the money, which can be very good indeed if you are successful and willing to work hard – you can easily make £300k (net) in a year, and potentially far more, even in your first few years of practice. The work is also interesting and the profession seems less hierarchical than it did during pupillage. The main disadvantage is the workload and stress, which can be quite intense. It is very difficult to juggle cases. At any given moment, someone – e.g. the judge, your clerk, your solicitor, your leader – is probably annoyed with you. Whilst the work is interesting, it can be pointlessly technical and soul-destroying.

(13)(1)
Anonymous

Hi, I am an aspiring barrister. Please keep these detailed, serious answers coming. I am keen to gain an insight into the culture, lifestyle, work ethics of a barrister. Please be as honest as possible! I fear this thread may not be as informative as the trainee solicitor thread, please prove me wrong.

(5)(3)
A Grown Up

What would LC or any of the teeny boppers here know about being a barrister?
This is teeny fantasy land.

(2)(12)
Anonymous

it’s not LC answering the questions you donut, its barristers themselves, which I think are entitled to tell people what to expect DUH!

(2)(1)
Anonymous

The “share your experience” request has gone predictably well I see.

(4)(0)
Barrister

Legal Cheek I really don’t think you get how small chambers are. This isn’t the first time you’ve asked barristers to “dish the dirt” on individual chambers. Nobody is going to do that, as he/she would likely be readily identifiable.

Also, the Bar is commonly regarded as a “freak show”? Really?

Finally, your “Smart people go to the commercial sets” comment is a serious over-generalisation. Many choose an area of law that interests them more than heavy commercial.

(9)(1)
Anonymous

Well…the joke’s on you isn’t it b/c here they are singling like a canary!

(0)(1)
Rumpole

Rubbish. The clever people do commercial. The thickies go to work with crims.

(1)(16)
Barrister

There are areas other than crime and commercial, actually.

(4)(0)
Anonymous

Junior barrister doing public law and property law.

Pros:
– work is interesting and varied. not just intellectually challenging and academic but you get to learn lots of interesting random things
– independence
– well paid
– you push yourself intellectually and generally in terms of what you think you are capable of
– it is a prestigious job, which is nice
– colleagues are conscientious/principled and lots of barristers are pretty good at what they do
– there is a strong professional culture which it can be enjoyable to be a part of

Cons:
– workload and hours
– inability to sometimes control workflow due to being a single unit of labour

(7)(1)
Money bags

Realistically, how quickly do earnings go up, from years 1 – 5 at the commercial bar? Most solicitors in law firms will be at £250,000 within 5 years (if at a good firm). What would an equivalent at the bar be on? I know you will be too wealthy for your own good if you’re at Brick Court, Blackstone and the like. What I have in mind are barristers that do commercial cases at smaller sets where only £100,000 or so is in dispute, for example.

(0)(6)
Anonymous

Most solicitors in firms that are any good will be on 250k within 5 years? LOL, your research skills need work.

(11)(0)
2011 year call

Depending on the hours you put in, some luck, and being reasonably good, you should be on £180 – £250k (gross) at a half decent commercial set anywhere between 1-3 years.

(1)(4)
Anonymous

What do you mean by half-decent? Does that estimate extend beyond, say, top 10 sets? Find it hard to imagine many chambers where you can be bringing in £250k after one year but perhaps I’m misinformed/clearly in the wrong area of law…

(1)(0)
Anonymous

You’d have to be bill 40-50 hours a week to make £250k at a commercial set in the first few years (with an hourly rate of like £100-120). IMO for a junior junior that’s only possible if you are doing lots of led work, so yeah that means you have to be at a busy set where there is lots of that work going. I am a junior junior at a commercial chancery set with a similar hourly rate, but do mainly my own work and bill less than this.

(4)(0)
Anonymous

Are you drunk? Your definition of “good firm” seems to exclude 95% of the firms in the UK

(3)(0)
Anonymous

There is absolutely no firm in London that pays you that much at 5 years PQE.

Even those at Kirkland who pay NQs fantastically don’t get anywhere near 250k.

Are you dumb?

(0)(0)
Anonymous

I’m a gay blind deaf one-legged dyslexic Muslim transgender schizophrenic HIV-positive 71-year old with tattoos, 7 toes, plugs, a pierced elbow and pink hair who qualified for free school lunches. Give me a pupillage.

(4)(18)
Anonymous

A toff not happy with all the privilege he already has. Lol. Matey you’d be stacking shelves in Tesco if we had meritocracy.

(10)(2)
Just Anonymous

“What’s it actually like to work as a barrister?”

Lonely.

Don’t misunderstand me. I love the job, and I’m still mad enough not to desire anything else. But I emphasise ‘lonely’ because that’s the one aspect that really took me by surprise. Now, I don’t mean literal isolation. What I mean is that you, and you alone, are responsible for your work and your practice. There may be many in chambers who you can ask for advice and assistance (thankfully there are in mine.) But no matter how friendly and supportive they are, fellow barristers cannot share your responsibilities. You carry them alone, and, emotionally, that can be very isolating. And draining.

“And what advice would those who have made it to the bar give to the next generation of wannabes?”

Notwithstanding the above, this is a fantastic job. However, remember that it is only a job. Failing to reach the Bar will not ruin your life. Conversely, reaching the Bar will not make you happy.

Put another way: whatever you do, retain a life outside work. It’s difficult (especially at the Bar) but it’s far more important than you might think.

(45)(0)
Anonymous

Can a junior criminal barrister, 5yrs call or under, please provide some information on the reality of earnings.

(3)(0)
Anonymous

Grossed £20K first year. Good London set. So the reality is not good for the amount of work that goes in – it is no secret that criminal practice entails some of the longest hours.

(2)(0)
Herod Agrippa II

Depends on your set. Outside of London you should be grossing 60k a year after expenses at least

(0)(2)
Anonymous

8 years call.

£50K per annum working in-house for a criminal law firm.

Travel and expenses paid.

(0)(1)
Anonymous

Definitely agree with the lonely part.

No one told me about chamber’s rent (which can be up to 25% at some sets) and slogging one’s guts out for a small brief fee, the majority of which vanishes shortly after receipt. After the focus and work involved in getting pupillage and then tenancy, the whole thing was a bit of an anti-climax.

Anonymous @ 1:07 – I don’t practise criminal but a criminal practitioner applied to our set for a ‘career change’ and earnings (after 5 years in that case) based on their receipts were pretty shocking (between £40-50k). That may not be representative of crime however.

My experience is that it is a solitary existence, with hard work for relatively low reward (at least to begin with, unless you’re at a magic-circle set). You get some forms of independence but it comes at what I consider to be a significant cost.

I definitely see the Bar as the pinnacle of law because of the training involved and the attitude that barristers have, which is that there is almost always an answer or a way to come to a conclusion with enough research and thought. I don’t think anything comes close to that and the job has given me a range of invaluable skills (not that useful in a real-world sense however).

I wouldn’t change the way I’ve done things but you have to weigh up what is truly important. You could be reasonably comfortable at a law firm or in-house, with a decent salary, bonus, benefits package, paid holiday, maternity/paternity leave and freedom (9 to 5/6/7 with no last-minute briefs or cancelling an holiday en route to the airport). While dull, those things count and can strip the shine from a career at the Bar. It depends what sort of life you want to lead.

(6)(0)
Anonymous

I forgot (perhaps as a defence mechanism…) to add the terrible stress involved generally is not great.

(2)(0)
Future Pupil

Would genuinely appreciate hearing positive experiences, if anyone has any to share.

Would also appreciate a view of earnings from someone practising in a very solid (13 + silks), London mixed common law set.

(1)(1)
Anonymous

Earnings depend on the individual. Generally, net earnings at a very good common law set will be more or less on par with a city law firm without partner level earning potential. In some cases the same as MC law with less hours but much more travel, in some cases, similar hours with much less money. That’s without factoring in additional benefits like healthcare and leave necessarily though.

It’s a lonely existence and a great career if you’re a misanthrope. Or just dislike managing, being managed and delegating to others.

(1)(0)
The Bar Necessities

I’m a junior family hack at a decent but not top level specialist set.

Pros are
– independence and the freedom to take a holiday when you want and work when you want (true of all of the Bar, though)
– infinitely varied cases. You meet a huge cross-section of society;
– you get to learn about anything from how to cause brain injuries in a baby through to how to (mis)manage a country estate;
– a little bit of knowledge in all areas is important. This can be really interesting. Looking up a point of insolvency law, or how to challenge the validity of a will, or quite how much a company director who wants to get out of a failing family company they co-own with their spouse can get away with–often when working under time pressure, is stressful but challenging.
– you work for people for whom the case is about more than commercial imperatives.
– better paid than you might think if you do privately paid work. At three years post-pupillage, you could hope to billing in the £100,000 to £150,000 range.

Cons
– lots of hearings. This means lots of travelling to court, waiting around, travelling back, and then starting prep for the next day when you get back into chambers. Not a lot of prep time.
– Family Court lists and time estimates bear no relation to reality. Stupid amounts of hanging around.
– relatively few trials.
– not a lot of black letter law (unless you also do a bit of trusts of land and probate on the side)
– few opportunities to be led.
– Not a vast amount of advisory work, and hourly rates for court work are unusual.
– you will have to watch your friends doing property, commercial, chancery etc end up doing many hours for the same or more money.

(4)(0)
Anonymous

5 years call at a commercial set.

Main Pros:
– The money is good compared to being a solicitor (or almost any other job). After 3 – 4 years in tenancy at a good commercial set you can easily be billing £300k+ a year (probably the equivalent of a £200k+ salary after taking out non-payers, Chambers expenses, room rent etc). The money rises quickly if you are regularly in trials.
– Contrary to some other posters, I have generally found it much easier to be in control of my working hours than in other professions. You can take days off if you are not too busy, work from home, and take holidays – though these are often last minute or cancelled (see cons below!)
– Very intellectually interesting. Clients are paying you for your legal advice and drafting skills, and the more mundane work can usually be given to associate solicitors or to clerks
– Clever and generally friendly colleagues who are often up for a post-work drink and happy to discuss any legal issues
– A real sense of community throughout the bar
– The feeling of winning a difficult hearing or trial is very rewarding, particularly if you have put a lot of effort in and feel as though much of it is down to those efforts

Cons:
– It can be lonely, particularly if other members of Chambers are busy or if you are in a niche area in Chambers
– For women in particular you can feel very outnumbered and with few female role models in some areas of law
– Chambers can be small and gossip spreads quickly
– The sense of responsibility can be exciting, but it can also be very difficult to deal with. If something goes wrong in court or with advice, you will often have to take the blame
– Holidays frequently cancelled. It doesn’t make career or financial sense to turn down an imminent five week trial just for the sake of a few days of sun.
– Difficult to keep track of how much you are earning, given the non-payers, late payers and the variability of work
– Hours are often terrible if you are in (or preparing for) a trial. You essentially have to be prepared to put your life on hold during that period. It is too stressful having to cancel social arrangements at the last minute and leaders will frequently expect you to stay until very late at short notice
– It can feel competitive, particularly with other members of Chambers who are of similar call
– Pupillage can be very tough, with a lot of criticism and a very steep learning curve. Quite a lot of very good people don’t get tenancy in the first set in which they do pupillage

Overall, I am very happy and would not choose any other profession. However, it is a career for people who are used to working very hard, set themselves extremely high standards, and who are able to cope with the pressures of a huge amount of responsibility. It also doesn’t get any easier the more senior you get (at least until you reach super-silk status!)

(10)(0)
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(2)(8)
Anonymous

Hey there, is that e-mail correct? I just sent you a brief e-mail over and it bounced back as undeliverable.

(4)(1)
Anonymous

I had my heart set on practicing at the criminal bar and I am a student member of an Inn. However, I recently got offered a training contract with a small but good criminal firm in London and really would appreciate some sensible advice as to whether follow my heart or my head…

(2)(0)
Lookwhosback

Take the training contract. You can always practice as an in-house advocate if that’s your true calling and your firm promotes it.

(0)(0)
Anon

Any advice about applying for mini puppilages? I’m a part time gdl student. I only have experience volunteering at a pro bono centre and also drafting and proofreading expert witness reports for a few years . My A level grades were not great and my degree was a 2.2 but I did have mitigating circumstances when studying for my degree (not sure whether to explain this on my application or not). My gdl grades are distinctions so far but I get the feeling a distinction on the gdl won’t make any difference. Any advice ? Should I give up ? I haven’t made any applications for a mini puppilage yet

(0)(1)
Anonymous

I would advise you to take your CV to the education department of one of the Inns for an honest assessment. It sounds like you might not be competitive at the bar, sadly, with a 2:2 and poor A Levels. But perhaps your circumstances are unique.

(1)(0)
Old Hack

I started at the bar in 1985. At that time there were no coffee bars or sandwich shops in Fleet Street, just printers and pubs. When I started in my first set of chambers the pupils had to wait last to find out what cases they were doing the next day – and never before 6 pm, so most of the evening was spent reading your brief and preparing for court. As I got older the cases became more serious, but the nerves and anxiety remain pretty much the same. I love this job, it truly is a vocation. Contrary to the negative comments I have read here, most of the barristers I have dealt with in over 30 years at the bar have been charming, decent people. The criminal bar is poorly paid nowadays compared to when I started, but the satisfaction of doing a good job is as rewarding now as it always was.

(6)(0)
Whatshisname QC

Silk at a good commercial set. Been at it long enough to see the full pros and cons, I think.

Pros:
– Constant intellectual challenge, which keeps you on your toes and forces you to improve all the time (even after years of trying). I think that this is good for your brain (or I try to convince myself it is, anyway).
– Independence: being self-employed really does give you a lot more freedom than an equivalent partner in a big firm. Also, you don’t have to worry about supervising a department or a team all the time, only when a big case is on.
– Money is very good, although probably not quite as good as a partner in a magic circle firm: it all depends, some years are better than others. It is certainly not banker/hedgie , work til you are 40, then retire to the Bahamas, scale of money. At the Bar, the best earnings tend to come late, just when others are thinking of packing it in.
– Not just a desk job, as you also have to work at the advocacy. This is something you never stop trying to improve. That can be fulfilling, certainly when it goes right, and makes a welcome change from poring over papers.

Cons:
– Being self employed has the drawback that you are often working alone, even if part of a bigger team; and you often cannot choose or control the team.
– Actor syndrome: every case is your last, you flip between being wildly busy, and then anxious that nobody loves you. This can be true even of really successful barristers. It is a sort of in-built professional paranoia.
– Can be very stressful indeed, because you are the person with ultimate responsibility, but not always good control of the preparation: classic example of a situation designed to induce great stress. You have to develop a personality which can cope with this. Not everybody does.
– Can be extremely hard work, for very long periods. Social and family life can suffer badly, especially during a long trial. Think e.g.: 12-14 hour days for months continuously, including most weekends; which can include 5-6 hours on your feet, cross-examining, sometimes for several weeks at a time. Stamina is vital.
– Unforgiving: it is a life of hard and immovable deadlines, and no excuses. You have to be ready to cross examine that witness, that day, at 10.30 am, and the next witness at 2 pm, and the one after that the next day, etc etc.: no ifs, no buts, no sickies, no “can I put it back a bit”, no “my child was a bit ill this morning, so I had to stay home/got delayed”, no flu (even man flu). You have to be there and completely ready to do the job when required, no excuses of any sort accepted, ever (I think that you might be given an adjournment if you die, but I haven’t tried that yet).

Most of my colleagues seem happy enough with their choice, but I think a lot of them (like me) need to take long holidays to recharge: otherwise you just burn out.

Hope this is helpful.

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