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Don’t feel obliged to respond to emails after 7pm, bar chief tells barristers

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Richard Atkins QC says ’24/7 365 days a year culture’ is damaging lawyer wellbeing

Barristers should not feel obliged to respond to work emails after 7pm, the Bar Council’s new chairman has said. Richard Atkins QC, a criminal specialist at St Philips Chambers, went on to claim that the bar’s 24-hour work culture was having a detrimental effect on barristers’ family lives.

Speaking in an interview with The Times (£), Atkins said the general expectation that barristers should be “on parade 24 hours a day, seven days a week” was “not good for wellbeing, nor for diversity at the bar”. Atkins — who was installed as bar chief this month — continued:

“Technology is very good but it does suck us into a 24/7 365 days a year culture. The bar works at odd hours and I can’t hold it against people that they may want to email at three or four in the morning — if that’s the way they work at rather too late an hour.”

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In a bid to deter barristers burning the midnight oil, Atkins revealed bar bigwigs, including from the Criminal Bar Association (CBA), are considering a new protocol for emails. He told the newspaper:

“I would like to see a protocol along the lines of — if the emails come in after, say, seven o’clock at night it is deemed that it hasn’t landed until nine am the next morning. So you’re under no obligation to wait up until midnight. It doesn’t stop you sending the email and you may want to reply, and it may be that in the commercial world they have to. So one size may not fit all.”

Atkins added: “But if you’re prosecuting or defending a criminal case and running everything and prepping your cross-examination for the next day, the last thing you want is some email coming in at midnight that you’ve immediately got to reply to, or perhaps judges saying expect to have this by four o’clock on Sunday afternoon. I think we need to calm it all down a little bit.”

Last year, a Bar Council report revealed 27% of criminal barristers and 33% of family barristers were clocking up more than 60 hours of work a week. This is compared to 17% of civil and 16% of commercial/chancery barristers.

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43 Comments

Anonymous

Well said

We need job security, decent pensions, affordable homes and good schools

An end to wasteful overwork and long hours

A new deal for the country

VOTE CORBYN

FOR THE MANY, NOT THE FEW

(18)(57)

Anonymous

Are you a City partner worried about a windfall tax?

Are you a high earner worried about higher taxes?

Are you an exploitative capitalist worried about redistributive taxation and worker’s rights?

YOU SHOULD BE

CHANGE IS COMING

VOTE CORBYN

(0)(1)

Anonymous

Amen brother

Solidarity with Palestinians

(10)(12)

Just A Junior Clerk

Quite rightly so!

I work in a manic chambers. Internal communications are one of the biggest issues we’re facing. The way our chambers used to email – non-stop chains, unimportant announcements and request from solicitors at ungodly hours.

I’ve set up a system in our chambers to help mitigate the regular small fires we fight. Planning your week, sorting email communications and implementing rules, creating comms channels and the likes have drastically changed the mood in chambers.

This 24/7 culture needs to stop – we need to start thinking outside the box

(50)(1)

Anonymous

It’s pure commerce.

If my Barrister will not respond to late night emails, I will instruct one who will.

Simple!

(22)(52)

Anonymous

This is why we need to unionise to prevent such a race to the bottom on wellbeing.

Wouldn’t you rather have a well-rested barrister who can handle your case with their full intellectual faculties and in a motivated fashion rather than one who is reaching burnout and functioning on minimal sleep whose judgment is necessarily impaired as a matter of biology. Appears short-sighted to me.

(73)(5)

Anonymous

No. If I need an answer to a legal problem at 2.30am that cannot wait, then I need a top legal brain with the stamina to deliver.

Snowflakes do not get the brief.

(14)(77)

Anonymous

Very few cases genuinely require an answer to a legal problem at that time of day.

The more realistic situation is that your partner or client has set an arbitrary deadline – the timetables of the lay client, solicitor and counsel are all connected and it is only when all three parties tackle this issue will it be solved.

Moreover, in direct response to your point, if the Bar as a whole rejects the obscene demands of answering a legal problem at 2.30am, let’s say, then where will that leave you? Either a) you will have sub-standard counsel selling out their colleagues to get briefs which they could not secure on merit alone, or b) you will have to tackle the question yourself.

(78)(0)

Anonymous

If the lay client wants an answer, solicitor has to find counsel that will give him an answer or else lay client will go elsewhere.

It’s no good solicitor saying “I couldn’t find counsel who would answer your query by your deadline”. Paying clients expect the best and will happily take their business elsewhere if Solicitors and Counsel do not deliver.

(6)(32)

Anonymous

Put in protections to prevent such behaviour being possible, and such behaviour ceases

(8)(1)

Anonymous

Any barrister would respond to a truly urgent query (limitation expiring next day, sudden need for an injunction, client has declined to give instructions until day before unless order deadline etc).

But in the absence of such compelling urgency sols should do their job and manage client expectations.

Or, go to a barrister who is happy to answer at all hours. It’s a free market. But don’t expect the rest of us to do it.

No one is going to lose their practice by not religiously checking their emails all evening, or replying the next day. Most solicitors aren’t cretins.

(7)(0)

Anonymous

I’m intrigued. What could the legal question be at 2.30am, that needs answering at that time?

(25)(1)

Anonymous

Not the original poster, but speaking from experience (as a client) there are times when we need legal support around the clock.

For example, if we are working with our parent company in the States, on a project in the Middle East, the working day becomes a lot longer and questions may need answering outside of the usual office hours.

From my perspective, the issue that needs to be tackled is firms selling you the idea that they are always available; we have worked with City lawyers and their international counterparts, and they advertise themselves as a 24/7, providing you’re willing to pay the fees. As a client paying high costs, we expect more from the firm, which ultimately means that the solicitors etc. are flogged harder, and have more pressure put upon them to meet client demands.

(22)(2)

Anonymous

This is a fair point.

(7)(0)

Anonymous

I woz croozin wiv my mates in my Audi A3 at about 2.30am when someone drove into de back of me and I was jolted forwards and backwards like and my neck started to hurt and I needed someone to submit my CNF immediately and drive me to A&E so that the bad insurance company don’t call me a liar

(17)(7)

Anonymous

Poor.

Anonymous

I find it quite remarkable that Anon @2.05pm’s comment manages to play on racial stereotypes without making any allusion to race whatsoever. Indeed, one almost has to have a racist thought in order to connect it to race in the first place. It’s really making me think.

I’d be interested in hearing what LC readers think. Vote up if you think his/her comment is racist, down if you think it isn’t.

(4)(18)

JC

Just you I think

Anonymous

In my experience solicitors who email in the evening with a random q are not necessarily expecting a response that night. I have no qualms about saying ‘thanks for your message I’ll look into this and get back to you tomorrow’. It’s different if there is a real deadline (eg court deadline) or if you have agreed in advance to do a particular piece of work (eg reviewing a document that doesn’t get to you til late). But most commericial solicitors understand that barristers work on multiple cases and are not going to be ‘on call’ for them in the same way that an associate at their firm is. I do have colleagues who take greater pains to get back promptly to clients but imo they’re making a rod for their own back, and it doesn’t make a huge amount of difference to overall success in practice.

(18)(1)

Topbrief

Why are my fingers orange?

Because you’re up at 2:30am watching porn and eating wotsits

(2)(1)

Anonymous

Oh to have practised before emails and mobile phones…

(36)(1)

Oldie of Counsel

Yeah. Queuing for hours for a payphone to respond to a pager message was great fun in the early 90s…

As was carting around suitcases full of paper bound with red string and doorstop-sized practitioner texts.

Halcyon days…

(26)(0)

Anonymous

Fair point – perhaps to have practised in the time before pagers, fax, telex, mobile phones and email is what I should have said!

(11)(0)

Anonymous

Yeah. Queuing at the stables and 2am to raise the nearest steed, to ride until dawn to respond to his noblest of servants messengers was great fun in the early 1860s…

As was hauling carts full of papyrus bound with the intestine of a rabbit and barn-door-sized practitioner texts.

(71)(3)

Anonymous

LOL ^^

(5)(0)

anonymouse

You, sir, are a banter genius!

(9)(2)

Anonymous

Well, OK perhaps to have practised before humans evolved the ability to communicate in written form and verbally is what I should have said!

(11)(1)

Captain Caveman

Ug!

He wrong me!

Me crush his skull rob me club and eat his flesh!

(11)(0)

Anonymous

Late night emails and weekend working is nearly always caused by sols sitting on cases and then panicking when they realise there’s a deadline looming.

Run out of time because you’re a shit solicitor? Chuck the problem at counsel!

(14)(2)

Anonymous

The Bar Council and the Law Society should be doing more to help younger NQs with work-life balance

Unionise, solidarity, go-slows and walkouts

We need to embrace strike action to protect “One Bar”

We need to protect our legal professions, before they are lost

(7)(2)

Anonymous

Fair.
Similarly, barristers should also not feel obliged to charge outrageous fees

(8)(2)

Anonymous

We’re cheaper to the client than associates at your firm….

(15)(0)

Judge Rat

You get what you pay for

(3)(0)

Anonymous

If you are going to charge X, people expect Y. It’s that simple. If people are prepared to work the hours and charge the fee’s associated with it, they do so in the knowledge that there is work out there to be won.

I’m not saying its right, it’s just the fact of the matter.

(5)(4)

Lord Harley of Counsel

Tell them to ring Jaflas. We can even find someone late on Sunday for Monday morning.

(7)(1)

Anonymous

If you have a good relationship with counsel you will prep them far in advance of deadline to avoid last minute ambushing.

On occasion there may be things like urgent injunctions and the like that justifies late night action and the chap in his article recognises that.

Often the urgency in law is not urgent. It’s caused by desk jockeys trying to inject some artificial drama into their mundane lives.

(21)(0)

Anonymous

No deal

No deal

No deaaaaaaaaal

Cha cha cha

Gonna be biblical

Then Corbyn

Like a total socio-economic reset to 1992 with free train tickets

(4)(1)

Anonymous

🎶Gonna party like it’s 1979🎶

(2)(0)

Anonymous

7pm? At top m&a practices that’s just half way through the work day!

(10)(1)

Anon

Lol I don’t check email after half 5

(9)(0)

Wellbeing at the Bar

Emails at 7pm… Just ridiculous.

I suffered a nervous breakdown because of one email I received at 7.02 pm regarding a sexual encounter in the chancery section of Lincoln’s Inn library.

It ended my marriage and my two daughters now think I’m a complete c4nt.

Now, I switch my mobile phone off by 6pm, I’m out of chambers and masturbating to re-runs of Dempsey and Makepeace.

(7)(0)

Sertraline girl

These people are such a waste of time, it’s incredible…

(1)(0)

Lolz @ the Bar

Lol

(0)(0)

Comments are closed.

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