Sam Fowles began his pupillage at Cornerstone Barristers expecting that over time he would be exposed to high-profile public law matters the set is renowned for. This has proven to be true. What he didn’t anticipate, however, was just how active pupil barristers could be in shaping their own areas of specialism from the moment they walk through the door. “It was clear from the very beginning that Cornerstone was going to support you in building a unique practice,” Fowles recalls.
Fowles, who was called to the bar 2017, studied history at the University of St Andrews before going on to complete a PhD in public law at the University of London and the University of Sydney. Alongside his studies, Fowles worked as a teaching fellow for the University of Birmingham. By the time he came to study the Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC), he was already providing advice and consultancy to NGOs and MPs on a wide range of public policy matters, including Brexit.
His expertise was welcomed by Cornerstone Barristers. “They gave me the space to maintain all the contacts I had made, which has proven useful in terms of work further down the line,” Fowles explains.
Pupils are assigned three supervisors for the year and spend four months working with each. They make sure that pupils effectively “manage the pressure” as they progress from drafting oral arguments right through to handling their own client base. Such support continues well into tenancy through the set’s “open door and open phone” policies, he explains.
Another feature Fowles found beneficial during his pupillage was tenants’ “openness to collaborate”. In his first week he watched his first pupil supervisor, Estelle Dehon, lead a junior barrister from another chambers in a case relating to former journalists at WikiLeaks. “That’s another good thing about Cornerstone: other chambers can be very territorial, we’re just not,” Fowles said.
Indeed, at the time of speaking, Fowles is working alongside barristers from Matrix Chambers in a judicial review challenge to the prorogation of parliament. Fowles represented Joanna Cherry QC MP and 73 other members of parliament in their successful Supreme Court challenge. He is also part of the team representing Joanna Cherry, Dale Vince, and Jolyon Maugham QC in a legal attempt to force Boris Johnson to comply with the Benn Act, seeking an extension to Article 50. This follows his involvement in similarly high-profile matters including Wilson v the Prime Minister, the EU (Withdrawal) Act 2018, the Trade Bill 2017-19 and the Data Protection Act 2018.
Being so closely involved in fast-moving political issues often results in an unpredictable workload. “Sometimes work needs to be turned around in the hour — it’s just the result of the political situation which is moving very quickly and we’re trying to respond to it. In that case, you just have to drop what you’re doing and do whatever needs to be done.”
Similarly, busy periods resulting in the occasional all-nighter and working weekend are “just a reality of practice”, Fowles recognises. “Ultimately, you are responsible for the conduct of the case and delivering the right results for your clients.”
When he’s not representing clients, Fowles offers training seminars — skills which he draws from his time lecturing at institutions including the University of London Institute in Paris and the University of Sydney. Seminars are held either in the clients’ offices or in Cornerstone Barristers’ chambers, which thanks to recent refurbishment now boasts a cool, modern interior. More recently, Fowles focuses on offering training on GDPR and data protection. “It’s an under-appreciated part of the work that we do; sometimes, especially as barristers, it helps to identify issues from the start rather than acting only when something has gone wrong.”
The junior barrister also hones his public speaking skills during appearances on programmes including BBC Business and BBC World, or the set’s vlogs series, ‘The Three Minute Brief’, which can be found on the Cornerstone Barristers YouTube channel. Such activities, Fowles believes, are part and parcel of modern-day practice. “It’s not like the 1900s where your clerks simply brought in all of your work in a neatly tied pink-ribboned bundle. These days a modern barrister has to be entrepreneurial in going out and building their reputation and practice.”
Even in hectic times, however, Fowles finds a balance between work and play. Cornerstone’s barristers are spoilt for social dinners and drinks, whether organised by chambers’ management or the tenants themselves. Alternatively, those seeking a break from the heavy case law can enjoy some lighter reading courtesy of the set’s popular book club.
A collegiate atmosphere among the 58 tenants guarantees a constant support network for barristers. “These are not just colleagues you see nine to five from Monday to Friday. Ultimately, they’re your mates and here to support you.” Case in point: Fowles reveals that he’s invited 20 tenants and all the set’s clerks to his wedding next year.
Fowles finds time for hobbies, too. “You’ve got to have a life outside of the bar, otherwise you would end up quite a boring person or you just lose perspective,” he says. Whether he’s “tearing around a field with a rugby ball or trying not to join in and sing during a West End musical”, Fowles believes that taking time out helps his practice. “Being able to blow off steam makes me a better barrister. It means that when I’m here, I’m focused and I’m really here,” he adds.
Fowles advice to those wishing to follow in his footsteps? Don’t dismiss the benefits of postgraduate studies. “During a PhD, you are responsible for your project and ultimately, you have to deliver that before your scholarship runs out. Working under this pressure is really helpful at the bar,” he says.
Perhaps even more important, however, is to be resilient. “All the time people were telling me how hard it was coming to the bar and I had to be prepared that I wouldn’t make it. It was really disheartening and made it really difficult. So, the big thing I would say is: keep at it. Ultimately, you have to believe you will get there and tune everything else out. I got here in the end, even if it took me ten years,” Fowles advises.