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Being a Barrister: New Beginnings

Editors PickBeing a Barrister: New Beginnings

By Chevan Ilangaratne – Employment and PI/Clinical Negligence Barrister at St Philips Chambers

For me, and I suspect many others, the nerves and excitement I felt on day one of Pupillage were unlike anything I had felt before. Fast forward time and I am now some way into my first year of tenancy at St Philips Chambers, having successfully completed Pupillage there in October 2022.  

In terms of my Pupillage story, my route to the Bar was somewhat conventional. I did undergraduate and postgraduate law degrees; I worked in legal charities and a law firm to gain experience before sending off several applications to various Chambers. Eventually I struck gold.

My Pupillage, which was a specialist one in Employment and PI/Clinical Negligence law, in Birmingham was too conventional, and I say, very enjoyable at that. There are, however, tonnes of brilliant accounts online and elsewhere of what Pupillage is like day to day and the difference between first and second six.

So instead of going through my personal account month to month, below are my four top tips for Pupillage and beyond drawn from my experiences along the way.

  1. Life in Practice – Anticipation Helps

The first is practice itself. Whatever your field of law, the key to success in trials no doubt comes down to a myriad of factors and variables. However, being able to anticipate things, so far as possible, has often aided me in court. For instance, when you receive a number of documents from an instructing solicitors, ask yourself not just what you have, but what you also potentially need even just as a safeguard? Bundles, especially those which are voluminous, often can look complete. But look back and question what the case is all about? What might the Judge ask about? What might your opposition challenge you on? Can you evidence it? If not, it may be that your solicitor can help and send through relevant documents.

Anticipation, of course, comes in other forms. It may involve taking the lead to remind your client their hearing is tomorrow at particular place and time, or setting off hours in advance to make sure you get to Court in time given the possibility of delays during your journey.

Anticipation is not the ultimate key to success, but good and reasonable foresight axiomatically assists you in a job where there are never ending twists and turns.

  1. Networking – The More the Merrier

In a post-pandemic world, networking has inevitably changed to some extent. Covid-19 undeniably brought many events, that previously took place in person, online. Whilst increasingly there are more in-person events taking place now things have settled down, I am minded to think professional networking events have changed forever as a consequence of the last few years.

The question then is how best to network at the start of the Pupillage and beyond?

My own view, put very simply, is the more the merrier when it comes to attending events. Pupillage inevitably exposes you to a number of functions hosted by other Chambers, law firms, law schools and even charities. For those that are in person, showing your face does not in my view do any harm. Relevant contacts, for instance instructing solicitors, may well just be looking for a more junior barrister to take on some of their cases. Sometimes, as arbitrary as it sounds, you are just one impromptu conversation away from pulling in some work.

To the same end, being prepared to attended events last minute is an asset. Of course, and rightly so, important personal commitments must always come first and good Chambers will be understanding of that. There are occasions, however, that more senior members of Chambers have to – for whatever reason – pull out of attending a dinner/awards events at the eleventh hour, potentially freeing up a space for you to attend. If you go – it could be beneficial. Why? Not only will members of Chambers likely value your commitment, but there is also of course further scope for expanding your professional network.

Finally, Zoom/Teams events, particularly seminars, are here to stay. Why not attend relevant ones (by which I mean seminars on your chosen area of law), and post about it on Linkedin and/or Twitter after? Of course, caution must be exercised as to content – as with all social media posts. But virtual attendance ought to mean something, and if you identify in your posts the key takeaways from the seminar or presentation you attended, then those who deliver them will no doubt consider it to be a job well done. It may not necessarily lead to more contacts or clients, but keeping abreast of legal developments is in any event part of the job!

  1. ‘Extra-Curricular’ Activities – Join a Committee

As mentioned above, there are number of ways to get your name out there when starting off. Another is joining relevant committees, both within and external to your Chambers/employer, to bolster your presence in the legal scene and community.

Personally, I recently become a ‘Barrister Representative’ for the Birmingham Solicitors’ Group (BSG). The BSG’s mission, in a nutshell, is to connect junior lawyers, both solicitors and Barristers, across Birmingham and the West Midlands. The role, amongst other things, gives me a chance to immerse myself in my regional legal community with the pleasure of meeting many others who are also starting out.

Sharing knowledge, experiences and, dare I say, laughs with fellow junior lawyers can prove a vital support network in and of itself. This career is immensely stimulating, but there is no hiding from the fact it can be stressful at times.

Watch out for opportunities with your regional Circuit, Inn of Court, or even charities focusing on relevant areas of practice.

  1. Treating Everyone the Same

Whether its court staff, clerks, or receptionists in Chambers, being humble, down to earth, and respectful to all is, I think, vitally important in this career. Especially when reputations are hard won, but so easily lost. Word can get around much quicker than you think.

Being a Barrister no doubt bestows on you great responsibility. But none of it would be possible without those other professionals I mentioned. So, however difficult the day or week may be, ensure that your requests are always politely pitched and are reasonable in nature. And if possible, make time for small talk. It may be obvious to some, but ultimately, it’s nice to be important but it’s important to be nice!

Concluding Remarks

The above is by no means a comprehensive list of all that one should do as a Barrister to bring about success, or a strong likelihood of that. I have not mentioned a number of things, include manging finances, which can of course come with its issues for those who join the self-employed Bar.

But I hope the above is somewhat insightful and useful, and look forward to hearing from others, particularly those who qualified during or post-pandemic, on what they have done to establish themselves in this delightful, but at times, challenging career!

Chevan Ilangaratne – Employment and PI/Clinical Negligence Barrister at St Philips Chambers


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