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My job explained: Barrister

barristerParas Gorasia outlines some of the stresses and rewards in becoming a barrister.

What inspired you to become a barrister?

I always imagined a lawyer as someone who stood up in court and argued cases. It was only once I did my A-levels that I realised that there was a distinction between being a barrister, who does the advocacy, and a solicitor, who does less of it. I decided to go to the bar because I would be able to genuinely influence the outcome of cases, and have a high degree of responsibility at a relatively early stage of my career.

How long did it take to train and what did the training involve?

After I did a three-year law degree at the University of Kent I went to Bar School for a year, and after that I entered a year of apprenticeship called pupillage at Outer Temple Chambers.

Bar School puts the academic theory into practice. The course itself introduces you to the basics of practice as a barrister and involves advocacy training, learning relevant rules of procedure and learning how to draft legal documents.

During pupillage you shadow a senior barrister and try your hand at the work that they do. The work is then assessed by members of chambers who provide constructive suggestions on how the work may be improved. It was the first time I actually realised what a barrister does. I don’t think you can understand what it’s like until you are doing it day in and day out.
In the second six months of pupillage you can take your own cases and start to go to court on your account. This period is quite stressful as you are constantly having to get to grips with court procedure and a new way of working. It is at this point that you start to realise how much work goes into preparing for each case that you do and the importance of being well organised.

Can you describe a typical working day?

I will usually get into my chambers for 8:30am, spend the first hour or so checking my emails and then go to court for the morning. The hearing might last two or three hours, it could be on a multitude of areas.

I primarily do general civil work including employment, personal injury and contractual disputes. I will usually get back to chambers by about 1-2pm and will spend the rest of the day on paperwork and/or preparing for the case that I have the following day.

Most barristers will get cases two or three days before the hearing date but it is not unheard of for a barrister to get a case the day before a hearing. As a result you have to be comfortable with working quite long hours on occasion to ensure that you are fully prepared to deal with the matter. If I am really busy I might leave chambers at 9-10pm but usually I try to leave by about 7pm.

What’s the best thing about your job?

It’s the freedom and variety of what I do. You are not in an office all day and you can generally choose your own working hours. It’s great not having a boss looking over my shoulder and I greatly enjoy having the immense responsibility that comes from doing this job. I also like the fact that success ultimately rests on my ability and how hard I work.

Have there been any challenges in getting to where you are now?

I was quite shy at school, so it was difficult getting used to the public speaking. Once you start speaking in public on a regular basis such as in the Bar Professional Training Course and/or taking part in extra curricular activities such as debating, you do overcome it and it becomes second nature. I don’t think anyone should be put off coming to the Bar if they are quite shy and not an outspoken person, the main thing is to work hard and have confidence in your abilities.

What qualities and skills do you think are important for your role?

You need to be intelligent, a hard worker, and have the ability to read a lot of material and communicate it in a clear way. You also have to be very self-motivated because you don’t have a boss so the organisation of your workload falls on you. Aside from that, it can sometimes be quite a solitary job because you are generally working by yourself.

What advice would you give to someone thinking about following in your footsteps?

Do lots of extra curricular activities at university like mooting and debating to see if you like speaking. You must also study hard because academics matter a lot, particularly at the bar as the nature of the work can be very demanding. I would also advise getting work experience both within a solicitors’ firm and a set of chambers so that you are aware of the differences between the two professions before you make a choice.