A survival guide to being on your feet

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Tips for surviving your second six and growing into your role as an advocate with confidence. By Zeenat Islam

I don’t think anyone ever forgets their first day on their feet. After years of studying, sleepless nights, exams, applications, rejections and then finally a pupillage offer – it is one of the things baby barristers look forward to the most.

My first day of second six was for a plea and case management hearing in a multi handed complex fraud case, with my instructing solicitor in attendance and in front of a deliberately difficult judge. I felt sick, had wet palms, a sweaty forehead and a flustered red face... but I survived!

Oral advocacy, although at times daunting, is one of the most exhilarating parts of being a barrister. In this short guide, I offer some tips and hints about how to grow into your role as an advocate with confidence.

Know your brief

  • It does not matter what area you practise in, the advice will always be the same – know your papers inside out.
  • Preparation will increase your confidence – you are more likely to know the answer to a question if you have prepared well.
  • Speak to your instructing solicitor for any additional information that may be helpful in advance of the hearing.
  • If you are covering someone else’s hearing, you must speak to them beforehand.

Utilise support networks

  • Speak to your supervisor regularly and get their advice if you have questions. They are an invaluable resource.
  • For questions you may feel ashamed to ask, more senior members of Chambers, third six pupils and junior tenants are your best friends! They will always be happy to help, talk anything through beforehand and also available on hand for anything that emerges in court. No question is too silly. We used to have a WhatsApp group which was incredibly helpful throughout pupillage.
  • Keep in touch with colleagues you meet from other chambers too, through networking events, or education training at the Inns. Having peers to speak to is a really great way of navigating through second six and beyond because someone else is likely to have had a similar case to yours or dealt with a similar issue at some point.
  • For ethical issues always speak to your supervisor and if in doubt contact the Bar Council Ethics Helpline (020 7611 1307; ethics@barcouncil.org.uk; www.barcouncilethics.co.uk).

Attendance notes and record keeping

  • Write your attendance notes straight after your hearings so you don’t forget key details. Your clerks and solicitors will also hugely appreciate this.
  • Keep detailed notes in your notebook, of conferences, what happens in hearings, trials etc. Do this always and even more so if you have a particularly difficult client/judge etc.
  • Get endorsements from your clients where necessary.
  • If anything comes up later on down the line, you will want to be able to refer back to your notes.

Structure and signposting

  • If there is one thing I have taken away from every advocacy training I have ever attended, it is the importance of structure and signposting. Applying this to your advocacy creates focus and clarity.
  • Tell the judge what you want and why you want it. Cut the waffle.
  • Think of your submissions as a road map; you are navigating your tribunal and want them to reach your suggested destination. Make it easier for them with a clear structure and by telling them what to do and why.

What you say and how you say it

  • It is not just the what, but also the how. Think about how you are delivering your advocacy.
  • Tone, speed, use of pauses, eye contact and how you stand are just some of the things to think about. Much of this will develop over time.
  • Impact: keep this at the forefront of your mind.

Beyond the courtroom

  • There are so many fantastic ways of developing confidence and advocacy skills outside the courtroom.
  • Think outside of the box and don’t be afraid to try something new. There are great opportunities available such as the Kalisher Trust’s Advocacy Training, training with Keble College and the South Eastern Circuit’s civil and criminal advocacy training courses in Florida.
  • Stepping outside the law: there are fantastic public speaking courses available that can really push you out of your comfort zone and make you a better advocate overall. It is important to build skills more broadly. Examples of providers include Toastmasters and the SpeakUP challenge.

Keep a reflective diary

  • Keeping a diary or a journal is an excellent way of charting your growth throughout the pupillage process.
  • Whether you prefer to keep a note online or use a fresh notebook, allocate time in your day to reflect on your advocacy. What went well? What did not go so well? What do you want to improve next time? Did you see anyone else in court and appreciate something about their style that you would like to try? It is a good habit to start this in your first six when observing others and develop it when on your feet to include reflections on your own advocacy.
  • You can also use this to reflect on any advocacy training you do either in Chambers or with your Inns and otherwise.

Develop your own resource bank

  • Create a checklist for hearings that you will be doing regularly eg if in crime, for bail applications and pleas in mitigation. Type a list of all the things you need to remember to ask your client (eg personal circumstances such as family, employment, finances, explanation for any previous convictions) and headings for areas that need to be covered in your advocacy (eg credit for guilty plea, deal with sentencing guidelines, personal circumstances, any references),
  • This will ensure that you do not miss anything important while you’re finding your flow –before you know it you won’t need to rely on them anymore.
  • Have templates that can be adapted for written pieces of work eg advices, notes on the law, notes on sentence – that can be adapted in future and saves you from having to repeat the same work again.

Wellbeing and time out

  • Pupillage is a challenging process. It is a marathon, not a sprint.
  • Set boundaries. As a pupil, it can be hard to say no. Use your supervisors as a buffer where necessary when you have too much work on; they are there to look out for you.
  • Take time out and block it out of your diary. This should be non-negotiable and Chambers should encourage their pupils to do this.
  • It can often feel impossible to carve out time for yourself but this is imperative and something you must insist on.

Celebrate the wins

  • Celebrate your mini milestones and achievements.
  • Not every day will be easy but taking stock of your progress and acknowledging your wins, however small, is a positive way of keeping momentum throughout pupillage to get you to that end goal!

Although it may feel like a lifetime, it will be over in a heartbeat – try and enjoy as much of the journey as you can.

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Zeenat Islam

Zeenat Islam is a barrister at 25 Bedford Row. She is an Associate Tutor at the University of Warwick and teaches Practical Advocacy to LLB students. She is the founder of REDEFINED: Learning for Lawyers which is an alternative learning platform for aspiring lawyers from underrepresented groups.