I suspect there might come a time in everyone’s career when they say, ‘I’ve had enough of this!’ In 2017, after 30 years at the Bar, I finally reached that point. That is not to say that I didn’t enjoy being a family barrister, but simply that I needed a change!

I began at the Bar in 1987, having completed pupillage in London and then relocating to Brighton. In those early days and as a provincial barrister, I was required to turn my hand to anything, from landlord and tenant, employment to crime and family cases, and I would go to wherever I was required. I was very happy to travel to various courts, located in delightful places such as Mark Cross, Arundel and Petworth.

What took place over the following years was a move away from the ‘common law barrister’ as we were then known, to becoming so-called ‘specialists’ in our chosen areas. At the same time, the plethora of courts dwindled and we saw the demise of those idyllic locations. No more Mark Cross, Arundel and Petworth and the likes, and the delightful memories associated with attending at those out of the way courts went with them.

So, 30 years later, I had a professional diet of abused children, domestic violence, drug abuse and mental illness. I generally worked six days per week, including most evenings. I tried to conclude my day by no later than 10:30pm, to try and get some sort of a good night’s sleep, but sometimes facts would whirl around my mind until the early hours. In those pre-COVID days, I would avoid the rush hours and aim to get to chambers by 8am. I was often working up to 14 hours a day and the intensity was immense. It was during this period when those thoughts of ‘there must be more to life than this?’ began to haunt me.

It is difficult to think of alternatives to a practice at the Bar, but I had always had in my mind a life in academia. Then an opportunity arose when a friend and ex-colleague suggested I apply to teach on what was then known as the BPTC. During the middle of a three-week child sex abuse case, I set about completing the application forms and crossed my fingers.

Low and behold, on the evening of the interview I received confirmation that the job was mine. It was rather strange and somewhat daunting to think that I was in my mid-50s and pursing a new career, but one that I felt could take me into the twilight years. The benefits were obvious, a salary, long university holidays, a new challenge, new colleagues, no more late nights and Sunday nights prepping and interesting work. Although I took on a full-time position, I had the advantage of retaining my membership of chambers and using those long university holidays to maintain my practice and perhaps more importantly, my income. It all seemed perfect!

The first year proved to be much of what I had hoped, but the switch from self-employed to employed was a shock. Teaching began in September and was intense until early February, when the students then began to concentrate on revision. It was therefore expected that there would be little opportunity to even contemplate taking time out during this period. In addition, I realised I had very limited control over what I was expected to do and when I was required to do it. My timetable was, of course, arranged by others. As my children had grown up, the opportunity to pick up a last-minute jaunt over to warmer climes was lost as was any chance of an early season ski trip. But surely the advantages outweighed this imposition on my liberty?

What ultimately proved to be the undoing of my academic career was the creeping demands place on me. In 2020, the course changed from the Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC) to Bar Vocational Studies (BVS) and with it the academic year was extended until the Easter and then beyond. That was to have a significant impact on my continuing practice at the Bar and any chance of increasing my income. For me, however, the sad reality was that employment was about targets, deadlines and profits and I began to feel that my role was only to ensure that these targets were reached and maintained. I felt like a small cog in a large wheel. That was the real difference between my role as a barrister and that of lecturer.

Albeit, with the arrival of COVID-19, I was grateful for the security of the income, but significantly, it meant that the whole teaching experience changed with the arrival of remote teaching. The interaction with the students was without doubt the most enjoyable part of teaching and communication via MST was simply not the same. So, in the morning of 1 January 2021, I found myself emailing the head of department and handed in my resignation. I concluded my teaching career on 31 March 2021, and within a couple of weeks I had returned to a busy practice at the Bar and the previous three years was now just a memory.

As I write this, about one year on, I ask myself whether my return to the Bar was the correct decision? I know that if I had remained at university I would be preparing to begin the new academic term and the prospect of actually meeting the students and returning to the classroom. However, I have no regrets!

I feel the experience on the whole was healthy and worthwhile. It allowed me to take stock of my career and to reflect on the previous 30 years. I am certainly now far more cautious of the potential impact of the heavy workload on me and I am now committed to taking regular breaks away from the workface and also time out. But what I regard as the most significant benefit on my return to the Bar is the opportunity to manage my own path, to decide what I do and when I do it, to recognise my limitations and to react to them as necessary, to enjoy the challenge but not to allow it to take over my life. I also believe that the experience of teaching on the BPTC/BVS has allowed me to think carefully about my own abilities as a barrister and the service I provide to my clients and I feel that that has made me a more effective lawyer and one that will ultimately benefit my clients.

Therefore, was it worth it? Of course, it was! I would, therefore, encourage others to consider at the very least a sabbatical. However, I would also recommend that if anyone is thinking of a career change, they should think very carefully before they make the full leap of faith into their new career and very carefully weigh up the advantages and disadvantages of a life at the Bar.