On being offered tenancy, the initial feelings of delight and, no doubt, relief are inevitably replaced by the rather daunting question: ‘Now what?’ The realisation swiftly follows that, ultimately, this is your career and you are now on your own. This article is designed to reassure the fledgling junior tenant, and to outline how to navigate those early years of practice. Fundamentally, it is important to remember that as the newest junior tenant you are not, in fact, on your own, and that those around you have all been in your position at some stage.

Jump right in

You will have seen with your supervisor, and worked on, some fascinating and complex cases – the kind you may dream of doing. This takes time. Your first years in practice may not mirror what you have seen in pupillage. This is normal. You are building up your practice right from the bottom.

See this as an exciting time when you begin to carve a career path for yourself and also start to identify the area/areas in which you want to practise. For some, this is a decision that you may have already settled upon. For others, this may be a decision that takes more time and exploration.

In every area of law, there are likely to be particular aspects that ignite your interest more than others. Making these decisions can be really hard. Our first piece of advice is that if you don’t know what you want to do, try everything. Embrace the diversity on offer. Neither of us came to the Bar set on a single area of law. We joined a common law set precisely because we wanted exposure to different areas and we wanted to inform ourselves of what life as a family barrister, criminal barrister, clinical negligence barrister and commercial barrister might look and feel like before considering specialising. While we have both narrowed the areas that we work in, we have maintained varied practices and have found that different areas helpfully intersect and complement each other.

It is likely that you will discover that a particular focus happens organically, and you are simply receiving instructions more regularly in one particular area. For most, this is likely to correspond with the area you enjoy and you find that you are good at. However, if you feel a particular area is dominating your diary, and you want to explore something else, now is the time to explore. Don’t be afraid to diversify. Take the opportunities at this stage, so that you can make an informed decision about where you want to specialise. Your practice is yours to sculpt, so open communication with your clerks around how you see your own career path is key. Clerks have a wealth of knowledge and regular practice reviews can help you decide how you want your practice to evolve. These reviews focus your mind as to what you have (and have not) been enjoying in your practice. It also helps clerks understand where they could look for an opportunity for you. If there is an area of law that you want to take a break from, ask. They will try to accommodate this, providing valuable breathing space in your diary for other types of work to come in.

It’s not what you know it’s who you know

You can’t get anywhere in this job without a solid grounding in the area of law in which you practise. This, in part, will have come from your academic studies and also, hopefully, from working with pupil supervisors during pupillage and the time on your feet in your second six. At this stage of your career, you are constantly learning. Cases will frequently introduce something new, and you will often feel like you are simply trying to stay afloat. We are finding our first years of practice exhilarating, exhausting, petrifying, testing... we could go on.

The best form of support we found was from other members of chambers. We have WhatsApp groups with other junior tenants – forums for all questions and no judgement. The questions range from points of law and procedure to practical questions such as where to buy collarettes with no Velcro. Conversations with other juniors can be a source of reassurance, particularly on the days when things have not gone as you wanted, but also these groups are a great source of information and intelligence and have proven to be completely invaluable to us when we needed to sense check the logic of an argument or talk through a knotty problem.

Senior members of chambers are also an absolutely invaluable source of help. Building relationships with a cross section of members will improve your practice. Seeing how senior members work and how they have developed their practices can inform decisions that you make in relation to your own. Their wealth of experience and deep knowledge of their legal area can be priceless. These relationships don’t have to be only with senior members of your own chambers, but also others that you meet on Circuit and the solicitors with whom you work. There is no shame in asking for help and colleagues, more often than not, are willing to give it. They have been junior tenants too. Plus, sometimes a point you are struggling with may be of interest to them!

That feeling of overwhelm at having to confront another new issue does subside. The more cases you do, and the more familiar with an area of law you become, will result in similar legal problems arising and you find yourself simply drawing on your own experience, as well as the experience of others.

What qualities make for a successful junior tenant?

As a new junior tenant, you need to try and stay nimble. You never know what is going to come across your desk and while some days may go completely to plan, many won’t. Flexibility and the ability to accept that there is unlikely to be such a thing as a ‘routine’ day, or week, is something to which you quickly have to adapt. Your diary may give you an impression of the week, but by Monday mid-morning this has completely altered. All of a sudden you are being asked to cover something last minute, and the substance is entirely foreign to you.

This is completely normal. Being able to turn your mind to different cases and different areas of law without feeling overwhelmed or exhausted by the prospect is an important quality. The more time you spend switching between cases, and in compressed time, the better you get at being incisive and knowing what is critical to read and what isn’t. It forces you to focus on the central points. Covering work for senior barristers which feels completely out of your comfort zone is run of the mill. While this is daunting, you will only improve. This is a chance to glimpse the complexity of work that awaits you. Having a network of colleagues and friends you can call on to help is vital. Having confidence that you can do something, or the confidence to ask for help if you think you can’t (yet), is crucial.

The job is demanding and as a junior tenant you feel like you are being repeatedly thrown in the deep end. Taking control of your diary, factoring in preparation, is something to learn early on. Knowing when to take a break is really important. If you can try and plan your holidays at the beginning of the year and space them out, that’s great! If something comes out of your diary unexpectedly and you feel like you could do with time off, take it.