Change of pace

Technological advances give barristers greater flexibility, but less chance to unwind: the Bar Council’s forthcoming suite of wellbeing support can help

Before the internet, August was a time when the Bar went on holiday, or, if not on holiday, had some respite from the normal speed of life. 

The courts closed. Time did not run in court proceedings. There was not as much arbitration in those days and certainly not as much international travel. Some juniors stayed around to pick up work which couldn’t wait, such as urgent applications, but generally it was accepted that barristers didn’t work in August.

In 2016, life is very different and not just because of the internet. Many of us will have taken some time off during August, but very few will have taken the whole month off. For those of us who disappeared in August, or indeed at any time during the year, it is increasingly difficult to ignore work. Courts, arbitrations and adjudications do not respect August as they once did. E-mails permit us to be accessible almost everywhere. A few remote outposts remain, but they are dwindling. Clients, like the rest of us, expect answers to e-mails, sooner rather than later. This makes it harder to truly escape.

Do not misunderstand. I recognise that technology brings many benefits, both for us as lawyers, and for the public. But there was a benefit to August being in effect an enforced break from work.

The Bar is a demanding and hard job. As I was paddle-boarding in a lake in New England last month, I got to thinking how similar it was, or can be, to some aspects of life at the Bar. Paddle-boarding is often a solitary sport. It requires determination (and balance) to stay upright and on course. In the early days, one falls off quite a bit, and even when more experienced, if the conditions are windy, or the water choppy. You have to climb back onto the board and keep going. But once mastered, and when everything is working in your favour, you have a real sense of achievement. It is also, I should confess, one of the few places on my holiday where I simply could not look at my BlackBerry or iPhone.

One of the many advantages of technology is that, assuming you are not actually physically needed for court, you can work from pretty much anywhere these days, allowing much greater flexibility. The challenge may be, at 
least for those less disciplined with technology, to ensure that enough time is built in for R&R. It is vital for our wellbeing that we recognise the pressures which come with the job and that we make time to regenerate our batteries, both physically and mentally and to retain, or regain, perspective.

At the Bar Council we are building a suite of wellbeing support for barristers and for chambers which we will be launching in a few weeks. Our focus will be on providing barristers with the information and skills they need to stay well, to support the profession as they deal with issues that arise in so far as they affect a barrister’s professional life, and to provide assistance for those with responsibility for, or taking on a supporting role for, those in difficulty or crisis. Please look out for this.

Contributor Chantal-Aimée Doerries QC, Chairman of the Bar

Working on your behalf

A glimpse of some of the Bar Council’s work in July 2016

  1. The Bar Council introduced Maternity Mentoring Scheme to help barristers with children return to work, as well as Flexible Working Policy guide for chambers.
  2. A working group was set up by the Bar Council to consider the implications for the Bar of Brexit, and highlighted the importance of UK legal services in response to TheCityUK report.
  3. The publication of Lord Justice Briggs’s Civil Courts Structure Review saw the Bar Council give its reaction to the report in the media.
  4. Another successful Bar Placement Week, the Bar Council’s flagship social mobility initiative.
  5. Contingent Legal Aid Fund working group, which would fund litigation for those that would not qualify for legal aid, was set up by the Bar Council with the Law Society and CILEx.
  6. Chantal-Aimée Doerries QC welcomed the Lord Chancellor, Elizabeth Truss MP, to her new role with speech at her swearing-in ceremony.
  7. The Young Barristers’ Committee visited Birmingham and held an open meeting, with the assistance of the Midlands Circuit, to better support and communicate with young barristers outside of London.
  8. The Bar Council launched a survey to better understand the working environment of the employed Bar.
  9. The Young Barristers’ Committee held its first Toolkit seminar on practice management, building on the material available on the Young Bar Hub.
  10. Secured cross-party support for amendments at the Lords Committee stage of the Investigatory Powers Bill to better protect the client’s right to legal privilege.
  11. Much of this work is funded by the Bar Representation Fee (BRF) which is a £100 per year subscription.