In conversation with Circuit Leaders: discussing steps and opportunities to those within and entering the profession, Nigel Pascoe QC reports

Circuit Leaders Forum

  • Moderator Richard Atkins QC, Bar Vice Chair Elect, St Philips Barristers
  • Speakers Kerim Fuad QC, Leader of the South Eastern Circuit; Michael Hayton QC, Leader of the Northern Circuit; Richard Atkins QC, Leader of the Midlands Circuit; Bill Mousley QC, Leader of the Western Circuit; Paul Hopkins QC, Leader of the Wales & Chester Circuit

Unsurprisingly there was a warmth and a buzz about this event from the beginning, when Richard Atkins QC stepped in to chair it at the shortest notice possible. He could not fail to amuse and led a lively session, with good audience response. The early discussion of antecedent history of the present Circuit Leaders pleased all who also didn’t make privileged entry. Put away those silver spoons: their routes were diverse, unusual and encouraging. All part of a combined attempt to be constructive, inspiring and interactive, as Rachel Spearing, this year’s excellent Chair, explained: an app to put questions, as a sign of the times.

The chair asked those intending to come to the Bar to speak first. One had heard that you could lose money at the outset. Was there light at the end of the tunnel? Michael Hayton QC, Leader of the Northern Circuit, gave a very good detailed response, stressing the need to diversify for example, into regulatory work. Other responses were that it is hard work but you can do it. Paul Hopkins QC, Leader of the Wales and Chester, explained the Circuit perspective of the family Bar. Bill Mousley QC, Leader of the Western, stressed how important it was to keep your options open as long as possible. Kerim Fuad QC, Leader of the South Eastern, agreed that you simply do not know at the outset where practise will take you. Then evocatively he explained why he did crime: waiting for a jury’s verdict is a feeling like no other. Bill Mousley QC asked the audience what chambers were doing to help in the early years, which was a good way to pick up the mixed position. Some paid for travel, allowed a reduced rent and a reduced fee structure for new tenants. At the employed Bar, paid leave was possible. Clerks were careful to ensure that a family barrister did sufficient private work to pay for public work. Gray’s Inn, by way of example, offered some sponsorship.

The general view was that the law provider chosen did not affect your prospects of pupillage or chambers. But the degree obtained mattered. A lot now came to the Bar from the CPS. Secondment for a fixed period from chambers could be a fabulous thing. The third six route was also discussed, sometimes advertised ‘with a view to tenancy.’ There is now Bar Council protocol on managing this sometimes controversial route. But the best way to avoid an exploitative pupillage was word on the street. If you are good, you will do well. But, as Atkins said, you never stop learning.

Right at the end an eloquent intervention from Christal Smart – essentially whether our leaders were still inspired by the Bar. It gave them all the chance to pour out their affection for and commitment to our profession. Your correspondent glowed with inward approval. That does not diminish the real obstacles which exist for would-be or practising young advocates. It was ever thus. 

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Nigel Pascoe QC

Nigel is a former leader of the Western Circuit, practises crime from Pump Court Chambers, and is a Master of Drama in the Inner Temple. He is on the editorial board of Counsel.