As practice becomes more flexible and staying in one set of chambers for the entirety of one’s career is no longer the default position, interest in the employed Bar has grown. Spanning the public and private sectors, employed practice mirrors the type of work that is done in chambers to an extent, but allows for more planning and predictability for many in creating a good work/life balance to enjoy. While few generalisations hold true, the benefits of a regular and known income, especially for those with dependents, is evident, although not the main reason that barristers opt for employed practice.
There is no typical barrister who is employed, but the majority of employed barristers have spent more than a year at the self-employed Bar. They also have an interest in maintaining an equilibrium in their working lives. They often have particular specialisms that they seek to become ever more invested in, contributing to policy and operational changes as well as matters of law. The surveys that the employed Bar has carried out over the years reflect that ‘not getting tenancy’ is no longer the main reason that barristers choose employed practice, even if this was the case historically.
Many of today’s employed barristers have made a conscious decision to have an employer. It means that they can benefit from the experience of non-lawyers around them, that their training needs and their practising certificates in many cases are taken care of, that they have the benefits of a regular salary, paid holidays, sick pay, pension contributions and flexible working patterns. Of course this comes at a price, and the same freedoms that someone who is self-employed has, are traded for this, albeit not professional independence.
The employed Bar, while remaining relatively static in percentage terms given the number of practising barristers at the Bar in England and Wales, has more recently seen a growth in movement, with young barristers more likely to undertake substantial secondments, more experienced practitioners seeking a change, and very experienced barristers bringing their skills to new employers. There is also movement the other way, with more employed barristers returning to self-employed practice. Increasingly, they also enjoy portfolio careers, taking unpaid leave to sit, or to work part-time/flexibly to combine a number of roles.
The Employed Bar Awards recognise the vital work of in-house barristers and I am delighted to introduce this year’s award winners.
Melissa Coutinho is a Senior Lawyer in the Responsible Business Practices & Better Regulation Team, BEIS Legal, Government Legal Department and a member of the Counsel Editorial Board.
Katherine Willerton, GLD
Employed barrister of the year
When were you Called? 2005
Why did you opt for the employed Bar? I initially worked at the self-employed Bar, but wanted more certainty and more challenging work than the very junior Bar offered.
How did your career progress? Since joining the Government Legal Department (GLD) I have progressed through a number of different GLD legal teams working with many government departments. Not only has this meant I have built broad legal skills, it’s enabled me to lead teams, work in Parliament and Brussels, and have close contact with Ministers.
How did you get your current post? I have just joined the Senior Civil Service as Head of the General Law team in the Ministry of Defence (MOD). I applied for the post on promotion after finishing GLD’s Gateway Into Leadership course.
What is the best part of your job and why? No two days are the same.
What is its greatest challenge? I’m still getting used to all the acronyms in MOD...
Where do you see yourself in 10 years’ time? In GLD, leading the provision of excellent legal services on exciting areas of law (that may not even exist yet).
What would people be surprised to know about you? I have run around the athletics track in the Olympic Stadium in Stratford. Alas, this was in 2013 as part of a 5 mile run around the Park and not for any Olympic glory.
Do you think there are likely to be more employed opportunities in the future? Yes, GLD is a significant employer of barristers, and advertises opportunities regularly. Come join us!
What does the award mean to you personally? I was absolutely thrilled to win. It is a wonderful recognition of the hard work of lawyers from all government departments who worked collaboratively with the Legislation team in DEXEU (the Department for Exiting the European Union) to deliver the EU (Withdrawal) Act 2018.
Catherine Yardley, CPS
Young employed barrister of the year
What made you opt for the employed Bar and how did your career progress? I joined the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) in 1988 and worked in various administrative roles, including assisting counsel in the crown court, before becoming an ‘associate prosecutor’ (lay presenter in the magistrates’ court). Finding advocacy surprisingly enjoyable, I decided I wanted to try to become a barrister. I studied for seven years (Open University law degree followed by Bar finals) whilst working full time. I completed pupillage within the CPS (my pupil master was Michael Jones QC) and was called in 2011 since when I have been promoted within the CPS.
What is the best part of your job and why? My job is akin to reading and analysing a new crime story every day, plus it enables me to work as part of a team together with the police and prosecution counsel; something which I enjoy. I also derive satisfaction in knowing that my work provides a valuable service to the public.
What is its greatest challenge? The greatest challenges of the job lie in the sheer volume of work and, in my view, the inefficient digital case management systems.
Where do you see yourself in 10 years’ time? In 10 years’ time I hope to be looking forward to retirement following a successful (40 year!) career in the CPS.
What would people be surprised to know about you? People may be surprised to learn that outside of the CPS I am known to my friends by the nickname ‘Bob’ – see Blackadder II circa 1986.
What does the award mean to you personally? I am currently recovering from treatment for breast cancer so having my work recognised by the Bar Council has given me a real fillip. I would like to thank my colleagues at the CPS in Cardiff for their support throughout my career and recent illness.
Aoife Drudy, GLD
Outstanding achievement by a public service barrister
When were you Called? July 2009
Why did you opt for the employed Bar? Mainly I found the self-employed Bar to be lonely. I love to work as part of a team so the employed Bar was the answer for me. It surpassed my expectations and gave me so much more opportunity than I expected.
How did your career progress? Lawyers in the Government Legal Department usually advise several different government departments during the course of their careers, as transferable skills are strongly valued. So far, I have advised the Northern Ireland Office on a whole range of legal issues, from elections and constitutional law to the Northern Ireland’s troubled past and the UK’s exit from the EU. I have also advised the Home Office on police powers and fire and rescue authorities. I took maternity leave in April and I hope to go back in January.
How did you get your current post? From the self-employed Bar, I applied for an open recruitment campaign for lawyers in government. The recruitment process was standard for civil service lawyers, testing competencies and professional legal skills. I got my last post working on UK Exit on level transfer from another post.
What is the best part of your job and why? I deal with cutting edge and exciting legal issues every day, long before they are litigated, so I am part of the full story. Doing this with policy colleagues makes me a better lawyer because they challenge me.
What is its greatest challenge? Juggling so many different matters at once. Challenging but interesting.
Where do you see yourself in 10 years’ time? A senior civil servant, dealing with a range of issues across a department, or even several departments.
What would people be surprised to know about you? I presented the school awards ceremony in my final year and fell off the stage dramatically. Glad I didn’t do that this time.
Do you think there are likely to be more employed opportunities in the future? Yes, I think so. GLD is expanding, with huge recruitment drives generally and in specific fields. And I think private sector companies are catching on to the value of employing barristers rather than instructing them only when things get to court.
What does the award mean to you personally? It makes me feel that I must have added value in the work that I was doing. But the achievement wasn’t a solo effort. I worked with and learned from lawyers and policy colleagues who should share in it with me.
Grant Warnsby, BP
Outstanding achievement by a barrister in a corporate organisation or solicitors firm
When were you Called? 1997
Why did you opt for the employed Bar? How did your career progress? I was always interested in international taxation. An employed barrister at PwC suggested a period working in-house would help develop me and my practice. He was absolutely correct. The work-life balance and stability of income made for an attractive proposal; so I took the step to the employed Bar. I always expect(ed) to return to the self-employed Bar. One employed role led to another and within a short period of joining BP I was offered the opportunity to work in Moscow. Not only did this opportunity provide me with some of the most interesting work I could have imagined; it also gave me an interest in joint ventures and the desire to focus on international work. These interests took me through various roles in mergers & acquisition, regulatory and working in Iraq.
How did you get your current post? I was asked to undertake a short-term secondment to support a project. The project ended; however, working with BP’s exploration and access team is so exciting I took the opportunity to continue.
What is the best part of your job and why? The people. My fondest work memories are always working with other lawyers. One should never stop learning. I am lucky enough to work with exceptional people delivering outstanding results. It means there is constant stimulation and challenge which in turn means you have to continue to push yourself to achieve.
What is its greatest challenge? Keeping all the plates spinning!
Where do you see yourself in 10 years’ time? Running toward the next challenge – whatever and wherever it may be.
What would people be surprised to know about you? My first job was as a QC... In this case a quality controller in a pea factory. I still grade peas when I see them.
Do you think there are likely to be more employed opportunities in the future? Definitely. As a profession we must get better at understanding our transferable skills and the value we can bring to a variety of non-traditional employed roles.
What does the award mean to you personally? I was equally honoured and delighted to receive the award. It means a lot to me personally and is a testament to the outstanding teams of people I have been and continue to be privileged to work with. Equally, it demonstrates that we really are ‘One Bar’ and we can celebrate that diversity.
Alistair Grainger, Reeds Solicitors/Reeds Chambers
Employed advocate of the year
When were you Called? 1998
Why did you opt for the employed Bar? I was in a lovely chambers with fabulous colleagues, but practicing exclusively in legal aid crime (pros and defence) meant that I was seeking some financial stability.
How did your career progress? It was a natural progression at the Bar, always stretching and challenging one’s self with ever harder cases. I am now a leading/senior junior and since joining Reeds, I have access to constant excellent sub silk level work. I work with a team of talented solicitors, caseworkers and fellow advocates. My caseload has increased as has the more serious nature of the cases that I defend.
How did you get your current post? I had been touted by Reeds for a number of years. They won me over in 2014.
What is the best part of your job and why? I love working close to home in Oxford. I like my routine and I enjoy having some control over where I go and what work I do.
What is its greatest challenge? Keeping morale high and our department profitable. We have to introduce quality new and junior practitioners to the firm and retain them in order to survive; not only as a department but more generally as a referral profession and providers of quality advocacy.
Where do you see yourself in 10 years’ time? Ideally having some initials after my name and some sort of judicial position.
What would people be surprised to know about you? I play a mean funky electric bass.
Do you think there are likely to be more employed opportunities in the future? I do exactly the same job that I did in chambers but with greater certainty and control. I think that young barristers believe that chambers is the only option. It is not.
What does the award mean to you personally? I am absolutely thrilled. It genuinely means so much to me, and it made my mum cry when she heard the news.
Commander Ian Park, Royal Navy
Outstanding performance by an HM forces barrister
When were you Called? 2003, Lincoln’s Inn
Why did you opt for the employed Bar? The Royal Navy selects prospective barristers from within its officer cadre. Once selected, a candidate is sponsored by the Royal Navy to undertake the academic and vocational aspects of barrister training. Upon completion, the Royal Navy offers a wide variety of legal employment and this appealed to me.
How did your career progress? I have been extremely fortunate to have had a varied career that has included prosecuting and defending at courts martial, deploying as a legal adviser to Afghanistan and the Middle East, lecturing overseas, and advising on matters of international law. The Royal Navy has also supported doctoral research in international law and fellowships I have undertaken at Oxford University and Harvard Law School.
How did you get your current post? Having gained some operational experience and further academic qualifications in international law I was considered a suitable candidate to undertake my current role as the Royal Navy’s Head of International Law.
What is the best part of your job and why? Royal Navy barristers typically spend two to three years in a specific role which offers constant change, challenge, and exciting new opportunities. This variety of work is the best part of the job.
What is its greatest challenge? Undoubtedly, the greatest challenge is providing legal advice on military operations overseas.
Where do you see yourself in 10 years’ time? I’ve never made long-term plans, but would certainly like to be practising law in some capacity.
What would people be surprised to know about you? I once published a book.
Do you think there are likely to be more employed opportunities in the future? I think that those at the employed bar have a significant amount to offer the legal profession, therefore I sincerely hope so.
What does the award mean to you personally? Naturally, I’m absolutely delighted to receive the award but any individual recognition is always made possible by the support of others; in my case, colleagues in the Royal Navy and, most importantly, my family.
Ros Wright CB QC
Exceptional contribution to the employed Bar
When were you Called? 1964, by Middle Temple
Why did you opt for the employed Bar? Taking two tiny children to chambers and to court with me every day (couldn’t afford reliable childcare) didn’t endear me to other members of chambers – or to the courts.
How did your career progress? Director of Public Prosecution’s office, for 18 years, where I prosecuted a huge variety of fascinating serious offences, including big fraud cases; then to the City, as a disciplinary prosecutor of crooked brokers; then to the Serious Fraud Office, as Director, in 1997.
How did you get your SFO post? I was headhunted and appointed by the Attorney General.
What was the best part of your job and why? Leading a team of dedicated and experienced investigators and prosecutors – and the sheer challenge of difficult and very high-profile casework.
What was its greatest challenge? Being in the public eye in everything you do; the press expects you to achieve a 100% conviction rate. When a jury acquits, it’s the SFO in the firing line.
Where do you see yourself in 10 years’ time? If I’m still here, still volunteering at the Personal Support Unit at the Royal Courts of Justice, supporting unrepresented litigants.
What would people be surprised to know about you? Nothing would surprise people about me. I am a constant source of surprise to myself.
Do you think there are likely to be more employed opportunities in the future? Very much so. Businesses need lawyers and our skills are very transferable.
What does this award for exceptional contribution mean to you personally? I am amazed – at my stage of career I hardly expected to be remembered, let alone given this wonderful accolade.