After morning prayers, I like to spend around 20 minutes reading philosophy. I am currently reading the Ramkali measure of the Guru Granth Sahib-Ji and one line particularly stands out: ‘In whatever work thou puttest anyone, in that he is engaged. None is foolish nor anyone wise.’ I take this as an important reminder that being a barrister does not attract any special status over other occupations.
Following breakfast with my wife and two daughters, I start work at home at 7.30am. Unless I am in court or have meetings, I tend to work from home. I have a slight disability affecting my arms and hands, so rely heavily upon voice-activation software, which works brilliantly in a quiet environment.
A costs and case management conference at Hastings County Court beckons at 2pm; a legally complex and bitter dispute involving allegations of intimidation and unlawful interference with my client’s business. Fortunately, my opponent is sensible and pragmatic and so following on from discussions the previous evening, we agree directions with only costs budgets to discuss at court.
Today is no ordinary day, though. It is my last day in chambers. I am very excited about joining 7BR, but sad to leave behind so many colleagues who have provided me with friendship, education and support during my first six years at the Bar. My fondest memories include fi ve-a-side football matches; and my first four months as a pupil with Simon Taylor.
I send my announcement to my now ex-colleagues via email just before leaving for court and en route have a quick look at my phone. There are dozens of responses. I read the fi rst few, which are encouraging and supportive, but also make me feel quite wistful, especially as my journey to the Bar was long and quite an unusual one. Age 16, I left school to join the police force but after 20 years there, I felt the pull towards the law. So in 2004 I embarked on a degree, studying part-time while working in the Serious Organised Crime Agency’s employment and civil litigation department. At the grand age of 41, I became a pupil.
Arriving at court at midday, I have my lunch whilst preparing to negotiate costs budgets. My opponent arrives later and at 2pm, the judge calls us in for an update and allows us further time, during which we reach agreement and obtain approval from our professional clients. I am mindful that my client probably feels I have neglected him, so I spend time talking to him and discussing his concerns. I try and treat anyone involved in litigation with the utmost respect and pride myself on client care.
The judge agrees the directions and budgets. Kindly, he allows us to email the order over the weekend, which is ideal as there is rarely any mobile phone reception at Hastings County Court. I have another short chat with my client explaining the outcome and then set off for home. 4.30pm is not the best time to be travelling from Hastings to home but it allows me time to speak to my instructing solicitor (and inform him of my move). After that, another solicitor calls to congratulate me; an exceptional lawyer who has instructed me almost since I was on my feet: I feel my success is very much her success (and the success of my clients).
I then call my new clerk to discuss the most pressing cases for the following week and to make arrangements. Time for the new.
Arriving home at 6.30pm, my back is stiff and painful from the journey. I fractured my back in 1998 after falling 40 feet chasing car thieves when I was a police o cer and it still plays up now. Also, whilst I love attending Hastings County Court, it is not suitcase-friendly, which takes its toll even though I predominantly work paperless. I normally try and walk at least for 30 minutes a day, but time is against me today.
"It is my last day in chambers. I am very excited about joining my new set, but sad to leave behind so many colleagues who have provided me with friendship, education and support during my first six years at the Bar"
My children are at karate (they are black belts) and so when they are out, I tend to work. Reading through the emails from my ex-colleagues, I feel quite overwhelmed again and am touched by their kind words. I wrap up at around 8.30pm to relax.
We have a fairly strict no-work-Saturday rule at home, which includes no homework for the children. I map out what I need to do on Sunday; this includes having a brief look at the essays entered as part of the Guru Nanak Social Mobility Bar Scholarships (see below). The scholarships are part of my strong commitment towards social responsibility since being fortunate enough to practise as a barrister. I am also a Social Mobility Advocate as part of the Bar Council’s ‘I am the Bar’ campaign.
We have a late family dinner together during which I tell the children that my move is going ahead on Monday. They are quite excited for me, knowing that it involved some very diffcult choices. My eldest is joining a new netball club tomorrow so it is an exciting time for us both. After they go to sleep I start mapping out all I need to do on Monday, then some stretches for my back and clock in around 20 minutes on Twitter and LinkedIn before calling it a day ready for my new beginning.
Mukhtiar Singh is a barrister at 7BR (7 Bedford Row Chambers)
Coming to the Bar from a working-class background can be a real advantage as it brings a fresh and practical perspective to practice and law. Here are Mukhtiar’s top tips for aspiring barristers from non-traditional backgrounds:
- Focus on sets that have proven diversity in their chambers and are taking on more than one pupil. A set taking on just one pupil is less likely to take on someone unusual. Also a set which has no or little diversity would need to convince you why it now would have a genuine change of heart!
- Form good relationships with barristers on your mini-pupillages so that you can ask them the questions that really matter to you.
- Work experience may be as, if not more, useful in practice than a long list of academic qualifications, so don’t compare your CV with those from more privileged backgrounds.
- Be confident and ask for help. Remember, you are needed! This profession provides an opportunity every day to learn and as long as you grasp those opportunities then you should have confidence to succeed.
Guru Nanak Social Mobility Bar Scholarships
It is with great pleasure that, together with the Sikh Education Council, I launched the Guru Nanak Social Mobility Scholarships this year. The aims of the scholarships are to improve social mobility in professions perceived to be out of reach for those from poorer backgrounds and to encourage a wider understanding of Sikh jurisprudence by considering whether society may learn from Sikhism for the benefit of us all.
The Bar Scholarship is open to anyone from a financial and socially disadvantaged background able to show the commitment and ability to become a barrister. It was not open solely to Sikhs and applicants were from a range of backgrounds. The application process included an essay; this year’s question was:
‘Was Theresa May right when she said Sikh values are “values we need more than ever as we forge a new ambitious role for Britain in the world”?’
The winner will receive an award of £4,000 and one year’s mentoring. There may be work placements available to those falling just short of the first prize. The 2018 competition is now closed and results will be published by 1 December 2018.
The project has attracted a lot of interest and I am hoping to extend the scholarship in 2019 to solicitors and, in subsequent years, possibly to politicians and doctors.
If you are a firm, chambers, solicitor or barrister able to offer a second or third prize of a work placement (and pay for travel costs), please contact me. If you would like to provide a £4,000 Solicitor Scholarship in 2019, please get in touch.
For full details of the scholarships, please visit my website at singhbarrister.co.uk/scholarship/. Any queries should please be directed to email@example.com