Before Miriam came to the Bar, she worked for Hillary Clinton when she was the Senator for New York. Then, in between the GDL and BPTC, Miriam went to Chicago to work on Obama’s re-election campaign. In 2016, she took a few months out of her practice as a family law barrister to work on Clinton’s election campaign, volunteering in the Philadelphia campaign office.

If I hadn’t started off in US politics – I’m not sure I would have ended up at the Bar. I didn’t really have a plan after graduating with a History of Art degree from Cambridge… but I was watching a lot of The West Wing and it made it all look pretty exciting. While I was working for Hillary Clinton, I was trying to figure out my next moves and, when Obama appointed her as Secretary of State and my job in the New York Senate office was done, I needed a plan. It turns out that most people working in American politics have a law degree – everyone I trusted on the staff and spoke to had the same advice, ‘go to law school’. So that’s what I did. Without any real plan of what would come next.

I ended up in a job that suits me really well and consider that a real stroke of fortune. I fell into family law by accident, not by some careful design. While doing the BPTC I marshalled with a family law judge – there was a particularly juicy case in front of him and I thought, I think I would like this.

Working in US politics taught me that communication is, in most cases, key. The work there showed me how to effectively persuade (‘spin’, if you like…) which is a pretty useful skill as a barrister. It was also quite high pressure at times – and that’s a familiar feeling at the Bar.

Having a career before coming to the Bar has worked really well for me. I felt ready to commit to this career and haven’t had a 10 year itch. I got that particular ambition and desire to live abroad and have an adventure out of my system, enjoyed it to the max, and now feel very settled doing this.

I am convinced it’s also made me a much better barrister – not only the skills I picked up working in politics but, particularly, the maturity that has come with coming to the Bar a little bit later in life, especially the family Bar. Working and living abroad, it gives me something interesting (at least to most clients!) to talk about during long waits sitting around at court. And, given that my clients are nearly always going through a tough time when I’m acting for them, a degree of, I hope, worldliness is helpful.

While there are cross-over skills, there are limits to the similarities between working in US politics and the Bar in England and Wales. The scale of US politics is pretty awesome (and exciting) – I was a very small cog, working in a huge machine. At the Bar, it’s usually just my client, my solicitor and me. And even when we’re at court – there’s only the other side and the judge in the picture. It makes the job and the work feel much more immediate, more demonstrably impactful.

I also learned, from living and working in the US, that while there are the obvious cultural similarities, there are real limits too. There’s an even more ferocious working culture there – phones on and answerable all the time, 10 days holiday a year (if you’re lucky). There’s much more balance at the Bar – yes, everyone works hard and there are real periods of high stress and antisocial hours, especially if you’re heading into trial and especially in the early days when you’re finding your feet, but there’s a culture of taking proper holidays and the family courts have been on a real drive to promote wellbeing and work-life balance. It’s a much more brutal culture in the US and there isn’t nearly the same respect for taking proper holidays and time off. My first Head of Chambers (Mr Justice Francis) and my senior clerk (James Shortall) have always been very encouraging of me taking regular breaks from what can be a pretty demanding job. I am extremely grateful to them for instilling that good habit. I would pass on that advice to anyone coming up at the Bar. It creates a much more enriched and full life if you can travel and recharge and commit to interests outside the Bar.

I’m not saying I’m any great altruist, but there is a similarity in both jobs in working to try and help people. My favourite part of being a family barrister is when a case settles and my client feels free to move on with their life. The joy and satisfaction in this job is seeing that sense of ‘closure’ for the client and taking one stress (perhaps financial proceedings) off their shoulders. When I worked for Senator Clinton (as she then was), I found the constituency work really gratifying. I was always very impressed by her genuine desire to improve the lives of her constituents and, on a large scale, to work on initiatives that would do that and, on a small scale, to reply, constructively, to every single constituent letter that came into the office asking for help. I like trying to get things sorted – both jobs have had an element of that.

At the Bar (and in politics), being able to read people is crucial – and being able to empathise and connect with them. In family law especially, I have learned that one of the most important things to the client is to feel heard. They want to know you understand where they are coming from and what is important to them.

I’m still pretty obsessed with US politics and follow it extremely closely. My friends tease me because when we go on holiday, I’m happiest if the hotel has CNN and I can stream political chatter every day. All the podcasts I listen to, pretty much, are hack-y insider American political ones. I’ve kept my subscription to the New York Times and the politics newsletter comes into my inbox (to be devoured) every morning. It’s my specialist subject. Election Night in America is always a night without any sleep for me…

I wouldn’t want to do anything different from what I am doing now. I really enjoy the work and I particularly value the variety and the opportunity to meet new people.

A close circle of solicitors that are loyal to you, and with whom you build a trusting, supportive, relationship has become the most important part of my professional life. I hugely value the strong relationships, and now friendships, I have with the tight circle I regularly work with. It’s the best thing (as well as improved advocacy through practice and fewer nerves) that comes with time spent at the Bar.

My friends often ask if they can come and watch me ‘in action’ – it’s a real relief to be able to say that family courts are private (at least for now…).