An international career in court work can be – and in my case has been – at least as much to do with luck as it has been to actual design. For those who agree that practically every aspect of a career at the Bar comes with significant risk, please read on.

As to the basis for presuming to offer my views to others on the subject: I am now admitted in, and practise across, 12 jurisdictions in addition to my original admission to the Bar of England and Wales. Most of those, but not all, are in the Caribbean region. 

The practical implications of the COVID-19 situation on court sittings has been something of an ‘accelerator’ in terms of maximising the practice flexibility that a foothold in that number of jurisdictions brings. Gone (or at least postponed) are the wasted days in small airports.

None of the jurisdictions in which I am admitted outside of England and Wales required separate exams. All have procedural and substantive systems of law very recognisable for anyone with a training background of the Bar of England and Wales. Several have a relatively easy route of appeal to the Privy Council (for now, at least). A couple of these jurisdictions required nominal periods of ‘supervision’ (without any syllabus) pre-call. It will not surprise you to hear that there are worse places to wait out that period of not being on your feet in court than a Caribbean island.

Each of the jurisdictions in which I got admitted to the Bar reflected active work involvement. A couple of the admissions were relatively expensive in terms of court fees; I swallowed the cost as a way of staying on an existing case in order both to help the client and get my face known somewhere new. The so-called danger of falling outside of the mainstream career path by working largely outside of England and Wales pre-supposes both that such a path still exists and also that you should follow that if it does. Very different to how it was put to me when I left England in 2000, the decision is no longer a binary one. The scope for an overlapping (onshore/international) practice only continues to improve. I would take the risk again, but the risk is noticeable smaller now anyway.

Some of the overseas Bar admissions are a well-trodden path, especially by the London commercial Bar. To have real impact in the Caribbean region you will need more than those. One jurisdiction has a nationality requirement for full (as opposed to case-specific) admission. Another requires residence of a year pre-admission and has a case-specific admission possible only for Queen’s Counsel.

Lessons learnt

So, is some homework necessary? Yes. In my view, has it been worth the effort? Also, yes. Whether the last two decades in practice mostly overseas have provided me with variety of work and experience that I could have matched simply by not leaving England in the first place is obviously impossible ever to know. That said, and in an effort to try and help others, here are some of the things I would say to my younger self before I left the Northern Circuit and ventured forth:

  1. Take the time at the earliest stage to sit the University of West Indies Certificate of Legal Education. In some of the larger Caribbean jurisdictions, without that you will simply never be eligible for admission. 
  2. If you head to a British Overseas Territory (Anguilla, Cayman, Bermuda, British Virgin Islands, Montserrat or the Turks and Caicos Islands) stick it out there until you are naturalised (made a citizen) because that immigration status opens the door to several Caribbean jurisdictions that require Caribbean citizenship. Be aware that if you prioritise the ‘bragging rights’ of starting out in one of the obvious three ‘big’ jurisdictions, nowadays you will be one of many good ex-patriate lawyers hoping to make your mark.
  3. If you aspire to appear in the Caribbean Court of Justice, based in Trinidad (why would you not?) then understand its original and appellate jurisdictions so you can seek the necessary underlying Bar admission.
  4. Do not write publicly (however well-intended) about any views you may have that the work ethic and high standards of the Bar of England and Wales makes its members strong exports. I made the mistake of doing that early on in reply to an article in The Times by Lord Pannick about the demise of (his phrase) the ‘bamboo Bar’ for the profession travelling from a London base. I was rather skewered for doing so in local press overseas (ironically by an islander then studying for the Bar – guess where – in England). That taught me a salutary lesson. It made me realise, the hard way, that in many jurisdictions it is viewed as being more important to protect local practitioners than it is to improve competition to improve the quality of service to the public. Other than to confirm my base jurisdiction as being the Turks and Caicos Islands, in anything I write on the subject of overseas work, I never list my jurisdictions of practice except on my website. That way, I cannot be accused of inciting an invasion of foreign-trained lawyers.
  5. Related to that, if and when you are fortunate enough to pick up an overseas Bar admission, do not congratulate yourself on social media (‘proud to announce that...’ stuff). Of course, add it to your credentials, but do so entirely without fanfare and let others assume you have always been admitted there. That approach also lessens the chances of upsetting the local Bar in that jurisdiction. 
  6. Whenever it feels like you were the only person prepared to take a case in a particular country, that is an opportunity of the kind that breed like rabbits. Seize that difficult and/or unpopular case, let others wrestle with their own conscience for not having done so, but never criticise others for their professional choices. Not even by mere implication. However tempting. In several instances, that type of case has been my route to a Bar admission. Make no mistake, though – just as the judiciary will be pleased and relieved to see you, the local profession will almost certainly not. In many respects, early practice on the Northern Circuit was the perfect training for that: arriving in some far-flung court centre as the person from the big, bad defendant insurer.
  7. Finally, and if you start the process early enough in your career this will not be a problem, drop any behaviour that could be construed as you thinking either that you know better or that the professional experience you carry with you from your homeland makes you somehow superior. To state the obvious, it does not. The real opportunity is in actually demonstrating your skillsets in a fascinating part of the world in which it remains (dare I say it?) for the time being mostly straightforward for a member of the Bar of England and Wales to seek admission.