Perhaps somewhat unusually for a barrister my career path has been largely unplanned. Raised in a small community in Bolton in the North West of England, and being the first lawyer in the family (and the first to go to university), I had no legal role models and very little in terms of career guidance. Heading into a career in the law was uncharted (and allegedly unattainable) territory but there was a very important upside to that – the absence of any ‘traditional’ expectations, an unwillingness to be deterred and a willingness, and ability, to dive into the unknown. In 1994 success at the Bar was very much viewed through the self-employed lens; the traditional route to chambers underscored by the obligatory marketing shots of the ‘traditional’ barrister in wig and gown outside of the Royal Courts of Justice and Old Bailey – a valid, but somewhat narrow, view of the opportunities that were, and are, open to barristers with marketable skill sets.

There is a world outside of the self-employed Bar that is interesting, enriching and rewarding but you have to be willing to break the mould of what is still considered the ‘traditional’ barrister. The employed Bar is diverse in every way, made up of a multitude of careers, encompassing private sector organisations (e.g. banks and other commercial organisations), public sector organisations (e.g. the Crown Prosecution Service and Government Legal Department), charities and law firms and across many practice areas including crime, commercial, financial services and public law. This list is not exhaustive which underlines the expanse of opportunities for the employed barrister.

Have confidence in your worth and don’t measure your success to your peers at the self-employed Bar. Facing the challenges of perception and legitimacy sadly still remain for employed barristers who, according to the Bar Council report of February 2023 ‘Life at the Employed Bar’, make up approximately a fifth of the whole Bar. The Bar, through the collaboration between the Bar Council (and in particular the Employed Barristers’ Committee (EBC)), the Inns and the Bar Standards Board (BSB), has made a lot of progress since I was called in 1994 but it is painfully slow and more still needs to be done before the profession can truly stand behind its ‘One Bar’ ethos.

Take chances when they come… if they don’t work out long term capitalise on your learnings. I was very lucky to have secured pupillage (albeit unfunded which was somewhat more the norm in 1994) at a set of chambers in London which, while being very clear that tenancy would not be an option upon completion, was encouraging, nurturing and willing to support me. As I reached the conclusion of pupillage, I decided to take a step back and look at whether there may be other opportunities for people like me before embarking on tenancy applications. The visible lack of advocacy in relation to ‘other’ career paths available did, however, result in me feeling somewhat lost. For lack of any clear starting point, I contacted a legal recruitment agency with a view to seeking some advice and was thrust into the exotic world of finance and derivatives. My ‘brief’ on day one consisted of analysing the ISDA Equity Derivative Definitions and the ISDA Master Agreement and getting to grips with the equity derivative trading desk. As a small-town girl commerce and finance had never been on my radar and I suddenly found myself in a world that was loud, fast, completely alien, daunting and had a mind boggling array of acronyms! I had no idea what a ‘put’ or a ‘call’ was, nor did I think I would ever be able to make sense of this world and wondered what I had got myself into… my first true chance to embrace the unknown. This opportunity turned out to be pivotal to my career and my confidence in my own ability to handle anything (and anyone!) that I needed to. I moved through a few different investment banks in the years that followed, expanding my knowledge and skills with each move and I never looked back to the self-employed Bar.

The employed Bar provides rich opportunities to develop and combine legal skills and duties with leadership and corporate strategy and those skills and duties can co-exist. As an employed barrister our independence, honesty, integrity and our duties to the court and the administration of justice remain the highest priority. In an employed setting we also regularly grapple with confidentiality, conflicts of interest, balancing commercial and legal interests and managing directorships. As an employed barrister it is important to maintain clear boundaries between an employer’s interests and professional duties, but it is something that employed barristers navigate regularly and the Bar Council, the BSB and the Bar Association for Commerce Finance and Industry (BACFI) all provide support to the employed Bar – so don’t be afraid to ask.

Advocacy outside of the courts of England and Wales is important. Employed barristers are accomplished advocates in their own right, including before ministers, regulators, senior management of multi-national companies, boards and numerous types of tribunals and non-traditional hearings. Despite the strength of advocacy at the employed Bar, challenges remain with the King’s Counsel process and the lack of recognition of advocacy beyond the courts of England and Wales – the number of employed barristers that apply for, or indeed have taken, silk remains woefully small.

Be proud of, and showcase, the important transferrable skills that you have developed outside of the courtroom. The skills that employed barristers bring to the judiciary and the Bar more broadly are now starting to, rightfully, be recognised. Life as an employed barrister is demanding, varied and unpredictable. Your legal skills (advisory/advocacy/drafting) are a given. Employed barristers who are general counsel often lead multi-faceted (and often cross-jurisdictional) teams, have a variety of different stakeholders to manage and must develop multiple areas of complex subject matter expertise quickly with an ability to apply multi-jurisdictional concepts on a practical level. Decision making, accountability and teamwork are all part of the day job. Employed barristers are protectors of their organisation’s ethical conduct, leaders of teams and companies, managers of significant budgets and purchasers of legal services. However, employed barristers are far from being a ‘jack of all trades, master of none’. Variously, employed barristers have advised on decisions that have impacted the country and have played a role in changing laws and regulations throughout the world.

Introspection, ongoing self-reflection, development and performance evaluation throughout your career is key. This is often already embedded in a commercial setting and is key to continued progression particularly where, as in the case of general counsel, you are handling a vast array of matters and stakeholders on a day-to-day basis. An ability to take, and accept feedback is key to this. Having a static ‘client’ in the form of an employer means that you are always visible therefore your performance and behaviour is scrutinised at every meeting and with every discussion and decision. That visibility is not for everyone. Working in the employed environment is no doubt extremely challenging, but it is also extremely rewarding. I would always recommend anyone starting out in their career to keep an open mind to the opportunities outside of the self-employed Bar. 

Launched in 2017, the Bar Council Employed Bar Awards showcase the wealth of talent among employed barristers and their vital contributions across numerous practice areas. The Bar Council is partnering with Gray’s Inn once again to host the Awards alongside their Employed Bar Dinner on 10 October. The judging panel includes Patrick Walker, Gaynor Wood, Bar Chair Sam Townend KC and Vice Chair Barbara Mills KC. The shortlist will be announced on 28 June and the awards are sponsored by Gray’s Inn, Inner Temple, Government Legal Department and Lincoln’s Inn. You can find out more about the awards here.
References and further information

Life at the Employed Bar, Bar Council, February 2023

You can read more about Bar Council support for employed barristers including ethics resources here

BACFI represents the interests of employed and non-practising barristers providing legal services in commerce, finance and industry – the CFI Bar. It also welcomes student members and members of the Inns of Court who are interested in a career outside chambers. Find out more at