30 years is a long time but goes by in a flash. I was just posting on LinkedIn about my bit-part as a baby barrister in the Lynette White murder trial in 1989. It seems like yesterday, but I know a lot has happened. Four daughters later...

Practice changes – we have to adapt! I went from being a Circuiteer common lawyer (ending at the end of the 1990s as one of the last of the traditional crime/PI senior juniors in Cardiff) to a specialist disease lawyer in the 2000s and, in 2011, became a law officer as statutory and ministerial Counsel General for Wales (heavens, I even got a Wikipedia page!) before returning to the independent bar in 2016 as a complex/catastrophic injury leader. I began with a heavily court-based publicly funded practice and have ended with a fully digitalised advisory practice (this means I spend most of my time by far looking at a large screen) often ‘funded’ by conditional fees (business consultant: you do what?). Along the way I ran a high volume junior practice in noise injury cases and then headed a government’s specialist public law department. Anyone who tells you barristers aren’t flexible and adaptable – and just sit in ivory towers eating their truffles and swan – needs to be told to lie down in a dark room until they feel better.

Change is good. Going into government with no prior knowledge of its workings was a shock and a challenge. Coming out of government five years later and back to full-time practice was a shock and a challenge. We need these challenges. It’s hard, but every five years you need to ‘throw the pack up in the air’. Or at least to take a hard look at what you’re doing, how you’re doing it, and why, and ask yourself the hard questions. Is it going to make me happy to carry on like that? Where do I want to be in five years? You know, the interview questions. And then follow your logic and do something.

Chambers or not chambers? I am always happy to have cake and also eat it. After 30 years of traditional practice in chambers, and prompted by my five-year review especially focused by a pandemic and its life and lifestyle effects, during lockdown I obtained the Bar Council’s Public Access accreditation and then, on St David’s Day (of course!) this year, began a new barristerial life as a sole practitioner, though I remain an associate/door tenant at Doughty St, Apex, Cornwall St and No.18 Southampton. It’s the full options service, and the hardcopy parties are still great. I’ve learned that as someone with a low volume high value/complexity practice, it is satisfying to gain full control, especially of marketing/business development options (especially via social media), and I have enjoyed the opportunity to access work from a much broader base. I am also pleased to be able to offer juniors right across the country an independent silk who doesn’t have clerks doing their best to tempt your solicitors away.

My Grumpy Old Man moment: What makes me sad is that the generous public funding which enabled us to provide the highest quality advocates to all of our (‘ordinary’, or rather extraordinary) citizens in the cases which most affected their lives in their communities has gradually been taken away because, apparently, we ‘cannot afford it’. Unlike the period after WWII. Right. What price Article 6? That in turn means that the most able and ambitious young lawyers are less and less likely to be representing those citizens as opposed to arguing about who keeps the money dubiously extracted from the Russian people. It also means that hugely able and experienced counsel in crime/family etc cases are under-used and busiest advising youngsters never to practise in those areas. That will stand us in good stead for the future when the public realise the pup they’ve been sold ‘to stop those terrible lawyers with their snouts in the trough’ and enable insurance companies to get their way most of the time. Not.

What makes me optimistic is that, despite the problems, the Bar remains a vibrant, growing and increasingly diverse profession of people who really make an impact and a difference, supporting and protecting clients ‘without fear or favour’; and we still attract fantastically principled and talented young people whom those citizens will need to uphold their rights. And though I can’t say there’s no-one at the Bar I haven’t disliked, it’s been pretty rare. I like us. It’s a real privilege for all of us to be barristers, and for me especially acting for those whose lives have been ruined by injury, whether in the Grenfell Tower disaster, or in the Royal Opera House orchestra, or in the labour room, to help them put their lives back together.

Digital working is great, though it needs managing... Hundreds of unnamed attachments to a mail is not what I call ‘instructions’. Still, we have come a long way since the late 1980s when I was once stopped from taking notes in court on my laptop because the crusty HHJ said my typing was making too much noise. I recall that at the time we also had to await a Practice Direction from HMCTS to permit lawyers to plug into the courts’ electricity or we would be guilty of dishonestly abstracting electricity. Really. I have learned that digital working is quicker and more efficient, and stops the dreadful muskulo-skeletal compromise involved in lugging large quantities of files and authorities around the country to court. I became ‘fully digital’ after appearing in the Supreme Court for the first time and seeing how wonderful it was to have all that stuff just on your laptop. One small bag. Neck and shoulders fine. Though I did have one hairy moment (it seemed like a lifetime) when mine crashed mid submission before their Lordships, which happily turned into a teasing exchange between Lord Kerr and his ‘luddite’ colleagues. That, and being told by my Private Secretary on day one that, ‘Of course, we are completely paperless in Welsh Government, Counsel General.’ Deep end.

We’re in this together: I am delighted to be chairing the Bar Council’s Wellbeing at The Bar Working Group this year. We – I – have learned so much about the pressures on barristers, including myself, and especially of course during the dreadful last 20 months. The centralisation of the Bar into larger sets of chambers, and the move to digital working, have both served only to re-emphasise the essentially isolating nature of our profession, and that we are often ‘at the sharp end’, expected to lead even when just starting off, with no direct support, expected to work all night to get things done to a deadline created because others have left things too late, and – just to cap it all – too often subjected repeatedly to cumulatively more and more harrowing stories and images leading to secondary trauma. Altogether it is hugely stressful, but we are increasingly recognising that and providing support for colleagues. If you get through a career at the Bar without some very, very, very low times, you have lived a truly charmed existence. The ridiculous ‘Master of the Universe’ mindset tends to deter people from seeking the help they desperately need, which is why we all need to keep an eye out for each other.