I was fortunate to arrive at 11KBW when I did. I didn’t have a clue about what was involved in practice at the Bar when I came to 11KBW as a pupil, but I knew straight away that it was where I wanted to work. The members were a high-powered, ambitious and charismatic group of barristers and it was a privilege to learn from some of the best practitioners in the field. We try to pass down to our pupils and juniors some of the intellectual DNA we inherited from that generation of greats, although Chambers is a completely different institution now. Back then, Chambers was a kind of benign dictatorship, run very informally. We’re much bigger now and operate by committee, although we keep the meetings short. Fortunately, many talented and energetic members of Chambers are willing to contribute and we have absolutely first class staff. Being Joint Head of Chambers is more about trying to facilitate other people’s ideas than making all the decisions.

Professional ethics are central to what we do. As Joint Head of Chambers, I’m sometimes asked by juniors for my views on professional conduct issues. Mostly they know the answer already, but are looking for a second opinion. A lot of professional conduct points can be answered by applying the principle that, if there’s an easy way of doing something, and a hard way of doing it, and you’re not sure that it would be right to do it the easy way, do it the hard way.

Most of the time, litigation gets to the right result. It can be costly and cumbersome, but on the whole it’s fair. Facts matter and the law matters. That seems an increasingly precious thing in a post-truth world. It doesn’t always go according to plan, but if something’s gone seriously wrong, you can always appeal. I spent a miserable month in Thornaby-on-Tees in front of a biased and hostile judge, who found against my clients on a number of spurious grounds, despite my best efforts. We appealed and got every point overturned, which restored my faith in the system somewhat. It can be difficult to predict the outcome of complex or marginal cases, particularly where they raise novel questions of law. However, I’ve done very few cases where I can honestly say that the result was plainly wrong and yet there was no avenue of appeal.

There’s no guarantee that we’ll always live in a rules-based democracy. The rule of law has increasingly come under attack in public life and in the media. Judges are criticised simply for upholding the laws made by Parliament. There are regular calls for greater political oversight of judicial appointments. It always seemed to me nonsensical to respond to concerns that the judiciary is too political by actively politicising the judiciary. The explicitly partisan approach of the US Supreme Court hardly seems an improvement on our system, where our judges generally do their best to decide cases fairly in accordance with the law.

You are not your client. As a law student, I took out a FRU [Free Representation Unit] case for a door-to-door insurance salesman who’d been dismissed for fraudulently selling life cover to a man with a mental impairment. I did my best and he lost, quite rightly. It’s not always obvious who the good guys are. Everyone seems to have a view on high-profile cases, but unless you were in court for the entire case, how can you? The barrister’s role is to represent his or her client to the best of their ability, consistent with the duty to the court and rules of professional conduct. Lawyers are increasingly attacked for bringing certain kinds of case or representing certain types of client. Publicly associating oneself with one’s clients only adds to the misconception that barristers select their clients based on their own personal views and preferences. The role of the barrister is in danger of being misunderstood if they are seen as campaigning for their clients’ interests, rather than providing professional representation.

The judiciary is under-appreciated. Our judges work very hard, under intense scrutiny, and often under quite lonely and stressful conditions. Their judgments are there in the public domain for everyone to criticise. They are fallible and human, and no doubt bring their own beliefs, assumptions and experiences into court, but it’s pretty remarkable how free of incompetence, corruption and bias our judiciary has remained. The integrity and quality of our legal system is something we should never take for granted.

Barristers are prone to losing perspective. It’s easy to get addicted to deadlines or to the buzz of going to court or to take on too much work. It’s also easy to think that you’ve got the most stressful job in the world, when clearly you haven’t. Try working on the frontline in the NHS, never mind the frontline in Ukraine. Preparing for court does require intense focus and concentration, though. It’s been pointed out that I’m not much use for anything else before a big case.

Working methods have been transformed. When I started practice, I’d come into Chambers every day in a suit and tie. There was a strong expectation that members would work long hours. If I wasn’t in court, I’d work on papers all day in my room. I had three young children and would rush home to snatch some time with them. I’m proud that we’ve come to approach practice in a more holistic way. Now I get a lot of work done at home, and make a point of going into Chambers regularly to see people. I get the sense that, since the pandemic, colleagues are enjoying working in Chambers more than ever, having had a period of enforced absence. We rely on communities to build our knowledge and ethos. While working flexibly is great, it is more difficult for pupils and juniors to learn by osmosis in the new working environment. We need to find different ways to share knowledge and expertise in a hybrid workplace.

Improving diversity requires long-term commitment. The Bar has become much more diverse, but still has a long way to go. Our policies and practices at 11KBW on parental leave, wellbeing and EDI [equality, diversity and inclusivity] have developed, and the pandemic has opened our eyes to the possibilities of flexible working. We’ve also transformed our approach to recruitment and set up an annual scholarship for talented Black law students. We’re beginning to see the results but there is always much more that can be done.

The law doesn’t stand still. Clients rightly look for relevant specialist experience, but there are dangers in becoming a one-trick pony. The law changes, the legal market moves. We specialise in areas of law now at 11KBW that didn’t exist when I came to the Bar. It’s healthy as well as interesting to act for a wide range of clients. It means that you stay fresh and keep learning. This applies well beyond practice. Law is ultimately about people and operates in the wider context of our society and culture. You need to keep your head up and be open to new ideas.