I was called to the Bar in 1977 and practised only for a short time before going on to a career as a merchant banker, corporate executive and entrepreneur. Now I write detective novels. I remember my time at the Bar with affection and gratitude; 1977 is a long time ago and today the Bar is a very different place, with greater pressures and many barristers uncertain about their futures. While I wouldn’t wish to be seen to encourage anyone to leave a profession they like, I would like to assure them that on the basis of my own experience, many of the skills they have acquired as barristers are freely transferable if they choose to look elsewhere.
How has your professional life evolved?
I studied law at Cambridge, passed my Bar exams, did pupillage at 1 Brick Court under Nicholas Phillips, practised for a while and then, attracted to the idea of a career in the City, joined a merchant bank. I spent several interesting years at the bank before leaving to join a corporate client. After a decade or so as a corporate executive in the UK and the US, with various career ups and downs, I joined with a partner in the early nineties to found a computer services company. Another decade or so later, when this business had been built up successfully, we were fortunate enough to sell it to a large American corporation. This sale gave me the freedom to realise my long-held ambition – to become a writer.
Do you have any regrets about leaving the Bar?
I am often asked whether I regret my time as a barrister, either in terms of having undergone the arduous training for a job I didn’t do, or in terms of dropping out of what is regarded by many as a very distinguished and glamorous profession. My answer is most definitely not on either count. I have had a very challenging and fulfilling professional and business life and do not regret giving up the Bar. At the same time I am most grateful that I acquired a legal education and experienced a barrister’s life. I believe that I was helped greatly in my subsequent career by my time at the Bar.
What inspiration do you draw from your time at the Bar?
I remain extremely grateful for my barrister’s training which continues to be of assistance in my literary career where clarity of thought, judgement and self confidence are all of importance to a writer, albeit in different ways. On another level, cloudy memories of my long ago legal customers and courtroom tussles can occasionally surface to inspire the odd episode in Anglo-Spanish police detective Frank Merlin’s battle against crime in wartime London.
How would you summarise a barrister’s transferable skills?
Self-confidence – of course many who choose to go to the Bar are very self-confident people. I was not. Having to master a brief, however straightforward, then represent clients in court successfully does wonders for self-confidence. Within a year or so of leaving the Bar I found myself advising established financiers and businessmen on mergers, acquisitions and financings. My days in the Uxbridge Magistrates’ Court and elsewhere helped me to do this.
Clear thinking – the study of the law is by its very nature geared to enhancing clarity of thought. Successful business strategies cannot be developed and implemented without this clarity.
Debating ability – argument is at the heart of being a barrister. In large companies and small, business strategies must be debated and tested thoroughly with colleagues, partners and advisers. The Bar helped me to do this.
Presentational ability – I spent a large part of my business career in the public company arena. Our own computer services company was floated in Europe and America. I spent a vast amount of time presenting business ideas to colleagues, investors, analysts and journalists. My training at the Bar helped me to develop as an effective public speaker and advocate for my businesses.
Judgement – no business succeeds without the exercise of careful, balanced judgement. The careful weighing of facts, evidence and opinion is a fundamental part of a barrister’s life. In my business life we had countless crucial decisions to take all the time – whether to expand, to contract, to acquire a company or to sell one, to raise money through equity or debt, to recruit new people or to fire people, to introduce new products or services, to expand into international markets and so on and so on. The Bar taught me to take these decisions after cool and careful deliberation, weighing all factors methodically in the light of knowledge and experience.
Contributor Mark Ellis is a novelist