Joining the bar of Northern Ireland

Lawrence Power, Head of Chambers, Whitestone Chambers

"Do your research, make the connections, analyse the costs involved and if you believe it to be right for you, embrace the decision... it’s a tremendously rewarding thing to do"

I was Called to the Bar of Northern Ireland in 2005, ten years after I was Called by Middle Temple to the Bar of England and Wales.

My decision was a personal one rather than a commercial one. I had family and friends in Northern Ireland and, as a result, was spending time there outside of work. Combining my trips to see loved ones with new work opportunities seemed a sensible and practical choice.

The application is not an easy one. For anyone considering it, I would suggest that they need to have, or make, a strong network of lawyers and judges from Northern Ireland to support the application. It is by no means given that a barrister from England and Wales will be accepted and any application must be strong and thoroughly prepared

Nor is it cheap. I would encourage anyone who considers applying to undertake a cost-benefit analysis before deciding if it is the right step for them. The cost to apply initially, become a member of the Bar Library and maintain an annual practising certificate are all costs that should be borne in mind when a barrister is considering whether to apply.

Despite the above, it is a decision that I have never regretted and one that has been immensely rewarding. When I joined the Northern Irish Bar, it wasn’t to find new areas of law to work in; it was the opportunity to stick to my strengths and do similar commercial work but with new people, in a new network and to form long-term working relationships.

The cross-fertilisation of the Bar of England and Wales and Bar of Northern Ireland is something that has always been important to me. Indeed, my connections in Northern Ireland have allowed my own set to grow. By way of example, I was able to meet Andrew Clegg, who primarily practises in Northern Ireland, who became an associate member of my Chambers and covers our aviation 
work there. This connection also allows new opportunities to develop not just for Andrew in London but also for my Chambers as well.

To anyone considering applying to the Bar of Northern Ireland I would say do your research, make connections, analyse the costs involved and, if you believe it to be right for you, then to embrace the decision. The opportunities, relationships and experiences you will encounter as a result make it a tremendously rewarding thing to do and one I can heartily recommend.

A Jersey-English advocate

Harriet Brown, 15 Old Square

"Qualifying as a Jersey advocate is not for the faint-hearted because of the requirement to work in Jersey, in a Jersey firm, for two years"

I qualified as a Jersey advocate before I came to the Bar because I had a year’s gap between Bar School and pupillage. I wanted to do something a bit different, but still relevant and so decided to try to find a job in Jersey. I spent two years (extending my gap so I could qualify in Jersey) as a legal assistant at a Jersey firm – you have to have two years’ experience working in Jersey before you can qualify there. I then took the Jersey law exams. At the time there were six exams in Contract, Insolvency and Security Interests; Succession; Property; Administrative and Constitutional Law; Civil and Criminal Procedure and Company. The Company paper was optional, the alternative options being Family or Trusts. The exams are now split differently so there are seven papers, one of which also covers EU law. However, when I qualified the exams were all self-study. There is now the Institute of Law which provides study guides and tutorials.

Qualifying as a Jersey advocate (or ecrivain – the Jersey equivalent of a solicitor) is not for the faint-hearted because of the requirement to work in Jersey, in a Jersey firm, for two years. There is no way around this. On the other hand, there are very few dual qualified Jersey-English barristers (as far as I know there are four in practice at present). However, having done it at the outset of my career I have not regretted it. Coming from the PgDL it was my first opportunity to study law in depth and I learnt a lot from this process. It has also helped me in my career at the English Bar. It has given me a natural specialism and a unique selling point when I was starting out. It has also given me the opportunity to market more effectively in Jersey, particularly through the practitioner text I write, The Jersey Law of Trusts.

But being dual qualified is not a bed of roses. Sometimes areas of law are very similar but not identical and it can be disconcerting if you confuse the two. It also requires discipline to keep on top of new developments in both jurisdictions. Additionally, going to court in a small jurisdiction where the judges are very familiar with most of the advocates, but less so with you, can present a unique set of challenges. Whilst these challenges may not have been good for my self-esteem they have been good for my courtroom skills.

The Spice Route: Edinburgh to London

Philip Simpson QC

"Dual practice has been demanding but exciting. The two Bars look more or less identical from the outside, but inside they are very different"

I joined the Bar first in Edinburgh, following a Scots law path at university. So that required an LLB, a Diploma in Legal Practice (equivalent to the LPC / BVC), and then two years’ traineeship as a solicitor (compulsory if you want to go to the Scots Bar directly) before nine months’ pupillage. I was Called in Edinburgh in July 2001. I then started pupillage in London in October 2001, doing six months non-practising and three months practising pupillage. So I was Called in Inner Temple in November 2001. As I did not get a tenancy in London at the end of pupillage (it was a very oversubscribed year – honest!), I returned to Edinburgh and practised there. Fast forward 12 years, and I was made Silk in Scotland. A few months later, working on a case, I contacted a QC in London who had written the book – literally – on the area I was working on, to discuss a particular point. After a couple of e-mails back and forth, he asked if I might be interested in joining chambers. So I did.

Since then, dual practice has been demanding but exciting. The two Bars look more or less identical from the outside, but inside they are very different, not least that I get my own office in London whereas in Edinburgh I simply find a seat in the library when I go in (though almost always the same seat…).

I work in tax, so at least the law is more or less the same (though it’s surprising how often tax issues depend on non-tax law; and HMRC and Revenue Scotland are very different organisations). The work I do in London tends to involve larger sums of money, and is more international. The larger sums tend to mean that more advisers are involved, which leads to more detailed discussions than cases on similar points in Edinburgh that involve smaller sums of money.

In terms of working out a balance, my partner and children are in Edinburgh, so weekends are spent there. During the week it is varied – I’m in Edinburgh or London (or anywhere else between a Highland estate somewhere northwest of Inverness and a Devon estate close by Okehampton…) as required, but because a lot of my work, including preparing for litigation, is desk-based, most of the time it does not matter much where I am. Certainly, it’s geographically a lot easier than most dual practices, even if rather less exotic.

I am very happy that I pursued the opportunity of a place in London chambers. I feel that not only the work but also the social aspects of being in London have enriched my life. London and Edinburgh are very different cities, and the variety I get from spending time in both adds a lot to my life.

Advice for anyone thinking about dual practice? First, only do it if it works with your personal life. But if it does, or even if you think it might, then it’s definitely worth trying it out. Be clear about your goal: do you want to be (for example) in London as an add-on to a Scottish practice, serving Scottish clients whenever the need arises, or a London counsel with London clients? If the latter, then be prepared to spend time and put in effort building up relationships with people you want to get instructions from (which is the best way to build a practice in any event: people are much more likely to instruct you if they’ve met you). If the former, then you can sit back a bit and enjoy any opportunities that come up. My personal view, ultimately, is that variety is l’épice de la vie; so I definitely encourage anyone who is interested to try dual practice. The worst that can happen is that it doesn’t work for you; but then you can go back to single practice, with no regrets for a missed chance.

Around the world: competitive edge

Drew Holiner, Monckton Chambers

"The greatest benefits are the competitive edge it provides right here at home in London"

My experience is perhaps somewhat different from others at the Bar, in that I first qualified in Russia and practised in the courts there and throughout the former Soviet Union for several years before coming to England, just at the time when parties from Russia and the former Soviet Union began actively litigating and arbitrating disputes here.

Since that time, I have also joined the Bar in the British Virgin Islands, the United States and Ireland. Each of these decisions, just like my decision to qualify in England, was driven by practical considerations: work on particular matters took me to BVI and the United States, where the scope of activities that require admission to the local bar can be wider than in England. For example, BVI has passed legislation prohibiting almost any activity of foreign lawyers in the jurisdiction without local admission, and until recently, California law did not permit foreign lawyers to participate in arbitrations conducted there. As for Ireland, like many other barristers in my chambers I joined to ensure my rights of practice and establishment in the EU would be preserved regardless of the outcome of the current Brexit negotiations.

Perhaps paradoxically, my multiple qualifications have not been strictly necessary for the substance of my practice, which has been focused primarily on ADR and foreign legal expert services in London and certain offshore financial centres rather than typically reserved activities, although they have proven very valuable in generating work. Membership in the regulated legal profession of the target jurisdiction and/or the jurisdiction of those instructing is an additional mark of quality and provides important reassurance to clients.

Qualification in BVI did not pose any particular difficulty, as English barristers with sufficient experience may be admitted without any additional education, examination or training. In the US, California admits foreign qualified lawyers who take and pass the local bar exam, which is challenging, as it is administered over three days and requires rigorous preparation: less than half who attempt it pass. On the other hand, in contrast to other US states, California requires no supplemental education at an American law school. Ireland currently permits English barristers to transfer pursuant to an EU Directive upon passing an aptitude test; it is uncertain whether English barristers will still be able to requalify in Ireland after the UK leaves the EU, and if so under what procedures.

For those contemplating a foreign qualification, I would enthusiastically recommend it. In my experience, the most valuable benefit it provides is not the ability to practise across jurisdictions, which for English barristers is often possible on an ad hoc basis anyway in many places, particularly throughout the common law world. From my perspective, the greatest benefits are the competitive edge it provides right here at home in London, perhaps the world’s largest and most diverse market for international legal services, and the new perspectives and lateral thinking that exposure to other legal systems and traditions stimulates, which greatly enrich one’s skill set as a lawyer.