She referred to the lack of clarity as to how change in these areas would affect the future of the young Bar, especially at a time when young barristers are financially vulnerable; often between £30,000 and £70,000 in debt by the time that they qualify.
She expressed her concern that many struggle and are faced with the media portrayal of lawyers as a ‘scourge on society’. Nye noted that anxiety and depression are not uncommon and referred to her own personal experience of losing a friend who took her life ‘in part under the strain that this job and circumstances can place on people’.
She noted that ‘the increase in remote working has started to remove the idea that chambers are where others will be working and where support can be found if needed’, and welcomed the Wellbeing at the Bar initiative. She also highlighted the Young Bar Hub and Toolkit as a source of support.
Nye quoted Reverend Jane Sinclair, who spoke of the position that lawyers hold in society, calling them ‘a gift’. She indicated her pride in the strength of the profession and said that the job had not changed: ‘representation and advocacy matters’. She stressed the importance of assisting clients and observed that it is ‘strong advocates that allow people’s stories to be told’.
The keynote speech at the Young Bar Conference was from Caroline Wilson, the recently appointed Director (Europe) at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. She previously spent four years as Her Majesty’s Consul General to Hong Kong and Macau. She is a barrister and her address clearly intended to encourage and embolden her audience. At a time when young barristers are concerned about the future, she challenged them to go overseas, make connections and build relationships by engaging with jurisdictions outside the EU. She also highlighted the importance of the rule of law which we are all tasked with upholding.
The ensuing Young Bar Open Forum, chaired confidently by the YBC’s Vice-Chairman, Duncan McCombe, dealt with issues such as the challenges faced by young barristers who have to balance their personal and political views with their duties of impartiality. Panellist Frances Judd QC advised young barristers to be as diverse as possible in their practices, balancing private and publicly funded work. Angela Rafferty QC, the Vice Chairman of the Criminal Bar Association’s straightforward advice was ‘when in doubt do 15% more’.
The Chairman of the Bar, Chantal-Aimée Doerries QC, reminded everybody of the funding opportunities provided by the Bar Council. She even recommended that barristers read the application form for QC early on in their careers so they are prepared when the time comes to apply for Silk.
The overall message of the forum was that young barristers have to take charge of their careers, be flexible in their ambitions and seek new opportunities. The closing advice from Rafferty was ‘back yourself, and have fun’.
Contributor Ben Seifert