Combining consultancy with the Bar

When I was thinking of going to the Bar, I asked the advice of partner at a solicitors’ firm that I knew. ‘Not sure about what future the Bar has,’ he said, ‘but if you want to do litigation, there is no better way to get a lot of experience quickly.’

This proved to be true and in my first few years of practice in a common law set I was in court every day. I enjoyed advocacy as much as I had hoped, even the last-minute returns and the late nights. ‘I’m only happy when it rains,’ was played on loop.

‘However,’ the partner had also said to me, ‘barristers usually spend most of their life stressed: either they have too much work – or too little.’ This also proved to be true. Financially it seemed to be either feast or famine. I was also finding that I enjoyed working for those law firms with a collegiate approach as this allowed me more input into how the case developed. In contrast, some firms still seemed happy to drop the brief with you at the last minute and hope for the best (my record is being couriered a brief at 9 pm the night before a two-day trial).

I had also married and started a family and so wanted more stability. I found the Bar very flexible as a working father, but a last-minute brief can still cause chaos to your weekend plan to go to Legoland.

As it happened, a firm for which I worked was looking for a consultant to provide extra support during a busy period for employment law, and they asked me. It has proved to be a good move. I have a chance to be involved in cases from the very beginning, shaping how they progress and using my knowledge from the Bar to run cases more effectively. Although there are busy and quiet periods, it doesn’t quite have the same levels of ups and downs as the Bar. It also doesn’t have as many late nights or working weekends – most of the time. There is also a chance to do non-contentious work.

Most cases settle at some stage so there is less advocacy, but I have been able to keep working in a more traditional barrister role so I still appear in tribunal regularly.

Some things are very different. At the Bar I usually put all my focus on one case at a time: concentrating on my next court appearance and then moving on to the next case. Working as a consultant you have to learn to keep track of multiple cases. Having to manage staff is also something you don’t do much of at the Bar.

There are also a number of practical matters to consider if you are thinking of becoming a consultant. How is it going to fit in with your other work and with chambers? Are you going to work a fixed number of days or something more fluid? Who has control of your diary and how are you going to avoid being double booked if you have two diaries? How are you going to be paid? Fixed rate or will it vary according to what the client is charged? If you are still in chambers will you pay commission or not?

Consider also whether you need to get the practising extension to conduct litigation. This may not always be the case depending upon the work you do for the firm and how you work, but it may be more straightforward to obtain it.

You may need to change your practising certificate to show you work for a firm of solicitors. This will depend on your working relationship with the solicitors so be clear about what this is.

Make sure that the position with regards to insurance is clear. Will you be working under the firm’s insurance or your own? Conflicts of interest need to be carefully managed; and this will be harder to keep track of with two entities with two sets of clients who could come into conflict.

Secondment to the CPS Extradition Unit

I credit my initial interest in extradition to one of my former pupil supervisors who was determined to broaden my horizons beyond a career in exclusively criminal law. During my time with him, I was introduced to this niche world of ever-changing case law and what seemed like a language all of its own. But because it was so specialised, my backstage guest-pass as a first-six pupil was short lived and, I had no idea how to re-enter that world as a practitioner.

Several years into practice in crime, I had never forgotten that exposure to extradition and a friend working for the Crown Prosecution Service saw an advert for a secondment with the Extradition Unit and forwarded it to me. Coming off the back of lockdowns, criminal trials were still scarce and it seemed the ideal time to take on a new challenge. So, I put in my application.

The interview process involved a remote advocacy exercise. I was informed that I would be exclusively working with the Unit, and unable to undertake any criminal work during the secondment to avoid any conflict of interest, and that I would require security clearance (something I had already obtained for a previous role). Happily, my clerks were very supportive of this new venture, clearing my diary and giving their blessing for me to vanish for between six months and a year.

I began the placement in summer 2021 and stayed for a year. Given that extradition is a complex and frequently changing area of law, it takes several months to get a proper understanding of the field and begin to deal with cases of greater complexity. A longer secondment is beneficial to build your experience with a view to going back to the Bar and accepting instructions in the future.

The secondment required me to obtain a dual practising certificate and, because I was still a new practitioner, to have a qualified person both on the Unit and in Chambers, responsible for overseeing my advocacy and acting as a point of contact. My work was principally as a reviewing lawyer for a case load of Part 1 cases (covered formerly by the European Arrest Warrant scheme and post-Brexit under the Trade and Cooperation Agreement) and this meant that, due to the changes brought about by COVID, there was plenty of working from home. That said, due to the initial period of shadowing at Westminster Magistrates’ Court and weekly court appearances, I never felt as though I missed out on training or a strong rapport with my colleagues. In fact, the Unit has felt like a second chambers. It was the ideal environment in which to learn a new area, among so many specialists in both the Unit and the Extradition Bar which is small and close knit.

In short, what I gained from this experience is an entirely new practice area, a wealth of wonderful colleagues and greater work-life balance. As a young practitioner, I was so set in my idea that criminal law was the only place I could see myself building a practice. I never imagined loving another area just as much. Extradition work is intellectually challenging, the hearings are fixed and there is a balance between written and oral advocacy. The judges are specialists and there is a strong working relationship between Bar and Bench.

My secondment was one of the most rewarding experiences of my career because it taught me to be open minded about my own skills and interests and gave me a whole new network of mentors and friends.