A meeting that changed my life, by Charles Sorensen

In September 2011 I met a man called Cyril Whelan. I did not know it at the time, but it was a meeting that would change my life.

I had recently been called to the Bar and was working as an assistant at the Cambridge International Symposium on Economic Crime. Cyril was a delegate and had the profound misfortune to be seated next to me at dinner. Following a conversation that ranged from the Bribery Act 2010 to the talented but inconsistent Leicester City sides of the late 1990s Cyril mentioned that, if it would be of interest, he could make enquiries with his firm in Jersey about the possibility of a work placement. We exchanged details and, a few weeks later, I received an email from Stephen Baker (of Baker & Partners) offering me a placement.

The rest, as they say, is history. Having gone to Jersey for two months, I worked there for the next decade (with an interval to complete pupillage). I completed the Jersey Bar exams and thus became dual qualified.

Qualification in Jersey is not straightforward. Candidates must pass exams in six compulsory subjects, plus a further paper in trusts, company or family law. They must also be employed by a Jersey firm for a minimum period (two years for an advocate) in order to be sworn in. Having to balance the exams with full-time work makes for a stressful existence. However, the course is well taught and administered by the Jersey Institute of Law.

I cannot speak highly enough of my experience in Jersey. As a young lawyer I benefitted from extensive learning and development opportunities. I worked on complex commercial and trusts disputes with a focus on civil fraud and asset recovery. I gained good advocacy experience and, because much of the litigation has an international dimension, had the chance to work with lawyers and clients from across the world.

Jersey has a fused legal profession, so the distinction between solicitors and counsel does not operate as it does in England. Advocates operate in firms and, in many cases, instructions come directly from the client, rather than a firm of solicitors. Working in a firm also means conducting every aspect of the case, not just those which are the traditional preserve of counsel. I learned a great deal from life inside a law firm and draw upon that experience on a daily basis.

Staying in the present, I now have a dual qualified practice from chambers in London. I enjoy the challenge of working across two jurisdictions. Aside from the differences in substantive law, the biggest day-to-day difference is civil procedure (Jersey has the Royal Court Rules, not the Civil Procedure Rules). Fortunately, the differences are substantial so it is not hard to remember which hat I am wearing.

My time in Jersey enabled me to learn a different legal system with a rich and interesting history. In my areas of work, the law draws sufficiently upon common law principles that the different sides of my practice complement each other. At the self-employed Bar, a second jurisdiction is also a good way to attract instructions. As this article may have revealed, I would recommend Jersey to anyone. More specifically, I would advise anyone at the start of their career to think about obtaining some experience abroad (it does not have to be Jersey). This can be a great learning experience, a chance to expand your professional network, a point of difference in future applications – and hopefully a really good time. 

England to Guernsey (and back), by Amy Richardson

My journey to the Bar has not been easy. While I always strove to do my best, I would describe myself as an unexceptional student. When it came to the cut-throat round of pupillage applications there was very little that set me apart. To be blunt, I failed to make any impression and did not make it past first-round interviews. So, I had a decision to make. Although I saw professional rejection as a challenge to overcome as opposed to an absolute, I soon realised I had to build on my skills.
So, I applied to work in an offshore law firm. It sounded a glamorous opportunity. I had dreams of mixing with senior lawyers, watching court proceedings and hobnobbing with judges. It was with this over-inflated optimism that I left the North East for a new opportunity in Guernsey.
The Bailiwick of Guernsey is a vibrant one but any thoughts I had of professionals listening to (or indeed caring about) my legal opinion were almost immediately dashed. As a foreign and inexperienced lawyer, I found myself photocopying, taking notes, ordering and collecting coffee, along with other tasks essential to the assistance of senior lawyers. I learned to my horror that my English law degree meant little, and that to have a right of audience in the Guernsey courts would involve me passing not only the Guernsey Bar exams, but also completing part of a Norman law degree in French.
My sense of optimism and desire to be a court-based advocate led me to signing up. Classed as an ‘aspirant’ (an exotic word for what became a three-year labour of love) I had to begin all my studies again, and pass components of the Guernsey Bar based on its custom and unique system.
It was hard. I passed on my third attempt, but revelry was short lived as I then had to embark upon the three-month French law module, taught in French and living in Normandy. Without being able to point to the pictures on the McDonalds menu, my French legal adventure would have been fatal. And yet, by some miracle, I passed this module with flying colours.
My dream was then realised. I could finally appear on my feet in the Guernsey courts, begowned and eager to make a difference, clutching my practitioner texts.
I was ripped apart at my first hearing. I forgot the basics. I could not remember my client’s name and was tongue tied when it came to explaining my case. Another professional disaster and a dark night of soul searching.
And yet, slowly and surely, by being in court every day, my abilities improved. Guernsey has a fused legal profession, which means that advocates perform the functions of both solicitor and barrister and have continuity of cases.
In the 10 years I practised there, I worked my way up from police bail applications and maintenance variations to rape trials and the most serious child protection cases.
When I returned to the Bar of England and Wales, the skills I learned in Guernsey were immeasurably beneficial. Not only did I have court experience but understood the pressure that solicitors were under in terms of client management, document drafting and laborious preparation of bundles.
Without changing course, I would have never been able to secure tenancy. It was hard, and at times soul destroying, but it enabled me to grow and learn. No client has ever asked me how I have arrived to be their counsel, they only want me to do my best for them.
Some of you reading this will have not been successful in getting pupillage, or may have experienced ‘yet another’ professional set back. You are not alone, and please do not worry. I can only urge you to take a risk and try a different route to the Bar.