I had a wonderful time at the self-employed Bar and would probably still be there if it weren’t for a series of well-timed conversations with the members of the firm of which I am now a partner. After 20 very happy years as a self-employed barrister and matrimonial finance specialist, I did not seek out the move in-house. Rather like a lot of good decisions in life, it came knocking.

A large proportion of my work in chambers came from my now team at JMW. I had been instructed by them for many years and had close working relationships with several of the partners including David Pickering, and the heads of department, Elspeth Kinder and Michael Chapman. In 2018, we came up with the idea of me moving in-house to undertake their advocacy workload, and it seemed like a good opportunity to continue the work I love, but present a new challenge too.

Of course, I had the predictable misgivings at first: Would I be tied to a desk? Would I get swept into a foreign world of time recording and management, rather than working as a barrister? This was all discussed with the firm before joining, and we were therefore able to really define my role and set expectations for how I would fit within the department.

Ultimately, I was attracted by the quality of work in the team, the challenge of doing something unprecedented (at the Northern Bar in any event), and the security it offered me. I haven’t looked back. I still see chambers’ colleagues at court, and I don’t find that the way I do my job has really changed. I don’t miss chasing fees, last-minute briefs and the insecurity that the self-employed Bar inevitably brings to all practitioners from time to time. I really think the model that we have here has a lot to commend it to the solicitors in the team and our clients.

I still feel very much a barrister. I get briefs and instructions to counsel. My secretary has taken on a clerking role and produces fee notes on my behalf. However, with a more predictable case load and the ability to exercise greater control over my diary now that all my work comes from a single source, I do not regret the move in-house for a moment.

This article outlines the changes that I have experienced, which have all been positive, and sketches out a typical day in the life of an in-house counsel for those barristers who, like me, might be unsure of what might await them in-house.

08:00 An empty timesheet stares at me, impatiently demanding to be filled. The nightmare vision of practising in a solicitors’ firm has become my reality. Not really! Although the torments of time-recording are wildly overstated and substantially mitigated by modern software, it’s not actually something I do.

In reality, I’m much more likely to be found travelling to court as, slowly but surely, in-person hearings begin to increase. If attending a remote hearing I will usually be in the office in Manchester reviewing my preparation for the day ahead.

10:00 It’s the traditional start time for longer morning or full day hearings. Remote hearings have less flexible start times than traditional in-person hearings as the remote court day needs to run on time if they are to work. This tends to mean that there are fewer pre-hearing discussions than there would be if the parties and their legal teams were physically present at court, and I think this can be a big disadvantage in terms of negotiation and issue resolution. This is particularly applicable to remote financial dispute resolutions (FDRs) which I think suffer from the shift to online. My own experience has been that fewer remote FDRs settle compared to those conducted at court, principally due to the lack of opportunity for discussions and the fact that parties tend to be less engaged in the process from the comfort of their own homes. We encourage clients to attend the office for remote FDRs, as we find that the presence of the whole team makes for a more effective process.

13:00 I don’t subscribe to the theory that lunch is for wimps, it’s definitely for humans! One of the few advantages of remote working has been avoiding the hunt for nutritious fare in the courts of the North-West: no mean feat.

14:00 Like many others, I often have conferences booked in the afternoon.

We have been keen to keep the distinction between my role as counsel and the solicitors in the team. They send me formal instructions as they did when I was in chambers, and I do not conduct any litigation or have direct contact with our clients other than in conferences or at court. However, unlike the traditional chambers/solicitor relationship, I am always available to provide input into cases and I am usually involved from the outset. This arrangement works really well as I have good relationships with all the solicitors in the team, and they know they can chat a case through with me at any time, or run an issue past me without difficulty.

It has also resulted in something of a virtuous circle. I feel more in touch with the reality of life in a busy solicitors’ firm and have a much keener sense of what is and what is not practicable, for example, I am more aware of how long it actually takes to draft a section 25 statement when you already have a busy practice! The instructions I receive are more focused on what I actually need to get the job done because the team see more clearly how I work and what is needed to make effective use of my time.

16:00 Late afternoon will usually find me working through my emails which include updates or any queries that the team have about our ongoing cases. One clear advantage of being in-house is getting the opportunity to review statements or proposed applications before they are filed. It is a rare day where I have to defend in court a document or application that I have not had input into, which I find really rewarding.

Although I am more accessible now, I actually get fewer informal requests for advice than when I was in chambers. It’s a testament to our department that I am not inundated with queries. Instead, we’ve worked together to get the best of both worlds. I’m working more collaboratively, often on cases I have dipped into from an early stage, but at the same time sufficient separation has been cultivated so that I can zero in on the advocacy and big-picture advisory work that makes life at the Bar so exciting.

18:00 I usually head home around this time. These days, I am very rarely instructed at the last minute other than in situations of unavoidable urgency. I do not miss that stomach-churning moment of opening up a brief for a hearing the next day – perhaps, back in the day at least, sent over to chambers unaccompanied in a black cab for added drama – to find papers in disarray and a lay client wedded to a series of unwinnable arguments. Instead, I am able to get involved in cases at an early stage, perhaps informally, and really help shape them to optimise the chances of a positive outcome.

The assumption was – and in my experience, still is – that self-employed barristers can legitimately be expected to work most evenings and virtually every weekend, which is simply not healthy. Clearly, there are times when I will need to prepare for a Monday hearing over the weekend but this is genuinely no longer the norm for me. At the self-employed Bar you can be so afraid to turn down work that you never say no and time built in for prep with the absolute best of intentions simply disappears. I feel I have more control over this now and have struck the right ‘work/life’ balance.