December 1, 2015

Insight to life at the Employed Bar

Hannah SmithLife at the Employed Bar

Hannah Smith, Edward Hayes LLP


Hannah was always ambitious but like most of us, she was initially unclear on how to put her talents to good use: “I had always wanted to enter into a “profession”.  I considered training to become a doctor, but was ultimately too squeamish to seriously pursue it … and even considered joining the Army”. In her teens she had also thought about a career in the legal profession, but decided against it, underestimating her abilities and believing that she wasn’t sufficiently capable, but encouragement from her mum prompted Hannah to reconsider. Hannah recognised that her flair for drama, and relishing the spotlight would stand her in good stead in the court room.

On reflection, the idea of standing up in court and arguing to make a living sounded like a dream job.  I ultimately fell into criminal law because it has the greatest amount of advocacy and gives you the best dinner party stories. 

How did you choose between practising at the employed and self-employed Bar?

I completed pupillage at a criminal set of chambers and was given a tenancy decision after I had been there for 21 months.  I was not taken on and I had to decide whether to look for third six pupillages – which could last a year or even more – or to take up one of the offers I had been made by a number of solicitors’ firms to become in-house counsel.  Ultimately I decided that a third six pupillage was no guarantee to tenancy and I may find myself in the same position, some months down the line, without the offers from solicitors’ firms there currently were.  I was also drawn by the guarantee of a steady income, something much missed during pupillage.

At the time I was applying for pupillages there were very little in the way of employed pupillages on offer, something that I think has now changed considerably.  As such, it was as much, or as little, of a choice to start my practice at the self-employed Bar as it was to move to the employed Bar.  It was more about what was available to me at the time.

What do you feel are the advantages of practising as a barrister within a Law Firm?

The advantages of practising within a law firm are the greater opportunity for a work-life balance.  You are unlikely to be given work at short notice, particularly work that requires much preparation, so your evenings and weekends are generally work-free.  Financially you are much more stable and much of my expenses (travel, textbooks, etc.) I reclaim or are paid for by the firm.  You are also not bound by the cab-rank principle, so can turn down a case if you know it’s going to be a nightmare or thankless task.  You can also often cherry pick the more interesting cases to keep for yourself.

Are there any aspects of the self-employed Bar that you would like to integrate into your own practice?

The real advantage of the self-employed Bar and atmosphere in chambers is the ability to draw on experience of senior barristers.  I have been lucky enough to have kept good contacts with senior members of the Bar, who I can contact if I have a question.  In chambers there was much discussion between practitioners and, even if not involved in the discussion, there was much I would pick up by osmosis.  To replicate this in a law firm would require a larger team of barristers including those of significant experience.

How would you encourage those who may feel that their background is a barrier to a career at the Bar?

I would encourage anyone who is interested in a career at the Bar, and has the aptitude for practise, to go for it.  There are so many varieties of opportunities available now, not just pupillage in chambers obtained on a nod and a wink.  If you are good enough you will get in somewhere.  I had no family background in law and attended state school.  There is a wealth of support available from the Inn, not just financial, which will help with applications and interviews, and what work experience recruiters are looking for.