Why are you still here? The lights are coming on and the bar is taking last orders….

Like so many others in my profession, the law, I have spent much of my grown up life toe-ing various lines and trying to be a paragon of restraint and decorum. Those who know me, will  be howling with laughter at that last  part.  We barristers pretend to be free spirits and yet wear a uniform to work every day. But no more. I simply cannot afford  to carry on and therefore can no longer sit like a good doggy waiting for the next scrap from the table. I wasn’t always a barrister but worked as white slave trader before ( a story for a different day) so I came the bar a bit older and no wiser than some.

There are other blogs that have eloquently told of woes in the CJS but I am going to share those daily, mundane things that actually shed light on the  reality of it all.

Myth 1

Today a friend told me that she thought I at least  had a PA ( I wish). I  do ALL the work by myself. Now before my instructing solicitors point out the bleeding obvious, I mean, my part is done by me with no support. I type documents, file,sort,hole-punch and get my own coffee. It is me that gets up at  5am  to work and its me that worries about whether today through stress or tiredness it may all go wrong…. Please see other blogs for stories of hubbies shouting at kitchen tables and windswept train stations.  I chose this job warts and all, and the fact that my right arm is now a good 3″ longer than my left through pulling trolley bags is my own fault.

Myth 2

I’ve read all the other blogs about what it costs to practise now and how much it cost to come to the bar. I think it obscene how much the BPTC costs and the fact that (young) people are being sold a dream which on closer statistical analysis means the odds are always against the majority and will inevitably lead to heartbreak. I used to be on the Pupillage committee and it used to make me weep seeing these people anxiously phoning up their loved ones to report back on how the interview went, knowing we could only offer one the place.

But here is a question I want to ask my fellow barristers ( solicitors you’re disqualified not because of snobbery but because I’ve genuinely always thought that anyone prepared to do police station work and deal with our clients on a daily basis, mark you out as somewhere between saints and plain bonkers) I want you to look at yourself in the mirror and ask this fundamental question: “Why did I become a barrister?” None of the stock pupillage answers but the searing truth of why your younger self chose this path.

Any of you who say it wasn’t for the money is hereby disqualified. If we are all truthful that played its part but it wasn’t the only thing. Status was another. It was a well-respected profession that required intellect and ability. It took years of training and poverty to learn the craft ( unfunded pupillages were wrong but it also meant we could offer more places). The quid pro quo was that we were paid the money that was that a profession with  rigorous entry requirements,training and ahem, “standards” to be maintained,commanded. We operate with integrity and honour at all times as well as with large doses of humour. A friend of mine observed, “You lot are like doctors – you do shit hours and work for no pennies at the start but the payback is that when you’re a bit more senior at least you get paid OK.”

Contrary to our protestations, we liked telling people at parties/pubs/school gates what we did as they gasped and asked the standard question. We felt like pocket Rumpoles – nobody makes drama series on the high excitement of actuaries but they make them about us. And I very much doubt some  of my male counterparts would have partners if it wasn’t for the job title. Barrister was sexy, management consultant was not.

I know how I answered the question when I realised a couple years back I was going the way of the Dodo. In no particular order:

I enjoy arguing and will argue with a lamppost  if it’s in my way.

I believe in fair play and equality – I don’t like seeing the little fella being picked on (victim or defendant or witness)

I loved the dressing up and the drama.

I like the intellectual rigour.

I work with some of the funniest, brightest people who make feel I am in a family ( albeit weird and dysfunctional at times).

I am doing something worthwhile which actually matters especially to those affected by Crime.

I learn something new everyday   – not always nice things!

And occasionally, I do it for the money….

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The inconvenient matter of anklebiters

*Warning the following post may offend those of a sexist persuasion or who read the Daily Mail – probably the same thing…*

This  is dedicated to my chum M whose frantic ferrying of teenagers and  fending off the calls at court  in the perpetual search for lost school items, is truly terrifying and inspirational all at the same time.

I am the generation of women who believed they could have “it all”. I was never too sure what the “it” was or why I should want all of it but logic and my mind are not the best of friends. One thing I thought was at least achievable was having a rewarding,fulfilling career and Motherhood. Silly naive me. Particularly as I supposed the Bar would offer me the flexibility (and ready for the gag…) to work around my children as I would be self employed. Ha ha! Then came the terrible realisation – to make ends meet, I would have to work pretty much every hour under the Sun. I used to joke with my clerks that “Yes, I will do that mention  (£46.50 gross) as it would pay for a pair of kids shoes”. Except it wasn’t really a joke.

I am that pariah of society, the bringer of the collapse of all known civilised society, a single Mother. I have read the other blogs about the financial woes of my colleagues and would only add this: Imagine, you had to fork out not less than £1000 per month of your taxed income on childcare costs. Every month.  As as a Mum therefore, I have to earn more than my peers  just to keep working. Now frequently the person I pay to look after my children, earns more than I do.

I know that I am not alone in this position and it doesn’t matter whether you have a ball and chain, sorry , a partner or not. The nature of the job demands that you employ “help”. Nurseries are no use at all due to the demands of the job as a) I do not start/finish work every day at the same place and exactly at the same time and b) cannot take holiday time mid trial for the 48 hour exclusion if my child has a sniffle. Add in that I cannot have a phone to hand for the emergencies that invariably befall small people and even if I did, unless it was very grave,  I could not just ask my boss for an hour off (“I’ll make up the hour tomorrow”) to go home and sort it out.

Courts are not parent friendly  and though some judges do try to  help, many are oblivious and the very worst are lay magistrates – to this day, I still fume gently at the memory of sitting till 7.30 pm to finish a mags court case just because one of the bench couldn’t rearrange their own work commitments to go part heard… Or judges’ who say at 4.30 pm ” Perhaps we can finish this witness off today…”  I hear court users (alright ,usually baby male  barristers fretting as to what their SO they’re normally desperate to impress will make of starting the holiday without them. Bliss, I would’ve imagined) moan about lost holidays due to cases overrunning or lists shifting  – try the added pressure of expectant, excited little faces. I knew as a working Mother that school nativity plays , sports days, prize giving and even just assemblies would be tricky ( whilst trying to make costumes, bake bloody cakes and find odd socks…) but I had not bargained for a working environment which would actually deter me. 

Here is the point though. If the Criminal bar is to survive it must reflect the Public it serves through diversity and that diversity  includes working parents of either sex but especially Mothers. The proposed cuts and/or legal aid reforms means that I will  almost certainly find it financially un-viable to continue. My worry is that the bar will revert to how it  was nearly 40 years ago –  a hobby job for the privileged and wealthy.  A mirror of the current Cabinet the more cynical might even say….

I became a better barrister after I had sprogs because once you’ve experienced childbirth and coming home to wipe bottoms, you really haven’t got time for the posturing and posing or quite frankly, the waste of time of  listening to your own voice – I have better, more important places to be in all honesty. It also means that I bring my experiences when dealing with child witnesses (rubbing eyes = time for a break) or the ability of  being able to speak the lingua franca of parenthood, the most exclusive yet inclusive of clubs, when I speak with their parents. I understand now about bath times, SENs, schools,computer games,dinosaurs,child psychology ( practical & theoretical), One Direction, sibling jealousy, co-parenting, Key stages, Health visitors, EYNCOs, phonetics, family law and Grandparents.  And the attraction of the music of Psy.

I now have transferable skills of multi-tasking, patience,nose wiping and being able to recite names of famous Engines (note correct usage as taught to me by no.1 child – “No, its not a train, Mummy, that’s an engine…) as well as occasionally finding a suit devoid of Petit Filous to do my job with added humanity.

THIS IS WHAT IS HAPPENING TO HONEST HARD WORKING LEGAL AID LAWYERS, AND WHY.

Very very sad but very very true. Am close to that point myself… Read and weep

Charon QC

The piece below is re-blogged with the permission of the Criminal Bar Association.  It is important that the government listens and upholds the Rule of Law….

 

THIS IS WHAT IS HAPPENING TO HONEST HARD WORKING LEGAL AID LAWYERS, AND WHY.


We received this yesterday, 11th June, before the Justice Select Committee hearing, and before Lord McNally’s “hysterical” outburst on Law in Action, in an admirable interview by @joshuarozenberg.

Then this morning, Quentin Letts in the Daily Mail attacks the “ashtray” voice of Michael Turner QC, and the “Biker” Lucy Scott Moncrieff whilst railing about legal aid lawyers in sharp suits on £200 per hour.

Who knows how far into the public arena this blog reaches? This post is certainly not one likely to feature in the Mail, as they do not have the wit or the guts to publish anything that offends…

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