Law. One of those big people professions that I know nothing about. If you’re a bit like me and want to know more or if you want to set off on the path to become a barrister, then read on to hear Charlotte’s story.
So, which stage are you at in your career? I am currently doing my pupillage, which is the final stage of training in order to qualify as a barrister. *shortly after this went live, Charlotte became a qualified barrister! GO AT ‘EM GIRL!*
Sounds stupid, but what exactly does a barrister do? A barrister is a specialist legal adviser and courtroom advocate.
Did you always know that you wanted to do this? No. I don’t think that many people know from a young age what career, or careers, they want to pursue. I realised that I wanted to study law when I was at university studying an unrelated undergraduate degree. In my first year, I took electives in law and soon realised that I really enjoyed (aspects of) it. One of the most important decisions that all law students have to make is whether to qualify as a solicitor or a barrister. Depending on the area of law you wish to practice in, the roles can be very different. It’s vital that you do a lot of research into it and if possible, undertake work experience in both a law firm (where solicitors practice) and a set of chambers (where barristers practice). This will help you to determine what role is best suited to your skill set and personality. For me, given my love for all things thespian, I realised very quickly that I wanted to be an advocate.
You must have gone to university then? Yes, although as I mentioned, my undergraduate degree was not law. As a result, when I left university I had to complete the Graduate Diploma in Law. The GDL (as it’s more commonly known) is a law conversion course. In one year you cover seven core areas of law, legal analysis and research, and more! I found it to be one of the most intense academic courses that I have ever undertaken.
What was your first job after graduating? Between graduating and starting the GDL I lived in France for a few months. When I wasn’t teaching English, I attempted to improve my French language skills by attending language classes. Sampling the local wine also helped – c‘était super!
What do you love about your job? Aside from the clear contribution to social justice, I love the fact that no one day is the same. The absence of a routine is important to me as it keeps things fresh and I also love the comradeship of the Bar. The Bar is a very small world, so when you’re starting out it is great to feel like you have been welcomed with open arms!
Every job has its downsides – what’re yours? Committing everything to a case and, through no fault of your own, it not turning out the way that you believe it should have. Those days can be tough. Also, having to travel to courts outside of London. Catching a 0615 train was not fun, although a lively stag party helped take the sting out of it.
Where do you see yourself next? Hopefully qualifying as a barrister!
What has been the hardest thing about getting to your position? You cannot train for this job without making many sacrifices along the way. It demands a lot of your time. At times I forewent birthdays, holidays and less grand celebrations (so it helps to have very supportive (and forgiving) friends and family). It’s probably fair to say that that in itself tests your commitment to the career.
So what gets you through it? Always have sight of the bigger picture! Never lose it!
Has your job turned out to be what you expected? Yes and no. Clearly, you have to have some idea of what you’re getting yourself into given the amount of time and money that you invest. However absolutely nothing, not even highly trained RADA actors pretending to be witnesses at Bar school, can prepare you for the day that you represent your first client; I felt fear and excitement in equal measure.
What does a typical day at the office look like for you? There is no typical day. Every day I encounter a different client, judge, court building, opponent, location and legal issue. It means that barristers are constantly learning from one another, which is why the camaraderie in chambers and at the Bar is so important.
What’s the dress code at work? As most barristers who practice in my area of law are in court every day, as you might expect, the dress code is very formal.
What are your achievable goals? To always find time to travel. I have been told (and quickly realised) that it’s very easy in this career to neglect your life outside of work. But in order to (at least try and) work at your peak you must have downtime, and for me that is when I travel.
Have you ever faced any obstacles as a woman in the workplace? Despite the fact that the Bar is a male-dominated profession, I personally haven’t had any trouble as a woman at the Bar. However, one thing to think about when considering whether to pursue a career at the independent Bar is that you will be self-employed, which obviously has implications for sick and maternity pay.
If you could do anything other than what you do now, what would it be? I would travel! My fiancé and I went travelling before I started pupillage and we definitely caught the bug.
What’s the best way to make a good impression? Humour! And authenticity, as people want to get to know you.
What are two of the most likely interview questions you might get asked when going for your job? As you might expect, the questions are often legal or ethics based. However, more general questions might be about non-legal work experience that you have undertaken and how it may assist a career in law, or why you have previously pursued a career other than in law.
And finally, what one piece of practical career advice would you give to your younger self? Do not doubt yourself; you’ll get there in the end.
If you want to know more about barristers or the Bar, let me know and I’ll put you in touch with Charlotte.