Hannah Newberry (Chair) interviews Chris Bryden and Katherine Illsley, Deputy Heads of Chambers at 4 Kings Bench Walk.
1. Can you briefly outline your day to day role, and if this varies, generally what you would expect from a working week?
Chris: Every day is different! Some days I will be out at court doing a hearing or a trial, which could be local or any corner of the country. Other days I will be doing hearings or a mediation remotely. Most days involve some sort of court/mediation/arbitration but there are others which are used for paperwork – advices and Opinions, pleadings. Prep for the cases also has to be fitted in, as does admin, both my own, and in respect of my various roles in Chambers.
Katherine: A week generally involves 2 – 4 court hearings, with lots of train travel to exotic (or less than exotic) parts of England and Wales, with the rest of the week booked out for papers in order to prepare for hearings and do paperwork.
2. At what point did you consider the Bar in your career (i.e. was this during early studies, during University, work experience etc?)
Chris: I was asked to go back to my primary school just after I had taken my GCSEs to give a talk to year 6 students. My reception class teacher (Sister Kathleen) was still there, and proudly showed me what had been on her classroom wall since I was 4, which was me having written out “I want to be a barrister when I grow up”. I have no idea what I thought I meant by that, but this must be some sort of record.
Katherine: I started thinking about a career at the Bar in my last year at university when I realised that English as a degree did not lend itself to an obvious career path and I needed to start planning my life. I am still waiting for the moment to write a novel…
3. Was there anything about joining the Bar that made you feel reluctant or any concerns you had as a young lawyer, such as about the commitment levels or hours of work?
Chris: The Bar was always something that I wanted, but it was daunting, applying for pupillages and being knocked back, when most of my university colleagues were accepting training contracts at magic circle firms, and earning a great deal more money. The Bar involves dedication and hard work – as a self-employed practitioner, you have to work hard and also make a name for yourself, whilst throwing yourself into networking and making connections. Being out late most nights at marketing events meant that personal life took a back seat, but I knew what I was signing up for.
Katherine: I was concerned about self-employment and the affordability of taking time off for maternity leave without maternity pay.
4. How would you describe a ‘perfect solicitor’ in respect of providing instructions and briefs?
Chris: Two words: Hannah Newberry, of course! I’m not sure that there is such a thing as the “perfect solicitor”, because, like matching barristers to clients, some solicitors will excel at certain aspects (matching the pagination to the index, or sending a brief that actually contains information, rather than the memorable “Counsel has the file and will do his best” that I genuinely received once). However, in general, a solicitor who is organised, knows the case, has a rapport with the client, and who is generally interested in their case, is what I would describe as the perfect solicitor – oh, and one that sends me their instructions, of course!
Katherine: I absolutely appreciate receiving a brief and all the relevant papers at one time rather than in various, bitty emails over several days! Receiving papers as attachments only is particularly painful.
5. What would you say to a junior lawyer who wanted advice on how to stand out after completing their studies and searching for a pupillage?
Chris: Getting pupillage is a real struggle. The Bar is shrinking and there are far fewer pupillages than there used to be. Assess your interests and your strengths and weaknesses, and consider the sort of set that you want to be in. If you can, talk to junior barristers and attend pupillage fairs and online forums run by chambers. There are hundreds of applications that Chambers has to sift through, so you need to think about how to stand out. Show an interest in the area of work they do, and tailor work experience or employed roles as best as you can to show that you have a genuine interest. Keep trying, and don’t be disenheartened. Seek feedback, improve, add to your CV.
Katherine: My tip would be to specialise. Pick an area of law that you are interested in, and then really focus on that when gaining experience and reading up on the law. If you love financial remedy law then I would suggest doing lots of mini pupillages in chambers that specialise in the rea, pick it as a specialist study topic, read up on it and show that you genuinely love that area.
6. Do you have any exceptionally good memories of successes or cases in your career that you’d like to share? (Appropriately redacted of course)!
Chris: I once opened a cross-examination by taking the witness to two statements in which he said diametrically opposite things, and asking: “on which of these sworn statements are you lying to the court”? We settled that one shortly afterwards.
Katherine: One case I am really proud of is where there was a total turnaround for the father, who I represented. The mother made numerous allegations against him, the child raised various concerns and refused to see him, whilst my client said the allegations were false and the child was affected by the mother’s hatred of the father. Over the course of the proceedings, we were able to satisfy the court that my client was right, and there was a real shift in attitude from the Guardian and from the court towards the case. The child ended up building up a really positive relationship with his father.
7. Is there anything you have learnt during the course of your profession, that you wish someone had taught you sooner?
Chris: So much. It took me far too long to realise how essential the service element of the profession is – clients don’t just want an excellent lawyer, they want someone who understands them, where they are coming from, and who shows they care, without becoming emotionally engaged in the case.
Katherine: I am not sure how it could be taught, but it would be marvellous to gain a good feeling from the start for when clients appreciate firm advice and when they really prefer a softer approach and bit more space to consider it.
8. What would you say is the most difficult aspect of your profession?
Chris: Accepting that sometimes we all need a break and have to turn off from the work once in a while.
Katherine: That moment when you are at court, under pressure, without support, with extremely limited time, and you have to advise your client on a finely balanced decision that could have significant consequences for their future.
4KBW Chambers are a set of 52 members offering advocacy and advisory services at all levels of seniority. 4KBW offer expertise in a range of practise areas including Crime, Family, Personal Injury, Employment, Housing and Immigration in London, to include remote work.
Chris and Katherine can be contacted or instructed via their clerk, Jason at email@example.com.