A Day In The Life… (August 2016)
What is your position and what you do on a day-to-day basis?
I am a barrister and arbitrator at 1 King’s Bench Walk, specialising in financial remedies and TOLATA claims. I sit part-time as a Deputy District Judge in London in civil and family work, and as a panel member on the Bar Disciplinary Tribunal.
How long have you been in this role and what brought you here?
I’ve been a barrister for 20 years and have been sitting for 4 years. The thought of being called to the Bar didn’t occur until after graduation: up until then I vaguely imagined that I’d be a historian, or possibly a critically acclaimed singer-songwriter. I did my 12-month pupillage at 1 King’s Bench Walk, before joining 1 Garden Court as a tenant in 1997. Sixteen years later, in 2013, I rejoined 1KBW.
What are the people you work for/with like? Any memorable stories?
I’m lucky to have worked with, and been instructed by, intelligent and interesting people throughout my career, many of whom have become friends. In the early years of my career at 1 Garden Court – a time of plentiful and decently paid legal aid work – the junior end would go on holiday together, causing unappreciated havoc in a clerks room denuded of barristers under 10 years call. I am now happily settled as a member of 1KBW which, as well as being a leading set for financial and children work, has to be one of the most sociable chambers in the country.
In terms of lay clients, I don’t think I’ve ever acted in a dull TOLATA claim or an uninteresting ancillary relief. It is easy to take for granted the privileged position we are in as solicitors and barristers in family law. All human life is here, including the Russian wife of an oligarch who (after I had attempted to be gallant by hailing her a taxi on the Strand) said in a deadpan voice, ‘Is not necessary’, as her chauffeured Bentley drew up.
What is the best and worst part of the day for you?
As a barrister, it helps if you like early mornings. I travel less than I used to, but I still enjoy getting to the train station at 7am, dosing up on coffee and boarding a train that was crammed with commuters on the way in, but is now almost empty as it goes out. Equally, it’s a pleasure to come back from court and have time to read on the way back home and to check my Twitter feed (@familybrief).
Without wishing to sound sappy, I don’t have a worst part of the day. Having said that, I doubt I’ll look back on being regularly woken up by a child kicking me forcefully in the jaw, with great fondness.
What adjectives best describe you?
My middle daughter was recently asked this question at school. Her reply was ‘strict, playful and tall’. To which I would only add: ‘… and committed to tirelessly achieving the best possible outcome for my client, regardless of the personal sacrifices involved’ (if any prospective instructing solicitors are reading).
What keeps you motivated?
Doing a professional job, broadening my understanding of the law, and pushing myself towards greater clarity and precision. I believe the applicable term is ‘kaizen’, according to my studies of Japanese philosophy (ie reading the blurb on the menu at Wagamama).
I also keep in mind a story Matthew Brunsdon-Tully relates about how Lord Wilson used to tell his pupils: ‘you’ve got to make the papers sweat!’. That really is the key: being on top of your brief.
Tea or coffee?
Coffee before 11am, tea afterwards.
In fact, that’s a rule more honoured in the breach. My eldest daughter (now six) recently drew a cartoon called ‘The man who drank too much coffee’. In it, a woman who is possibly my wife says ‘No more coffee!’, to which I, sitting with my head in my hands, cry: ‘NO! I must have coffee’. The story ends happily.
What would you say to anyone thinking of a career in your field?
It isn’t easy to come up with original advice. The two clichés that always apply are (1) the profession is more difficult to break into than it used to be, so don’t bother unless you are determined but (2) keep at it if you are.
To which I would only add, keep humble. Don’t approach the law as if you’re a contestant from X-Factor.
What song do you listen to the most?
According to iTunes, my most listened song is ‘War on War’ by Wilco. Followed by ‘For a Spanish Guitar’ by Gene Clark. (Full list available on request. I can, quite literally, bore for England when it comes to music.)
How do you enjoy your time outside of work?
The first casualty of having children (I have three) is your social life, followed by newspapers, relaxing holidays and a car that is smaller than a tank.
In their place (the activities, not the children), my weekend rituals involve taking the children to Kew Gardens, running the Tamsin Trail around Richmond Park, reading and cooking. Thus far, my midlife crisis has involved me entering half- and now full marathons in day-glo colours.
If you could change one thing about the family justice system what would it be and why?
While I enjoy TOLATA work, it is simply ridiculous that the financial claims of unmarried couples are determined by reference to trust law, where the court’s objective view of a fair outcome has such a limited role. I would favour a change in the law towards the Scottish model of cohabitee rights.