Jack Meek writes a guest blog as he is part of the #IAmTheBar cohort
I recently came across this brilliant reflection by Stephen Fry: “We are not nouns, we are verbs. I am not a thing – an actor, a writer – I am a person who does things – I write, I act – and I never know what I am going to do next. I think you can be imprisoned if you think of yourself as a noun.” This is delightfully instructive for those practising at the Bar, and perhaps more importantly for present purposes, for those aspiring to enter the profession. Consider the following.
Firstly, thinking about what you do and what you have done will help you identify those skills, interests and experiences which will enhance your aptitude for the job. Reflect on what you have learned from the variety and accumulation of all your exploits. Unless we really are now in the multiverse and there are variant versions of you running around in alligator form, your story (for want of a less hackneyed phrase) will have its unique elements. There is not, and nor should there be, one template which all barristers must satisfy. According to the Bar Standards Board, there were 17,263 practising barristers in England and Wales in 2021. Each one of us will have bespoke interests and experiences, and each of those will have informed our career choices in different ways. Focusing on those things which you have done, and which are distinctive, will make you a more attractive candidate. Think also about the fact that you are more likely to come across as engaged and engaging if you speak about those things about which you are truly passionate.
Secondly, it goes without saying that barristers should be able to convey empathy, and I believe that you can learn and develop the ability to understand and share the feelings of another from the multitudinous things you have done. Yes, the bottom line for many clients may be, (1) Do I have a case? (2) Will I win? and (3) What will I get? However, a good bedside manner can be invaluable. Rather than thinking about yourself in accordance with a label or job title, draw on the insight and lessons from your various hobbies and endeavours in order better to place yourself in someone else’s shoes. Note too that demonstrating empathy is something which you actively do; I suspect very few people would describe themselves as “an empath”.
Thirdly, have perspective. I feel lucky to be part of a profession which is intellectually stimulating, practically challenging and in which my efforts can hopefully make some modicum of positive difference to the lives of others, but the Bar is not what defines me. It makes up one part of my character. Here are some of the other “nouns” under which I could legitimately be anointed: I am a husband, son, brother; I am a friend, a colleague, a mentor; I am an avid reader, a cinema obsessive, a music lover, a theatre enthusiast, a Formula 1 fan; I am an Ulsterman, an Irishman, a Briton. All that and more before I even begin to think of myself as “barrister”. That is not because I am blasé about my career, but because I believe it is important to have a hinterland. In a job which often requires your faculties to work at warp speed, being able to switch off and stay grounded is surely beneficial in terms of keeping your mind refreshed and making you more effective in your role. Besides, a career at the Bar should not be an end in itself, but rather a means by which you can hopefully do some good and enjoy all of those other aspects of life which are mutually complementary.
In closing, one final reflection, and I ask you to bear with me as I jump the shark and perform somersaults in order to mix metaphors and wrap things up with an untidy segue. Stephen Fry famously portrayed P. G. Wodehouse’s famed valet, Jeeves. One might therefore think him well-qualified to take on the role of Alfred Pennyworth in some future Batman adaptation. In any event, I am sure the Dark Knight’s tireless butler would agree with the sentiment expressed by Katie Holmes’ character, Rachel Dawes, in Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins: “It's not who you are underneath, it's what you do that defines you.” With that and all of the above in mind, I therefore invite you to follow my lead, for, when asked in future, I shall respond: “I am Jack Meek, and I do barristering.”
Jack Meek is currently taking part in the Government Legal Department’s Legal Trainee Scheme.