Charlotte Pope-Williams currently practises from 3 Hare Court. She was Employed Barrister of the Year in a Law Firm 2022/2023. She previously worked at Pinsent Masons and the Bank of England. In this blog, Charlotte hopes to dispel some myths and provide some helpful information to those considering a transfer between different parts of the Bar.
In his inaugural speech as Bar Council Chair, Sam Townend KC said: “As a profession, we should be open to greater transference between the employed and self-employed sectors”. In my view, this must be right. As someone who has worked and transferred between the private sector and public sector, and employed and self-employed practice, I thought that it could be helpful to write about the questions that I am asked most frequently about transferring between different forms of practice at the Bar.
Myth 1: An employed barrister who has worked in the public sector will struggle to adapt to time recording.
Lots of law firms expect practitioners to record and bill their time in 6-minute units and provide a relatively detailed narrative about the type of work that they have undertaken in that time. When I interviewed at law firms, a variation on the theme of this line of questioning would almost always arise. The short answer to this type of query is that time recording is a skill, like any other, that can be learned. Public sector barristers will regularly be obliged to provide services to a range of internal clients, across different projects and in respect of different tasks, often in compressed timescales. Those barristers will be accustomed to allocating time to different tasks during the working day, so in a law firm, all you need to do is record what you have done (preferably as soon as you have done it) on your law firm’s time recording software.
Myth 2: An employed barrister transferring from the public sector may struggle to undertake business development and/or client investment activities.
Business development and client investment are what they say on the proverbial tin. It is about securing and building business for your firm. There is a myth that public sector practitioners lack commercial awareness/commerciality. This is not accurate. Whilst the public and private sectors are separate, they regularly interact with each other. The public sector procures goods and services from the private sector and engages with it frequently. Often employed barristers will be providing advice about these interactions and necessarily will need to be commercially aware to do so. I have found the Law Society Guidance helpful in this regard and there are ample short videos and seminars about legal business development on platforms such as LinkedIn. The points made in these resources apply equally to self-employed practitioners.
Myth 3: If you transfer into a law firm as a barrister, you become a solicitor and/or you lose your rights of audience.
You do not become a solicitor as if by alchemy on crossing the threshold of a firm as an employee. You will practise as a barrister unless you cross-qualify as a solicitor; neither will you lose your rights of audience. You should ensure that your practising address and status are up to date with the Bar Standards Board (BSB) when you transfer to a different type and/or place of practice.
Myth 4: As a self-employed practitioner transferring to the employed Bar, you are required to undertake specialist training to do so.
This is not accurate. There is no ‘employed barrister course’ offered by the BSB or elsewhere. You will be required to satisfy competencies as part of the standard recruitment process, as would be the case for any job. Your employer may ask you to undertake other training in the same manner as other employees e.g. to develop knowledge of core elements of your employer’s business.
Myth 5: You are automatically entitled to conduct litigation if you move into employed practice from the self-employed Bar.
You must undertake the BSB-approved course to conduct litigation in employed practice or otherwise. Sometimes employers may not be aware of this and may expect that you can automatically conduct litigation.
Myth 6: If you had the right to conduct litigation in employed practice this right will automatically transfer with you to self-employed practice.
This is not right. You will either need to take another conduct of litigation course or ask the BSB for dispensation to conduct litigation in self-employed practice where you have previously conducted litigation in employed practice.
Myth 7: If you are a self-employed practitioner transferring to the employed Bar the only real options available to you are in the public sector such as the Government Legal Department (GLD), the Serious Fraud Office or the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS).
Where there is a legal department, there is an opportunity for an employed barrister to work in it. There are as many employed Bar opportunities as there are sectors and practice areas e.g. energy, technology, and banking. GLD and CPS are some of the largest employers of barristers, but they are not the only options; one can have a fantastic practice in the GLD or the CPS.
Myth 8: You must undertake pupillage again on moving from employed practice to self-employed practice.
This is a myth. However, some chambers will insist that employed barristers returning to self-employed practice take up a probationary or fixed-term tenancy. There is no uniformity of approach at present.
Myth 9: It is almost impossible to transfer from employed to self-employed practice.
This is not true! Albeit can be challenging.
Fluidity in our profession can serve to make it stronger...
In his inaugural speech, Sam also noted: “Historically when a member of the Bar has started their career in employment, or has departed from self-employed practice into the CPS, the Serious Fraud Office and the Government Legal Service, they have found it challenging to join, or return to chambers.” I would take Sam’s statement a little further and make it more nuanced in saying that criminal practice aside, transferring from any employed practice to the self-employed Bar remains quite difficult.
I make two observations in this regard. First, it can be hard to persuade chambers to offer you tenancy due to the amount of misunderstanding about the skill set of employed barristers. There is a perception that employed barristers lose the skills to operate as self-employed practitioners upon entering employment. There is another way to look at it. We all receive the same basic training. Employed practitioners add to that training with skills that they gain in employment. Many of those skills are transferable and are of benefit to chambers e.g. business development skills from a law firm. Employed barristers can be a highly attractive addition to chambers where they have come from licensed access or professional clients or otherwise.
Second, the understandable fear of building a self-employed practice effectively from scratch on the part of employed practitioners transferring to self-employed practice. This can be addressed by the support of a good clerking team, effective marketing, and a chambers CEO (where you have one).
There are more words required than are available to me in this blog to address this subject matter in detail. Transferring is certainly an area which is ripe for policy and/or guidance not least because transfer is happening with increasing frequency. I will be writing a further article about transferring from employed to self-employed practice in the Bar Association for Commerce, Finance, and Industry’s March Newsletter, plus I will be undertaking speaking events on the same subject matter during 2024. Keep a look out for those! I have transferred successfully and so can you if you wish to do so. Fluidity in our profession can serve to make it stronger and more resilient.