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Wellbeing at the Bar blog: Cyrus Larizadeh QC & Victoria Wilson

WELLBEING AND BEING HIT BY A BUS ON THE WAY TO COURT

by Cyrus Larizadeh QC and Victoria Wilson

Cyrus Larizadeh QC of 4 PB:

During my 24 year journey at the Bar, there have been times when I have felt very low and under extreme stress. So much so that on occasions it has affected my own wellbeing. At those times I have needed support. My mother’s suicide in 2006 was a particularly difficult period for me in life and in practice. I had not spotted the signs of depression in her and as a protective mother, she had concealed her pain from us all. I was paralysed with guilt as I felt I could have stopped the tragedy had I simply been more aware and less caught up in my own career. She had fought my corner all my life but now she was gone. I was simply not prepared for the aftermath. I lost my way for a while. Mummy’s death affected my professional life as well as the rest of me. I turned to my family and my colleagues for help.

I am very fortunate. During any turbulence, I have the support of my Roomies in chambers. We are “four gentlemen of a certain age with varying degrees of mid life issues” but despite this, we are there for each other. I resort to friends outside of the law or to my long suffering family. However, I do not always wish to burden those nearest to me. It is not possible to rely on my colleagues every time. They may be busy with issues of their own or be in need of support themselves. In those circumstances, even I may turn to sport. Yes, I confess that I am a MAMIL – ‘Middle Aged Man In Lycra’. We are usually seen on weekends struggling in packs and surrounded by the deer in Richmond Park. At other times, I immerse myself into performing card tricks on the Northern Line en route to the Royal Courts of Justice to the delight or horror of unsuspecting members of the public. Mostly though, I wear a mask so that people don’t see me sad or struggling.

Victoria Wilson of Goldsmith Chambers:

Once upon a time there was a girl who applied for pupillage, survived pupillage, obtained a tenancy, and finally became a super-shiny-amazing barrister with swishy hair and the most effortlessly brilliant courtroom technique.

Or not.

A close friend of mine from another chambers and I meet up from time to time at Paul’s on High Holborn for coffee. Inviting the other for a weekday coffee, over the 15 years since we were called to the Bar, has become our code for “I am having a meltdown and I need to talk to someone who gets what this job can be like”.

(By the way, the friend in question is one of those people who does everything brilliantly and is known for being excellent at their job).

We used to think it was just us. We didn’t understand how everyone else could just sail through life at the Bar with such confidence and ease.

Perhaps they don’t.

We then discovered that we were not alone. The Bar Council had commissioned the Positive Group to conduct a survey of the wellbeing of 2456 of our members and a report came out in April 2015. Of the sample group: 41% were women, 55% were over 45, 25% were primary carers, 20% supported extended family, 5% had significant disabilities, 22% were Black and Minority Ethnics. The members being surveyed were across all circuits and specialist bar associations including Family Law Bar Association.

The FLBA committee under the leadership of Philip Marshall QC and Frances Judd QC feel very strongly that we as a specialist bar association should encourage our members to introduce a Wellbeing Policy in our respective Chambers. We should take a lead in this area. In putting together material for the website we asked our chambers to provide the Bar Council with their own experiences. Many shared their own experiences but also highlighted examples of supporting colleagues in need. Most accounts provided were anonymous but some were not. One email struck us in particular. It was from a senior member of the Family Bar who has a reputation of being tough in court. This person wrote to us as follows:

“On the way to court I sometimes wish that a bus would hit me, not fatally, but just enough to make me miss the hearing because I am so worried about it”

The feeling as expressed resonated with us. Many of us have felt the same way ourselves at least once or twice. To hear it from another member and so senior was strangely comforting. We have all experienced wellbeing issues ourselves or through supporting colleagues and we need to address this now in a more structured and professional way by taking realistic steps in house in our chambers and as a membership. There is an overwhelming consensus by our members that something must be done to address our wellbeing issues.

We must bear in mind that it is not just family lawyers who have wellbeing issues but also the judiciary who share our stresses and burdens. The Judiciary and Magistrates at all levels also suffer seriously from wellbeing issues. There must be much more awareness between our respective professions and far greater mutual understanding and support if we are to improve on our current experiences.

The message here is rather simple. There is nothing wrong in admitting we struggle at times and that we have wellbeing issues. What matters is being able to identify these and support each other and at the very least signpost help to improve our wellbeing. This can only be a good thing for ourselves individually and as a membership, for our colleagues, for our clients and for those close to us.

Cyrus Larizadeh QC

Victoria Wilson

Members of FLBA and Wellbeing Committees.

Cyrus Larizadeh QC specialises in the most serious and complex Public and Private Law cases in all matters relating to children. He has a particular expertise in cases involving sexual and emotional abuse, highly complex medical cases relating to FII and allegations of abusive trauma and causing death to children as well as intractable relocation cases and child arrangement disputes. He is well known for his calm, thorough and exceptional advocacy and excellent strategic approach. He specialises in questioning vulnerable witnesses. He is also extremely effective with Direct Access clients. He represents parents, children and local authorities in the most serious and intractable of proceedings at all levels of tribunal but in particular the High Court.

Victoria Wilson is the Head of the Family Group at Goldsmith Chambers. She practices principally in financial remedy and private law children cases, including cases with international elements and those involving significant factual and legal complexity. She has been a member of the Wellbeing At The Bar Working Group since its inception.

Follow her on Twitter @BarristerWilson