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Wellbeing at the Bar blog: Nicholas Peacock

Every September, the PNBA holds a Clinical Negligence weekend conference for its members. We alternate between Oxford and Cambridge and usually have 90-100 members coming along for lectures over a couple of days, with a couple of dinners. Speakers are drawn from the medical and legal worlds. It’s a chance to learn from some people who really know what they’re talking about, and to unwind with colleagues, many of whom we only come across in court or on the other side of a round table meeting. This year is our 24th such annual event and I am one of the conference co-organisers.

For me it’s the anxiety: what if I’ve missed something? What if I’m just wrong? My opponent’s directory write-ups look much more impressive than mine – am I really up to it?

I’ve been involved with the Wellbeing at the Bar Working Group since its first meeting as the PNBA representative. I leapt at the chance to be involved, in part because of my own personal adverse wellbeing experiences and in part as a chance to learn more about wellbeing and spread the word to other barristers. Some barristers won’t ever need to look at our website because of their natural resilience, but they may find it useful to help friends and colleagues whose wellbeing, like many of us, takes a dip from time to time. I see the purpose of the wellbeing website as a portal for help and support: some of what it contains may be obvious; some of it unnecessary for some of us; but as a first point of call I hope it collates useful guidance and access to support. Different people will take home different messages, but for me the kernel of the project is learning how to prevent pressure (which we need and thrive on) from turning into stress (which we don’t); and if the pressure becomes too much, how to get back to where you want to be.

This constant self-doubt makes me irritated with myself that – after years of study, academic and practical experience and a practice which seems to trundle along year on year – I’m so hard on myself. Give yourself a break…

The BSB’s new CPD arrangements (something else I’ve been involved with on behalf of the PNBA) allow scope for topics beyond law and legal procedure. The PNBA’s executive committee has been discussing how best to expand and promote its CPD provision in future, which prompted me to think about wellbeing. I’ve also attended and participated in wellbeing events around the Inns in the last couple of years. One of the most striking comments I heard about the Bar Council’s wellbeing project was from Lord Neuberger at an event earlier this year in Lincoln’s Inn – I paraphrase, but he described it as the sort of idea which is so good that you wonder why no one has thought of it before.

“The funny thing is the harder I practise the luckier I get” [which I have only just now found out was not in fact coined by Gary Player] – there’s no substitute for knowing your case inside out. For me, preparation soothes anxiety.

I’ve been a keen participant in this project and so, not without some nervousness, I suggested to my PNBA Clinical Negligence conference co-organiser that we might include in this year’s programme a slot on wellbeing, with me as facilitator. He readily agreed and so thirty minutes have been set aside at the end of a fairly busy day for me to lead a wellbeing discussion.

Some of this year’s yellow sticky messages stuck on my PC – “Yes I can” [see self-doubt above]; “Call, don’t email” [more important the more difficult the issue]; “Deal with it” [intended for the “horrid” set of papers which you wish would disappear rather than ever look at again].

Of course, making time in the programme is easy – thinking about what to say is not quite so easy. Those who know me outside work will know that, for personal reasons, I am not the most eager devotee of mindfulness or yoga, so the decision not to have 90-100 colleagues undertake a meditation session in Warrior 2 position was a fairly easy one to take.

The two most important messages I learned during counselling: ask “So what?” [when considering whether something is a problem or not] and “Is it helpful?” [when considering whether my response is one which really needs to be made].

One of the huge benefits of sitting on the Working Group is easy access to lots of people who have already made wellbeing presentations themselves, not least Rachel Spearing, who has to be acknowledged as a fabulous fount of knowledge, sense and enthusiasm. Having put out a call, I was soon provided with slides, links and ideas from Rachel and others about what I might say and how I might start a discussion. Creating slides (including learning how to embed video footage into a slide) has reminded me just how interesting this concept is. I have overcome my sniffiness about TED talks (though only in respect of two talks so far, one of which I am now messianic about). And so, with a certain sense of trepidation, I await September’s conference. Wish me luck.

“Robert Waldinger – What makes a good life? Lessons from the longest study on happiness.” Watch it.


Nick Peacock (1992 call) is a barrister at Hailsham Chambers. His principal areas of practice are clinical negligence and professional disciplinary cases. He is the PNBA‘s representative on the Wellbeing at the Bar Working Group.

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