“Why do you want to be a barrister?”
As I type this I am averting my gaze from my epic list of Things That I Need To Do. The most mundane jobs, such as weeding out dead briefs to send back to solicitors, can be immensely appealing when there are far more pressing tasks to be getting on with.
I have lost count of the number of times I have felt sick at the thought of a difficult case that is looming in my diary, only for that nauseous feeling to be replaced by a mixture of elation, relief and guilt if the case is vacated for any reason.
On a good day, when things are going well, it is easy to forget about the lows of being at the Bar. I urge you to watch the brilliant animation presented by Dr Bill Mitchell about maintaining resilience and staying well: https://www.wellbeingatthebar.org.uk/staying-well/.
I am often asked by my mentees to read their Pupillage Gateway applications, which prompted me a few months ago, with tongue firmly in cheek, to ask my barrister Facebook friends for their answer to the question “Why do you want to be a barrister?”. It elicited numerous responses, including the following:
“Job security, respect of one’s peers and rock star lifestyle”.
“I wanted to be Anna in This Life”.
“Because I’m basically too antisocial and fidgety to work in an office”.
“Because I really like the financial security in knowing when I’m getting paid, the ability to plan personal events without work getting in the way and being able to share the details of the cases I have with non lawyers, as it’s not boring/ shocking/ unbelievable. And I love wearing black every arfing day and dragging/ carrying a suitcase everywhere on antiquated tube system steps”.
“I bought a wig and other obvious career choices weren’t available to me”.
“I like going to court and being shouted at by the judge because those that instruct me haven’t done what they should have and haven’t bothered to explain why”.
“Because sadomasochism is a hobby and I like being punished for things which are not my own fault”.
“Because I thought (when I was 7) I would be rich, and by then had told too many people of my dream career”.
“I like the idea of being self-employed and I love the sound of my own voice”.
But seriously (for those of you of a certain age, that was not necessarily intended to be an allusion to Phil Collins circa 1989), this job can be incredibly demanding. When your wellbeing dips, please talk to someone: a trusted colleague, a clerk, a friend from another chambers, or to LawCare on its free and confidential helpline (0800 279 6888: Monday to Friday 9 am – 7.30 pm; weekends and bank holidays 10 am – 4 pm) if you feel unable to open up to someone you know.
If you feel that you may not want to or are not yet ready to speak to someone, an option to consider would be to look at the Wellbeing at the Bar website which has helpful suggestions such as podcasts to help with anxiety or videos of barristers sharing their own experience with their wellbeing.
We all need to give each other the confidence to talk to each other about wellbeing: it does not make us bad barristers if we need to ask for help.
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.