Wellbeing at the Bar: A clerk’s perspective (Arron Snipe)
When I was asked to write a blog on wellbeing from a clerking perspective for Wellbeing at the Bar (‘WATB’), my first thought was what on earth would I write about? With this being my first ever blog, I questioned whether I could share my personal experiences? What would my barristers think if I raised a concern about something? What would my peers think if they disagreed with something that I have said?
Wellbeing however is something that I am very passionate about and having slept on it, I made the conscious decision to be nothing but honest. After all, that is a key factor of our wellbeing isn’t it? Being able to share your feelings and experiences without the fear of being judged or feeling embarrassed. Thanks to the hard work that organisations like WATB, Wellness for Law and individuals like Nick Hill and Rachel Spearing (amongst many, many others) have put in over the last few years; finally, within our profession, barristers and clerks alike are feeling able to speak out to tackle mental health and wellbeing head on.
I recently attended a training session on mental health wellbeing that was run by Wellness for Law. Having recently helped establish our own wellbeing committee here in my chambers, I thought it wold be worth going to. How right I was. It was a fantastic and hugely beneficial session attended by a mix of barristers, clerks and administration staff from all practice areas.
During the session, one thing became clear and that was that it appeared to come as a surprise to the barristers in the room that it’s not just them that worry and have anxieties in our weird and wonderful world at the Bar. We, clerks really do care about our barristers and their practices. That’s what I want to focus on in this blog, the potential worries and anxieties that can be faced by clerks.
It made a huge difference to me personally knowing that I wasn’t alone in this regard and I hope that any clerks reading this who may face similar challenges know that they aren’t the only ones who may be having such worries.
I totally appreciate that barristers are self-employed business people who operate in a highly competitive and challenging environment. For them this brings its own worries and anxieties on a personal level that can affect their wellbeing. If I might say so, clerks are also riddled with similar worries and anxieties.
I for one, will say that I have had many a sleepless night, when one of my barristers has had a case come out of the diary for one reason or another, or when a client decided to instruct another set of chambers on a matter. Just like a barrister worries about these things, so do their clerks. “Is there anything more I could have done to secure that brief? Did I pitch the fees right? Was my email worded correctly?”
Our job as barristers’ clerks is a fairly unique model as it seems to be one of the few jobs whereby we are in effect “selling” something that is completely out of our control. We are promoting the ability of another human being and that is not an easy thing to do, nor is it an easy thing to fix if something goes wrong. We do not only deal with our own livelihood, we are also directly involved with the livelihood of tens if not hundreds of others and whilst that of course is what we are paid to do, it does not come without its own challenges to our wellbeing.
I hope that this blog has at least started to portray that message and I hope that going forward we can continue to cohesively tackle wellbeing within our industry, support each other and get the message across that we are all in this together.
At what is a very busy time for both barristers and clerks, indulging in the delights of Christmas parties, mince pies, and the odd glass or two of mulled wine, I would like to thank you for taking the time to read this blog and I wish you all a very merry Christmas and a happy and successful 2019.
Arron Snipe is the First Junior Clerk (Business & Property Group) at St Phillips Chamber, Birmingham.
Future Mental Health Training for the Bar will be held at Bar Council offices on 28 January and 7 March 2019. Please get in touch with Kathy Wong (KWong@BarCouncil.org.uk) if you would like to attend.