Life at the bar: Christmas in Chambers – five golden rules

The days are shorter and all the pubs have suddenly started selling mulled wine.

You still need to buy your presents, put up your Christmas tree, sort your Christmas party dress, and work out who on earth is going to entertain Auntie Nora on Christmas day. And on top of that, you have a skeleton argument to write and a trial to prepare for.

You may well be the sort of person that can handle the festive season’s endless to-do list without so much as breaking into sweat. If so, congratulations and I hate you a little bit.

If not, the last thing you want to do is spend your time worrying about the seemingly ancillary troubles that are particular to this time of year. So as a little festive gift from me to you, here are my five golden riiiiiings (sorry, rules) for an enjoyable Christmas at the bar. 

1. Book out your diary.

Although people always bang on about “short” court terms, Christmas is a relatively brief holiday for all of us. It is not uncommon to be on your feet as late as December 23rd, or in fact in between Christmas and New Year.

Thankfully, I have never seen a rogue case pop up in my diary on the 27th or 28th, but spare a thought for all those third-six pupils and junior tenants out there, who will probably be the first port of call for a hearing no-one is likely to want (although frankly, going by the stories I have heard about some people’s families at Christmas, perhaps there are those who would genuinely rather spend the entire day in Skegness county court being shouted at by a grumpy judge).

A tip if you do find yourself on your feet at that time of year: literally no-one wants to be there. Not you, not your client, not your solicitor, and least of all the Judge. Make it as short and sweet as you can.

2. Go to your chambers Christmas party.

Rachel Tandy
It would have been a cliche to photoshop a Father Christmas hat on Rachel’s head, so we didn’t. Imagine it if you like.

This seems pretty obvious really, but a surprising number of my friends at others sets just aren’t that interested. It is a great chance to get everyone to be in the same place at the same time – which seems to be relatively rare at most chambers.

For example, even though my set isn’t massive (it’s not the sort of place where you pass someone on the stairs, say hello, and then wonder who on earth they are), it has been a fantastically busy year, which has kept us all on our toes and out of the wine bar up the road.

However – some words of warning if you do attend. DO NOT (a) talk shop (b) get so drunk you can’t see or speak, or (c) be fooled into thinking you are the person with the best moves on the dance floor, unless you particularly want to irritate your peers or (worse) be mortally embarrassed the morning after when photo evidence starts doing the rounds [editor’s note: any photo evidence that emerges of OTHER people can be sent here, however]. And if you are a pupil or if clients are invited – multiply your risk factor by ten. 

3. Get to grips with your chambers Christmas etiquette.

Do people in chambers give Christmas cards? Do other members buy presents for the clerks? Is there a secret santa?

If (like me) you are lucky enough to have been in the same set your whole life, then you have the benefit of blissful ignorance; I know what people do here and to be honest, I never considered what other options there might be. But I do remember someone else who had been at another set asking about some of the protocols and relaying how things had been done at their previous stomping ground. If you’re new, keep your eyes open and scope out what the others are doing to see if there’s a general consensus – and if you’re not sure, ask. 

4. Get in the festive spirit.

You might be insanely, offensively busy, but if you don’t pause for thought, it will suddenly be Christmas Eve and you won’t have had so much as a sip of mulled wine. There is always time to put up a few decorations in your room (although not all of your colleagues will necessarily back this, particularly if your chosen festive adornments include a giant tinsel santa head – just saying) or make a few mince pies, if your set is the sort that has chambers tea or drinks. In fact, I am considering petitioning the BBC to commission a new version of GBBO entitled the Great Barrister Bake Off. I’m sure it would be a hit. You can just imagine the voiceover woman saying “Rachel’s cake is inspired by her memories of law school, and is piped with the lyrics of the equity’s darling song.” A replica of the Royal Courts of Justice made entirely out of shortbread biscuits, anyone?

5. Don’t be negligent.

Apologies to end on a serious note – but despite my urging you to get in the festive spirit, don’t let all the mulled wine and giant tinsel santas go to your head. In particular, make sure your solicitors are clear about when you will and won’t be in and out of chambers / picking up emails. And be careful to check any relevant deadlines and limitation periods on your ongoing cases before you put your out of office on – the various weekends and bank holidays makes calculating them slightly trickier, and means deadlines may come round earlier than you think.

That’s all from me for this year, folks. I’ll be back in 2015 with more news from the front line.

In the meantime – and in the words of Shakin’ Stevens – merry Christmas, everyone.