We quiz Simon Lewis of Exchange Chambers about life at the bar.
Chambers: Exchange Chambers (Leeds, Manchester, Liverpool)
Position: Commercial and Employment Barrister
Degree: Social and Political Sciences (1st class)
University: University of Cambridge
Where did you study the GDL and the BPTC? BPP Leeds. Studied part time over four years and combined it with a demanding day job and becoming a parent. Pretty challenging balancing act overall… but managed to get good results, which no doubt helps.
Hobbies: Spending time with family, food, TV, sport and walking the dog.
When and why did you decide to change careers and retrain as a barrister? About six years ago when I was aged 27 or 28. Having decided to leave London to live in Yorkshire, I thought attractive long-term opportunities in my previous career would be relatively limited outside the capital. So I considered the other options. And, after securing a number of helpful scholarships, I concluded the commercial bar offered the best long-term career prospects for me up in the North.
Why did you leave London? After a while, I think I just didn’t like living and working in such a crowded city every day. I wanted to return to the north. It suits us better.
What does your typical day involve? Preparing (rapidly) for a new case, getting to court (early), meeting the client, representing them. Then shifting focus and building momentum towards the next case. There can be a fair bit of waiting around too.
What are the most enjoyable aspects of your job? There are some genuine high points: winning cases for clients I believe in takes some beating. And I enjoy building relationships with solicitors I work closely with.
What are the worst aspects of your job? I think being a pupil, when it comes after a successful first career, is inevitably going to have its difficult aspects. My supervisor has been excellent though and I’m really looking forward to building a strong practice and enjoying the unique benefits of life as a self-employed barrister.
What’s the biggest misconception of the legal profession? I don’t know – that it would be like Legally Blonde?
What advice would you give to someone who wants to pursue a career in law? First of all: think twice! Seriously. There are other routes to a rewarding working life which are easier, more lucrative and probably more fun. Lots of lawyers will tell you, persuasively of course as that’s their job, it’s the best job in the world, but most lawyers have never really done anything else. But if you’ve got the right mix of skills and the necessary commitment, then get some interesting experience, listen to others who’ve done well, and aim as high as you can within whichever bit of the profession you think fits you best.
What are the biggest pitfalls students should try to avoid when pursuing a legal career? Perhaps trying to be someone they’re not or putting too much pressure on themselves. I would suggest trying to be as honest as you can with yourself, as authentic as you can with others, and keeping things in perspective. Remember also that chambers and firms, increasingly I think, look for all rounders and not just academically gifted lawyers so don’t forget to emphasise the contributions you can make in areas such as client care, business development and marketing.
What are the common attributes of successful candidates? There’ll be something that’s memorable – something distinctive. But it comes in many different forms. If, for example, you’ve substantial non-legal experience, as I had, work out how that will help you be a better lawyer and find the best way to communicate this.