Well its 9.30pm and I’ve given myself indigestion trying to get myself ready for my maintenance pending suit hearing tomorrow. My rather excellent Sunday Roast is (apart from the indigestion) a distant memory. Never try and number crunch after too many helpings of roast potatoes. The scrutinising of other people’s bank statements should be banned on Sundays.

I am now going to redress the work-life imbalance by watching rubbish tv in bed, to sleep soundly in the knowledge that my afternoon / evening of hard work will (as sure as Monday follows Sunday) be rewarded by a serious drubbing by the learned Judge in the morning. Ah, the rewards of this vocation are truly endless and incomparable…

a day in the life…

ok so you want to know the glamorous reality? here it is. let this be a warning to any fool thinking of joining this profession…

get up 6am, sometimes earlier. commute to court – 1 1/2 – 2 hours. Usually walk, train, tube, train, walk all with five ton suitcase and up and down multiple stairs. Into central London and back out to whichever court I’m at today (I don’t live in central London because I can’t afford it, even on my fat cat legal aid lawyer salary).

Meet client half hour before the hearing. If lucky will find a private interview room which smells of sweat and which contains chairs with suspicious yellow rings on the upholstery. If unlucky will have to try and conduct sensitive conversation with client in public waiting room leaning up against a wall.

Try to sort things out with the other side (lawyer or litigant in person, depending). Go and see the Judge and say my piece. If legal aid, remember to ask Judge to sign your form before leaving court so you can get paid, if necessary justify why you should get paid a particular amount. If you forget to get it signed or to get a court stamp on it you forfeit anything from £30 to £200.

Then debrief client outside court, explaining what has just happened. Usually have to write up the court order before leaving court and wait for copies. If at court all day probably won’t get time for lunch. Maybe a choccy bar if lucky.

At some stage whilst at court I will probably get shouted at either by the Judge or my client or the other side (most recently a charming fellow called me a ‘fucking shark’).

May be at court 10 mins or (more likely) all morning, sometimes all day depending on whether I’ve got a trial or a directions hearing and depending on how backed up the court list is. Sometimes wait all day at court (rarely get paid extra for this) before getting on to see the Judge. 

Travel back to chambers probably 1-2 hours journey. Often grab a late lunch on the way back, usually something made of rubber. On train make phonecall to office to check what I’m doing tomorrow, find out what papers have come in, pick up messages etc. Check email on train and respond. Work on train (can only do this if its quiet enough to be private).

Back in chambers anytime between 11am-7pm depending on the above. Ring solicitor to tell them outcome of today’s hearing. Type up a note of the hearing and fax a copy to the solicitor with the court order.

Check papers for tomorrow. Read papers and prepare for future hearings / do written paperwork / advice to client. If necessary speak to solicitor about tomorrow to chase missing papers or ask them why something hasn’t been done.

Sometimes waiting till 6pm or later for papers for next day to arrive by bike. Work as late as necessary to get them read and prepared.

Unpack and repack suitcase with necessary papers and work for tonight, and for court tomorrow.

Leave chambers 6pm – 8pm. Travel home 1 1/2 – 2 hours depending on trains. Again – tube train walk.

Get home 7.30 – 9.00pm. If lucky hubby has made tea, if not will probably skip it. Do a bit of work or on a bad day do a lot of work. Sometimes too tired to work but need to be ready for a hearing tomorrow so go to bed early and get up at 4am to look at the papers again before showering.

Iron shirt, polish shoes, eat breakfast – no wait. I never do that because life’s too short.

And then repeat.

Oh, and am often working at weekends.

Oh, and if I don’t go to court I don’t get paid. Unless I’m on my deathbed I still have to go. If I’m not in court I don’t get paid. No annual leave, no sick leave, no maternity pay. No boss to complain to if I’m too busy / not busy enough. Pay my own expenses.

On the plus side, I manage my own time (subject to the whims of solicitors instructing me) and sometimes get to slope off early to walk the dog of an afternoon. And there’s always a starbucks and a top shop on the walk back from court. And all my friends think I live a glamorous life.

what’s the difference between a barrister and a solicitor?

Barristers and solicitors are all lawyers, but they are different types of lawyers. One is not ‘better’, more experienced or more senior than the other. They have quite different training and expertise and do different types of legal work. The system that operates in England & Wales is a ‘split’ system, where there is a division of labour between these two types of lawyers. In some countries (such as America) there is a a ‘fused’ system where all lawyers can (potentially) do all things, although of course they will tend to specialise.

Barristers are self employed. solicitors are not. they are employed or partners. Barristers aren’t allowed to form partnerships or companies, they trade as sole traders, but group together for economy and marketing under one roof which is called a ‘chambers’.

Because barristers within one chambers are all independent from one another they can act on different sides in the same dispute, but solicitors in the same firm can’t because they aren’t independent and would have a conflict of interests.

Barristers are specialist advocates or specialists in a particular area of law (or both). solicitors do also specialise, and some do their own advocacy, but most solicitors are primarily litigators. this means meeting the client, working out what the case is, sorting out the paperwork, communicating with the other sides’ solicitors and where necessary instructing a barrister to advise about the law or to go to court and represent the client on their behalf.

Barristers spend a lot of their time in court, talking to other barristers, dealing with witnesses giving evidence and addressing the Judge. Solicitors often come to court to support a barrister by taking a note or having the files to hand incase the barrister needs something. Increasingly often a barrister attends court without a solicitor. This is often more cost effective.

A barrister is often paid by the piece of work, i.e. £x to attend for this hearing and £y to draft this document. A solicitor usually bills by the hour. Barristers are usually sent to court because its cheaper than sending a solicitor who bills by the hour or because the barrister is more experienced at dealing with the court side of the process (or both).

A client can instruct a solicitor directly but to instruct a barrister you have to first instruct a solicitor as intermediary and they will instruct a barrister for you. Recently a new scheme has been introduced where a client can instruct a barrister direct through a scheme called ‘public access’ but this is only in certain types of cases and only where the client can effectively act as their own solicitor.

A barrister will often but not always deal with a case all the way through. However because a barrister is usually briefed each time a specific piece of work needs to be done (a hearing, a piece of drafting) there might be different barristers dealing with a case, although the solicitor will remain responsible the whole way through. This is because a solicitor is retained by a client and is responsible for dealing with what comes up as it comes up, but a barrister cannot always be available for a client to attend a particular hearing because these dates are not known at the outset. If a barrister has been previously booked to do something else for another client on the date in question she will have to honour that committment. This called the ‘cab rank rule’ and it is what helps keep barristers independent by preventing them from picking and choosing the cases they want to do unfairly.

Contrary to popular belief both barrsiters and solicitors can become judges, although more judges have come from the bar than from the ranks of solicitors, and still do.

As with everything – the points above are not true all of the time, but they are generally applicable