New Zealand Law Society - What I've learned from my two years as a barrister

What I've learned from my two years as a barrister

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Find your people: Join a chambers (or at least have strong networks). I would not do without our chambers lunches and margarita Mondays (though not every Monday!). Law is hard work. Having great chambers mates to talk your files through with, get advice from and moral support when things go to custard is invaluable. It also helps you keep up-to-date with the law. We also share resources (PO box, doco bins, copiers, internet, cleaners, etc).

If you are looking at working alone or from home then network hard – have coffee with colleagues, attend functions and have people you can pick up the phone and call. Also consider a door tenancy, so you have a professional place to meet with clients. And ask for help – the collegiality of the Bar has been remarkable in my experience. People will happily share their tips.

Value-driven work: Do what you love. Make your work value driven. Join committees to make changes you want to see in the profession. Consider not-for-profit work to utilise your legal skillset outside of the office.

Get your technology on: Buy a great laptop and phone. These are critical tools. Get fast fibre, everywhere. Have a great client/time management/document management/billing/archiving system. I use Actionstep’s Barrister App (which to be fair I helped develop). Be efficient – set up lots of different Outlook signatures for common emails you send. Create document templates if you are not on a template-based DMS.

Branding is important: I have my own website on a Squarespace platform. I had headshots and a video done and worked with a copywriter. This is not for everyone. Our chambers has a website which directs traffic to us too. If nothing more, put yourself on Google Maps and invite clients to review you – I get loads of work this way, but also from other lawyers which is largely from being in the right place at the right time.

Your personal appearance and your business card may be the most important aspect of your brand so buy a stylish jacket and pay more for good business card stock. Be visible: take opportunities to speak at seminars, attend bar dinners, work on committees, offer to help at universities.

Consider risk: Have some money in the bank, squirrel your tax away (I put aside 40% of all I earn). Insurance is really important – I have used my PI insurance way more than I expected to and usually through no fault of my own (like when the cleaners threw out my shredding with the general rubbish). Consider income protection too if you are the main, or only, breadwinner. Also, make sure your DMS backs up to the cloud or get a hard-drive to back up files.

Get help – outsource: Working parents – outsource the cleaning, gardening, childcare as much as you can at home. At work, have an IT guy, an accountant, get students to archive for you and consider hiring young lawyers to give them a start. We have law clerks – graduates in their first year out who work for a few lawyers in chambers. We couldn’t live without their help now and it is a great opportunity to give them a start in the profession too.

Rest hard: Working for yourself is hard work. You may know how to work and play, but this year I have also learned to rest hard. BIG breaks from work (phone off; locum on), weekends at the beach, Netflix marathons in bed.

Emma Priest was admitted to the Bar in 1999 and is a specialist criminal barrister. After work as a law clerk and solicitor she worked at Meredith Connell from 2002 to 2013 and became a Senior Crown Prosecutor and Associate of the firm. She joined the Public Defence Service as a Senior Criminal Lawyer in 2014 before leaving to set up Auckland’s Blackstone Chambers from February 2016. With Sue Gray, Emma is founder of The Good Lawyer, which provides shirts and books to prisoners.

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