A day in the life of a family law Barrister
(Yes, not every day is like this. Yes, if you finish early in court your time is sort of your own. Yes, you are self employed and can reduce your workload). BUT:
5.30am : Wake up, get ready, rush out without having breakfast while loved ones are still asleep
6am : Ping! First work emails from colleagues already travelling to court start arriving. Emails that seek your proposed amendments to an order in respect of a case from the previous week which you now have no recollection of.
6.30am : Join the steady stream of humanity building up outside the tube station as rail staff are already operating ‘crowd control’. Silently fume over why only one ticket barrier is open for the hundreds of commuters trying to enter the station and 5 for the few trickling out of it.
6.40am : Shuffle into station buffeted along by the river of humanity building up behind you. Silently fume over when ‘rush hour’ turned into a 24/7 period. Fume further when you see that the escalators are all under repair and you will have to lug your wheelie bag [which now feels like its packed with 3 dead bodies instead of 3 lever arch files] up or down 100 stairs.
Wait on platform in a queue at least 5 deep for a train that is delayed due to a signal failure. Silently fume over what the hell a signal failure actually is.
6.50am: Get shoved onto the third train [the first two having been too packed for even a ghost to have squeezed onto]. Sardine standing room only on the train. Wedge yourself between the metal pole and a man with a rucksack which repeatedly smacks your face as he shifts around to accommodate the person plaintively pleading ‘Can you move down the carriage, please? ’
Nod approvingly as another voice suppressing murderous rage replies through gritted teeth; ‘we would if we could!’
Silently fume as the train is delayed further as the doors open and close several times because someone is leaning against them and the driver is clearly losing his rag judging by his increasingly frenzied demands over the tannoy to ‘stand away from the doors, NOW!’
Offer a silent hallelujah as the train finally lurches off even though it means another smack in the face from the rucksack, a crack on your ankles from the wheel of your trolley and the waft of body odour from the deodorant free armpit your face is wedged against. Silently fume as you realise you may miss the overland train you need to catch to get to court.
7.15am : Silently fume as the touch screen ticket machine you try to buy a ticket from does not respond when you touch the screen. Dodge hundreds of equally frantic passengers as you wander around the station concourse looking for a machine that works. Silently fume as you pay more to travel 50 miles than you would for a week in Greece, half board.
7.25am : Wait for train that is late/delayed/cancelled due to a signal failure/broken down train/leaves on the tracks/rain/snow/sunshine/the day having a ‘Y’ in it.
7.45 –8am : Finally get on train. Grab a seat. Take out your laptop, telephone, case papers and the porridge you bought for breakfast.
Strain your eyes reading the 150 page expert report that’s just been emailed through because the expert too is under the cosh. Read the report, digest it, reflect on it and work out your cross examination on it all in the space of an hour.
Read the half dozen messages on the case from last week you’ve forgotten and add your amendments to the court order 5 advocates are drafting and squabbling over via endless back and forth emails.
Ignore the emails about next week’s case asking for your time estimates for witnesses whose statements you haven’t had time to read yet.
Unenthusiastically take spoonfuls of your now cold, tasteless porridge.
9am : Arrive at court to ‘begin’ your working day. Undergo a stricter search by surly security staff than you would at an airport immediately after a terrorist attack. Expect to be treated like a maximum security risk prisoner even though the guards have seen you virtually daily for years.
Throughout the day act as counsel, counsellor, social worker, parent, gopher, good cop/bad cop to lay clients if you’re representing them or as counsel, solicitor, typist, gopher if you’re acting for the Local Authority.
Whoever you’re representing the case will be intense, emotionally draining and invariably sad. You will be dealing with people at their most vulnerable, their most private lives exposed to strangers and facing the toughest, most important decisions of their lives.
However, in most courts now none of you in the case will be able to get even a glass of water let alone a tea/coffee or basic sustenance. Even the most basic vending machine is a rare treat in most court buildings. [once in the courtroom itself you can expect water – cloudy, warm, not quite sure what’s floating in it water that will make your tongue feel fuzzy and just a little disgusting]
1pm : Break for lunch. Spend most of the hour battling the court video link technology that hasn’t worked all morning. Gulp down a quick sandwich.
Throughout the day you will be expected to be at your very best. You WANT to be at your best, you’re dealing with people’s lives, after all.
4.30 – 5pm: Finish the court day.
5pm: Huddle down in a corner of the train station to take part in an advocates meeting on a case you haven’t received the majority of papers on yet. Try to drown out the rumbling of the trains and to remember to not mention any names as you’re in a public place.
5.30 –7.30pm : Feel your blood pressure rise sky high as you attempt to travel back to chambers. Train you want will be cancelled/delayed due to signal failure/lack of driver/broken down train in Timbuktu which you didn’t even know was on your route but apparently is and no trains can now move in either direction on the track
When you finally get on the crawling train that doesn’t go via Timbuctu you get out the laptop to write the attendance note for your solicitor for the case you’ve just finished, make more amendments to the order for the case from last week which is STILL not agreed and count to ten before you reply to the email from your clerks asking if the day you’ve booked off the following week for a dental appointment is a ‘must’ keep free or whether you’d be up for a hearing for which the solicitor specifically asked for you. You and your clerk both know this solicitor doesn’t know you from Adam.
8pm: Arrive in chambers. Discover that your case tomorrow is in Timbuktu. Is a contested matter. You are instructed to prepare a case summary/position statement/threshold document/skeleton argument which should have been filed at 11am that morning. The 2000 page bundle is on email. There are 23 emails. Each with 10 unnamed attachments. At least 2 emails are egress emails. And you can’t open them. You don’t know whether these 2 emails tell you that the case will be settled tomorrow or whether it’s just an unremarkable contact observation.
8 – 9pm : Print said 2000 pages. Put them in order. Paginate at least 1000. Put in files.
9 –10pm: Type position statement etc having only skim read a couple of documents.
10 –11pm: Travel home on a tube train packed to the rafters with other commuters also eating a sad, synthetic takeaway burger.
11pm: Arrive home to loved ones who are already in bed.
11.30pm: Answer a few more work emails. Settle down to begin preparing your contested case. Read the 2000 pages. Digest them. Cross reference your cross examination. No time to reflect on the issues. No time to hone your questions.
2 – 3 am: Go to bed.
Aah. But there’s always the weekend to look forward to.
You’ll get a whole Saturday in which to fit in family, friends, food shopping, rest, socialising and Stricam Sunday: Ping! First work emails start arriving in the full expectation that like the sender you too are ‘back to work.’
Rinse. Lather. Repeat.
Into days like this there are proposals to insert a ‘flexible hours’ scheme……..