Clerking: A balancing act. A well-being story.
By Stuart Taylor, deputy senior clerk at Westgate chambers
As any Barristers’ clerk will tell you, they are always busy and stressed! But why? Are we all that busy? And if so, with what?
My story is no different from many other clerks. Junior junior clerk, junior clerk, and so on. Many of us ‘started from the bottom now we here’, to quote a famous rapper, for those that know.
I remember when I started out in my clerking career. Doing ‘court runs’, dealing with incoming faxes (remember those?) taking the post and I begin to smile.
I am reminded of one such story of a court run for a now High Court Judge… I hadn’t yet reached 20 years old. I was in a London set, doing a court run to the RCJ. The trolley was fully loaded with Counsels papers and off I went. Out of Chambers, up Middle Temple Lane, until I reached The Strand. At my tender age, I was not yet familiar with the absolute skill that is required to drive a trolley full of papers. So, facing forward I went down a particularly high kerb and as I did, the momentum of the trolley catapulted me over the handle bars and I landed on my back facing the sky. Quite unsure of how I ended up laying in the middle of the road outside the RCJ, I began to get up, just as the trolley full of papers came down on top of me, exploding hundreds of sheets of paper up into the air, just as Counsel and their Solicitor walked past. Needless to say it was not my finest moment – and the less said about it, after this confession, the better!
Some near 20 years on and having recently moved to my current position as Deputy Senior Clerk atWestgate Chambers in Brighton, getting to know new members of Chambers and clerks has been very enjoyable. There’s no denying the hours are long and there is much work to do. Part of my life journey has been to understand myself and at 38 years of age, I know that I have put myself under added pressure to succeed at my new Chambers.
Thankfully, the support I have received from the members, my fellow clerks and Chambers as a whole, has been nothing short of amazing, and it has allowed me to settle in, quickly and seamlessly – and for this, I am so very grateful.
So, why are clerks so busy? Well, I guess to start with, on any given day we are; brand ambassadors, postmen, bankers, life coaches, photocopier engineers, IT support, tailors, fee negotiators, relationship managers, events coordinators, diary managers, website designers and facilitators – and the list goes on!
What it boils down to is that we are everything to everyone. To members, its about case papers and practice management. To Solicitors it’s the availability of Counsel, building and maintaining relationships, and cost. Everyone is trying to do their best, and we are somewhere in the middle, making it all run smoothly.
Thankfully, I love my job and the profession. I personally get a great, albeit often fleeting, sense of achievement by providing an excellent service. I want to be your go-to and I want to help you. Computer doesn’t work? Sure, I’ll help. Fee needs to be agreed? Talk to me. The fact is, I cannot do it all – I never could. So for me, to maintain my wellbeing, it is about me managing my own expectations, but more on this later…
Wellbeing comes in many forms. Personally, I escape in the gym. Noise cancelling headphones in. Peace and quiet. The one time a day where I do not want to talk to anyone! Me vs Myself for an hour. If I can get in the gym 4 times a week, I am a happy man. There are times when I can’t and we are all guilty of ‘working through’ without sustenance or a break. How often have you done that this week? I assume you rushed to the shop for a quick ‘meal deal’, inhaled it, and then got straight back to it? Seems like there aren’t enough hours in the day… Sound familiar?
In the twenty plus years I have been clerking, I am certain of a couple of things. One, is that you cannot do it all on your own, and two, is that you need a break to be able to maintain the high levels of service that we all provide.
Now, if you are like me, you find it difficult to accept a ‘win’ and a job well done. As much as it still hurts me to say it, I must accept that I cannot be the best me, all day, every day. It is impossible. All of our working practices have been affected due to COVID-19. The logging on to check emails has become all too familiar, hasn’t it? Am I wrong for not logging in and checking an email or two late at night or at a weekend, or am I just not committed enough?
We have to provide an excellent service. We have to be client facing. We have to be friendly and approachable. We have to be good at our job. These are non-negotiables…. BUT, we must also make time to support our colleagues, take time for lunch and ourselves and in my case, I must, must, must also leave work on time so that I am not late to pick the child up from Afterschool Club!!
Can I help you?
It‘S something as clerks we say all the time. So, let me help you. If you feel stressed or tired, talk to me. You never know it might help… I’m on LinkedIn, or contact me via my Chambers website profile. Life is hard and sadly some people do make it harder. My experience is that they don’t mean to. Make sure you find time to familiarise yourself with your Chambers wellbeing policy and your Chambers’ wellbeing officers. Speak to your fellow clerks. There is no need to suffer in silence.
We all have to accept that fundamentally people are different. What pushes one person on may hold the next person back.
As I said at the start, it’s a balancing act. Take a deep breath. You got this!
Now I must go, I’m running late to pick my son up from Afterschool club…!