Holly*, 31, has been working as a barrister for three and a half years. She’s in court five days a week, and gained an undergraduate degree, a graduate diploma in law, an LLM (masters of law) and passed her bar professional training course to get her role.
She says: “I’ve always been interested in criminal justice and criminal psychology, and it was a pull towards crime, rather than law. I always knew I wanted to be a barrister rather than a solicitor – I enjoy the advocacy (some might say I’m good at arguing) and enjoy that every day is different and isn’t office based”.
Here Holly* shares what an average day at work looks like for her…
6.30am: “The time I set my alarm for depends which court I am being sent to (I usually find out the night before). If local, then it’s 6.30am to allow time for a shower, to get my face on and to get myself dressed – I have to wear a black or dark grey suit, there’s no deviations. I’m a lay-your-suit-out and pack your bag the night before kinda girl – anything to limit the morning stress.”
7am: “Breakfast is porridge with honey and a cup of tea, always.”
8am: “I normally go back over my papers in the morning, to ensure I’ve not missed anything, and shoot some emails off if I need any further information from the police or Crown Prosecution Service (CPS). Barristers are mostly self-employed and I have clerks who work for me and organise my diary. We don’t earn much money – in crime we are public sector workers, who work largely for legal aid. We also don’t get paid anything until a case concludes. For example, for work I did on a case yesterday, which is listed for trial in October 2022 (let that sink in…), I won’t see a penny until December 2022 at the earliest.”
8.45am: “At court, I’ll go through security and then go to straight to the Robing Room – this sounds very ‘Harry Potter’ but sadly isn’t that exciting. It’s where we go to put on our collars, robes and wigs. It’s also where we can sit and chat, exchange advice and views about our cases, and generally have a chin wag with our colleagues.”
9am: “I’ll go down to the court cells to speak to my clients – today this is a young lad in his twenties called Robert*. I have to sign in, leave all my belongings, including my phone, in a locker and then prison staff give me a pat down, walk me to the client and lock the door. There are alarms around the room, but fortunately I’ve never had to press one. Robert* already has a criminal record as long as your arm and he’s being sentenced for burglary. He looks bedraggled from a few nights in prison, but he calls me ‘Miss’ throughout and is politeness personified.”
“I have several things to discuss with Robert* and we begin with the obvious: why he went into someone’s home to steal. He tells me the same story I unfortunately hear time and time again. A young man, who grew up in a care system, suffered a childhood of abuse and felt he had no-one. He turned to drugs and crime as he reached adolescence. He can’t find a job – who would employ him? He can’t get accommodation – he hasn’t a bank account. He can’t get a bank account – because he doesn’t have an address. He is alone in the world, and he knows it.”
10am: “The first court hearing of the day begins. Hearing lengths vary depending what sort of hearing it is listed for. A jury trial (what you see on the tv) can last anywhere from one day to several months. Other hearings can last anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour. Your case will be announced across the tannoy system, and it’s a race to get there and not keep the judge waiting for you. When you walk into court, you have to bow to the judge, and the same when you leave.”
“I tell the judge all the good parts to Robert*, the history he has lived through, and why he is where he is today. I do this so that he sees him as a whole person and not just a burglar. The judge then tells my client to stand and sentences him to a period of imprisonment. I don’t turn as he is lead back down the stairs, but I do go back down to see him afterwards. He thanks me, and I tell him I hope I never see him again, in the nicest way possible.”
12pm: “My next hearing is a nasty assault case, and the defendant enters a not guilty plea. His barrister tells the court that he acted in self defence when he caused the victim their injuries, and it will be for a jury to decide otherwise. The trial date is set for December this year and the hearing is over – it only lasted 20 minutes.”
1pm: “The court lunch break is always between 1pm and 2pm and is normally just enough time to get out and grab a sandwich and a coffee.”
2pm: “Finally, I have a bail application. I defend this one. My client, Josh*, is in custody, and isn’t at court for the hearing (this is usual for a bail application). Josh* is in prison waiting for his trial which is still five months away, and his wife is about to have a baby. I plead with the judge to grant him bail. I point out all the measures that can be put in place to make sure he doesn’t flee before his trial, and to ensure that he lives at home, with his partner, where he can be easily found. The judge agrees, and grants him bail with a curfew requirement, meaning he must be at home, in his address, between 7pm and 7am every night. He must also attend his police station twice a week to ensure he’s not absconded. Being on bail will mean he can continue to work and support his family whilst he awaits his trial as opposed to sitting in his cell for 23 hours a day, as current covid restrictions require. The hearing again takes a short 20 minutes. The prison will be notified, and he will be processed and released today. I think of how happy his wife will be to have him home tonight, and that he can see the birth of his child.”
5.30pm: “Home time varies every day. Some days, I can deal with all my cases nice and early and be finished by lunch. These are the good days and, in non-covid times, can lead to a nice lunch with a friend or a mooch around the shops on the way home. Bliss. Other days, it’s a case of slogging home on the train at 7pm. If I have a trial, it can be a very long day and late finish and will mean a lot of evening work.”
6pm: “The clerks send an email with ‘the list’, which tells me which court (or sometimes courts plural) I will be appearing in the next day, and what cases I will be prosecuting or defending – it’s normal to prosecute some and defend others within the same day.
7pm: “I’ll eat dinner – usually something involving pasta and cheese – and then sit down to begin reading and preparing my cases for the following day. Depending on the complexities, this can take all evening, or just a couple of hours. I deal with all areas of crime: violence, drug offences, driving offences, sexual offences and dishonesty (fraud, theft, burglaries etc) and could be presenting cases on any of these the next day.”
10pm: “Once I’ve finished my prep, I like to plonk on the sofa with my boyfriend and watch something light and completely unrelated. The Office, This is Us and Schitts Creek are top of the list at the moment. I don’t tend to watch crime dramas as they just make me feel like I’m still working and I need a giggle at the end of the day.”
11.30pm: “I try to be in bed by around 11.30 every night. ‘Try’ being the operative word. Sometimes I’ll still be at my desk. Others I’ll be clicking ‘play next episode’.”
“One of the best bits of the job? I truly feel like I make a difference, no matter what side of the case I’m on. I am a voice for those who don’t have one and that’s pretty huge.”
*Names have been changed to protect identities.