is your position and what you do on a day-to-day basis?
I am a barrister. I specialise in disputes about family money and
property on divorce, death and unmarried relationship breakdown. I am
something of a mongrel cross between a family and chancery lawyer. I rarely wear a wig. I spend more time at my desk and laptop than
I do in court. About two thirds of my time is taken up out of
court. I am mostly preparing for cases,
seeing clients in conference (the barrister name for a meeting), attending
settlement discussions, researching
points of law and drafting advices or pleadings (documents which start certain
kinds of civil dispute).
I came to the bar to be an advocate, but
my particular field of practice means that sometimes the best service I can
provide to a client is to find a way to avoid them getting anywhere near a
court. I am a big fan of dispute resolution techniques to resolve matters out of court.
About one third of my time is actually
spent in court. These days, written advocacy can often be as important as oral
advocacy. Given the state of the court
service, actually getting a carefully prepared
case summary before the judge,
prior to a hearing, often feels like half the battle.
There are three overarching skills to my
job: (1) you need an eye for the detail (2) you need to be able to stand back
and see the big picture (3) you need to be able to recognise the middle ground.
I am often asked socially what is it
like to defend people you know are guilty – but I never step anywhere near a
criminal court! In a divorce case (or, to be a pedant, the financial
proceedings ancillary to the divorce) I am looking for a settlement which is
'fair'. On death I am asking what should be 'reasonable financial provision'. In
a cohabitation dispute I am trying to establish what were the parties’
'intentions' as to ownership of property. These are the most important words and
concepts which dominate my working life.
There is rarely one obvious 'right' answer to the problems which my clients
long have you been in this role and what brought you here?
Despite having been at the job for
nearly 20 years I am actually referred to as a 'junior' barrister. This is
because I am not a QC. Many junior barristers remain so throughout their
I was always fascinated by family law as a student,
but unsure if it would be for me in practice. During my first-six month pupillage (the barrister name
for a training contract) I spent most of my time crunching civil pleadings.
Sometimes my younger self found it to be a bit dry. The barrister in the room
next to me, Jill Walters, practised family law. Jill (who later, very sadly,
died in her early 50s) was great fun and inspired me to love this work during
my second-six month pupillage. The rest is history.
are the people you work for/with like? Any memorable stories?
There is a revolving door of characters
in my professional life. Barristers are self-employed individuals in a chambers
(the barrister name for a shared rented office) and work for many different
firms of solicitors and clients, as and when required. We are on the original zero hours’ contract.
Different cases also take me to many court centres, so I see many different judges. Mercifully,
time spent with difficult personalities is usually short lived.
The constant in my existence (aside from
my wife) are my clerks. They run my
diary, manage my foibles and make sure I am in the right place, at the right
time and with the right papers. However, they are not secretaries and many
people are surprised that barristers do not have much secretarial support and
usually do their own typing.
Despite 'being in chambers' with other
barristers, the peripatetic nature of our existence means that I may not see
some colleagues for weeks on end. We often simply communicate by email. We are a competitive breed.
Memorable (and bizarre) story. The value
of an asset is not always an indicator as to how hard it will be fought over: I
was once faced with an argument about the parties’ extensive Country and
Western CD collection. All the big stuff (house, pensions, etc) was agreed, but
neither was for budging on the CD collection. Each said the other one had it. We were called
into court and the deputy district judge surveyed the catalogue of music. Clearly
a fan himself, he then proceeded to wax lyrical about some of his favourite
songs on the list and what they had meant to him personally at different,
memorable, moments of his life. From the
corner of my eye, I could see the parties looking at each other. They were
obviously each thinking (their faces were a picture), 'He’s barking mad!' and with a nod to each other they went out
and settled their differences!
is the best and worst part of the day for you?
Best part of the day – that moment when
you know you have mastered your brief.
Worst part of the day – Evenings, about
7pm, to be precise. Barristers usually
have homework to do. It can be hugely stressful knowing you have lots of work
ahead whilst also trying to balance that with the demands at home.
adjectives best describe you?
keeps you motivated?
Tea (with almond milk please).
would you say to anyone thinking of a career in your field?
Find a niche.
Work hard, there is absolutely no
substitute for thorough preparation, however clever you think you may be.
Always send an email summary of what you
have just advised in conference – you
may have not been properly understood. If
the case comes back months later you will be most grateful for the note.
Sadly, avoid legal aid.
song do you listen to the most?
'I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For' by U2.
do you enjoy your time outside of work?
Despite the job, I believe in the
institution of marriage. I am lucky to be blessed with a happy marriage and
have a busy family life with three young children.
I go cycling really early every Sunday
morning with some friends. We stop at the same coastal café every week for tea
and toast. The same collection of dog walkers, larks and cyclists are there every
week. That’s one of the best bits of my
I’m a bibliophile. I have even been known, occasionally, to take a legal textbook on holiday; much to
the exasperation of my wife. Obituaries
are my favourite bit of the paper (the ultimate ‘case summary’).
I also attend a church.
you could change one thing about the family justice system what would it be and
Cohabitation reform, every time. The plight of
long-term partners , in their 'middle-years', who have never had their names on
the legal title of a property is dreadful. Telling someone in their 60s they are in the
financial position of an 18 year old is no fun at all. Rhys Taylor has been nominated for the Family Law Commentator of the Year Award. You can find out why he was nominated and place your vote here.
As part of this feature we are asking a wide range of people who have links to the court system and family law to respond to the above questions and give us some information about what their role entails. We hope to get a wide cross section of people - to this end, if you would like to contribute please email firstname.lastname@example.org.