Making the move from the bar to a law firm can be a culture shock.
Many would agree that the decision to change career does not come lightly and without little thought. In the last six months I have made that hard decision and left my career as an immigration barrister and become a partner in a large law firm.
I didn’t pre-empt the move and whilst I felt privileged to be asked to move to Blake Morgan, I knew there would be many challenges and I would face a huge change in culture. The biggest decision (risk) I had to take was losing the practice that I had built up over 14 years. The bar was enjoyable and I had many loyal solicitor clients who supplied me with a steady and interesting flow of work.
However, after much thought, I decided the move was right for me and I happily expressed my interest in becoming a partner.
One of the first barrister–solicitor culture shocks I felt was the interview and the preparation for it. As a barrister moving chambers, you certainly have to prove you are a viable business case, but that is normally achieved by producing a healthy payment summary, a depressingly healthy aged debt, and a lively diary. As a barrister I would not be bringing a following to the firm so the firm was taking a risk. If a barrister is not busy, then they cannot pay their mortgage, but they don’t have colleagues who depend upon them.
Whilst chambers would not be happy with low contributions, there would not be a formal summons issued to explain yourself and there certainly isn’t the likelihood that your job is on the line. I very quickly realised that such ‘freedom’ would not exist in a solicitor’s firm.
As a potential partner at Blake Morgan I had to present a much more detailed and substantial business case, including income predictions and growth expectations. The culture shock that comes with the switch-over to partner continued in my first few days as I went on training courses on risk and compliance, anti-money laundering procedures and data protection. Whilst I dealt with these issues at the bar there was not the same necessary degree of focus, due to the nature of the job. Barristers’ clients are of course mostly solicitors, so there isn’t the need to think too much about money laundering.
The shift in the level of client access took some getting used to. As a barrister, I met clients daily, but I was one step removed from them, as barristers are professionally barred from giving mobile phone numbers and they can’t just drop in or call you unannounced. In a solicitors’ firm, I rapidly discovered this was not the case.
Like visiting a foreign place however, you quickly get over the initial culture shock and soon it all seems perfectly natural. It’s still strange not going to court every day, but it is good to get to know my colleagues as part of a team, to plan the future of my department and to be involved in the future of the firm. A barristers’ chambers is a true collective, but I feel much more part of a collaborative team in Blake Morgan.
Allan Briddock is partner and head of immigration at Blake Morgan