My career story: “I moved from the bar to a law firm”

Barrister Camini Kumar, now an associate at Penningtons Manches, gives her advice on moving to a law firm from the bar.

What was the thought process you went through in making the decision to leave the Bar?

This certainly had not been a career objective for me – quite the opposite. My ambitions had always been to be a traditional barrister in independent practice. I was drawn to advocacy, particularly trial advocacy and, in theory I liked the idea of the independence and self-determination that the bar seemed to offer.

The first couple of years in practice I enjoyed immensely; it was all very novel and exciting. Gradually over time I started to notice the downsides: not knowing where you will be in court one day to the next, lugging a heavy suitcase of files up and down train station staircases, the politics of chambers, et cetera.

Barristers often say that the bar is infinitely varied and that no two days are the same. I can’t agree with this. For me it became rather repetitive.

I had a niggling feeling for a few years that I wanted out and to do something else, but it took me a while to decide what that should be. It was a tough decision. You invest a lot (financially and emotionally) in a career at the independent bar and it’s difficulty to give that up.  It’s also not an obvious stepping-stone to anything else. That coupled with the frenetic nature of the work, I rarely had time to self-reflect.

At what stage of your career were you when you made the move? Why did you move at that specific moment in your career?

I’d been in practice for six years and I was feeling rather burnt out. I found myself wanting more security and stability.

How did the move happen in the end?  

I’d been looking out for an opportunity that would make leaving independent practice worthwhile. It had crossed my mind that moving into a solicitors firm would be a good move for me, but I wasn’t aware of many barristers who had made that move.

I contacted a few agencies but most seemed to take the view that putting forward a barrister for a solicitor’s role was trying to ram a square peg into a round hole. I saw one vacancy through an agent, which appealed to me particularly because it was in a multi-office firm renowned for family law but based in Oxford, where I previously lived. I contacted the agent who checked with the HR department whether they would consider a barrister for the role. The response was positive so I put in an application, was interviewed and selected.

I would advise people going through the same process to be open to all possibilities. It’s rare to find vacancies marketed towards barristers so you have to take the initiative and make approaches.

Camini Kumar
Camini Kumar

What are the key differences between your old and new job? Do you miss the barrister lifestyle? 

I go to court less frequently now which suits me down to the ground. Previously I was regularly spending three hours a day on public transport, feeling like I was in the film Planes, Trains and Automobiles, whereas now I have a ten-minute walking commute. Imagine what you can do with an extra three hours a day!

It’s a lot less solitary as I work as part of a team. There’s more client contact too.

It took me a while to get to grips with the IT systems and to get used to delegating work to my secretary. At the independent bar, you are very much a one-man band with a laptop and Microsoft Office.

I feel a lot more supported in my work and it’s great having paid holidays and various employment benefits. The only one things I miss about the barrister lifestyle, are the amount of holiday you can elect to take (I’m very keen on foreign travel) and the social aspect. However balanced against the loss of holiday is the fact that I’ve reclaimed my evenings and weekends. I still get to socialise with my barrister friends, and possibly have a bit more time to do it, even if they don’t.

What advice do you have for someone in the same position?

Don’t rule out an opportunity because you’re not an obvious fit, find a good recruitment agent, explore all possibilities.