Sannah Dad is a Pupil Barrister at College Chambers, in addition to being a Mediator and Conflict Coach. This article gives an insight into the practicalities of being a pupil and balancing this with your physical, mental and emotional wellbeing. She provides tips and tricks to implement in your daily practice as a pupil.
Make yourself a coffee before reading this article.
The sensation of coming into pupillage feels like a whirlwind, and truth be told, this continues throughout pupillage. In recent years, wellbeing has become a ‘buzzword’ at the respected Bar, with the Bar Council dedicating a separate website to wellbeing(Mental Health & Wellbeing - Wellbeing at the Bar). Several articles emphasise the importance of exercise and healthy eating which are promoted, especially as a pupil. Wellbeing also includes your mental, emotional and psychological health. This article focuses on tips for maintaining your wellbeing during pupillage, from one pupil to another.
1. Be prepared
I always carry snack bars, a bottle of water and tea in a travel mug with me. At times, you may need to work through lunch and, although it is not recommended, I believe it is better to be prepared. The conscious act of monitoring your wellbeing should include scheduling breaks but if, for whatever reason, you cannot take a ten-minute lunch break then snacks will keep the glucose levels afloat. If you have a reason as to why a decent lunch is pertinent, then make sure your supervisor is aware of this. On one occasion, I had an infection and needed to take antibiotics. Communicating this to my supervisor assisted greatly.
2. Be punctual
If your supervisor asks you to meet them in Bournemouth or Timbuktu at 9:00am, do not aim to get thereat 8:59am. Plan ahead and aim to be there at least ten minutes before. You will become accustomed to constant travel planning. If you drive, make sure you have checked fuel levels and your tyres, particularly if it is cold enough to cause frostbite. If you travel by train, register for the National Rail/Great Western Rail or Cross-Country alerts to keep you updated on planned strikes or engineering works, both of which are the bane of my life. I would recommend downloading Trainline on your phone, buying a railcard and purchasing split fares as all these help save money. The feeling of being in control of both your finances and your time helps reduce the stress levels and improves your mood overall.
3. Take your holiday
As I understand, in previous years there has been a taboo around pupils taking their allocated holiday. The guidance from the BSB currently states that pupils may have twenty days split equally over the non-practising and practising periods. I have been told to take one week off before commencing the practising period to allow time to arrange for an accountant, professional indemnity insurance and to chase up my provisional practising certificate. I pass this wisdom on to you, however, that being said, you get to choose when to take time off (subject to Chambers’ policies and approval from the clerks). Therefore, take the time you need and deserve. If you book the holiday in advance, you will have something positive and motivating to work towards, thus contributing to your mental and psychological wellbeing.
4. Build professional relationships
I strongly suggest that you make friends with your co-pupil and junior barristers, both at Chambers and from other sets. They are a great source of support and a constant reminder that you will get through this. There is no magic formula to elevate these connections to the next level of friendship, but trust your instincts when you find the people around you who are compassionate with the highs and lows of pupillage. Moreover, connect with the clerks; do not just add them on Facebook or follow them on LinkedIn. Talk to them. Ask them for tea or coffee. If you finish early at court, inform them. I advise you to build these relationships sooner rather than later, as it will be helpful when you are in your practising period and beyond.
You can get to know other legal professionals by networking. Legal podcasts are a great source of information and conversation starters at professional events if you feel shy or nervous. Depending on where you are situated, I would suggest signing up to the Junior Lawyers Division or any other events at solicitor’s firms. Equally, if you are enrolled on the Western Circuit Advocacy Training Course or with your respected Inn, set up a WhatsApp group, connect on LinkedIn or meet outside of work. I believe a work-life balance is important, and the opportunity to unwind with those who can understand the stresses of ‘pupil life’ improves your wellbeing endlessly.
5. Maintain activities outside of work
Notwithstanding the above, do something outside of Chambers with friends who are not in the legal profession. You may conscientiously keep up with your HIIT classes, Netball or swimming sessions (as I do) on a regular basis. You could also learn Mandarin, French, Spanish or even Arabic. I spent the first four months of my pupillage learning Arabic and it was a great distraction from the law, although I had to make the time. You could also sign up for calligraphy classes, do axe-throwing or simply curl up on the sofa in your pyjamas to binge-watch Netflix. I recommend finding an activity that will divert all your mental energy away from pupillage. That said, you might like to skip it all and catch up on sleep. Remember to listen to what your mind and body need.
6. Communicate with your Supervisor and the Wellbeing Officer
I believe that alongside the clerks, your co-pupil, junior tenants, confidantes and the wellbeing officer, your supervisor is another key person in your life as a pupil. Keep an open line of communication with your supervisor. This is helpful when pupillage is overwhelming or you have extenuating circumstances. I advise that you make an active effort to form a working relationship as you never know when you might need to call upon them.
Furthermore, find the wellbeing officer in your Chambers and speak to them. At most Chambers, discussions with the wellbeing officer are confidential and cannot be used against you, unless you are a threat to yourself or others. Do your due diligence. If you have not been introduced to them, look them up on the Chambers website or simply ask. If, however, you feel your anxieties or issues are beyond pupillage, seek counselling and do not be ashamed in doing so. Talking helps and as their title suggests, they will assist with your general wellbeing.
These twelve months are laborious and draining, but equally rewarding and a privilege. You worked for this position and Chambers chose you out of the hundreds of applications. Take all the above steps to make it easier and maintain your mental, physical, emotional and psychological wellbeing as much as possible. I strongly believe that preparation is key to a healthy mind and your overall wellbeing. There will be days that you feel low and anxious, just take a breath, count backwards from ten and then read this article.
The contents of this article are merely advice and does not substitute advice given by a medical and/or mental health professional.