News story

Wide range of work leads barristers in-house

A report by the Bar Council suggests more self-employed barristers are opting for a career in-house because of the diverse range of work.

Barrister in Lincolns Inn
Barrister in Lincolns Inn

An increasing number of self-employed barristers are opting for a career in-house because of the interesting and diverse range of work, according to a report published today (3 October) by the Bar Council. Other reasons for a move to the employed bar were financial security, a better work/life balance and pension, according to survey respondents.

The Government Legal Department is the largest provider of legal services across government. It has more than 1,400 in-house lawyers, a third of whom are barristers. They play a critical role in most aspects of public life, working with more than 180 government departments and agencies – from roads to rivers, and health to human rights. Some of the most high profile in recent times include the Leveson and Chilcott Inquiries, litigation relating to drone strikes and new contracts for junior doctors, and now exiting the EU. For many, the joy of working in GLD is the ability to move to new areas of law several times within a career, rather than becoming increasingly pigeon-holed into an ever-narrower area of law.

As well as the breadth of work, GLD lawyers, whether barristers or solicitors, have a unique role, helping ministers and officials to develop, design and implement government policies (including through drafting new law), and to make difficult and highly controversial decisions – and of course defending those decisions in court.

Siew Loke joined GLD’s litigation group 2 years ago after 10 years in Chambers. She carries out advocacy alongside advisory work, specialising in immigration. She said:

Leaving the criminal bar was a hard decision, but one I made for several reasons. The work involved increasing travel, which was expensive and tiring, and with increasing chambers and travel expenses, financial worries added to an already stressful job.

I made the leap to GLD in September 2014 and immediately found the work challenging. Immigration is a hugely diverse area of law involving a wide range of legal skills, including drafting, advice, conference, legal research and litigation strategy with respect of cases with complex chronologies and issues. I found that my skills at the self-employed Bar were eminently transferable, and I have been able to add to them significantly while being at GLD.

I am now also in court on a weekly basis, which has allowed me to maintain and develop my advocacy skills in a different arena, as well as further sharpening my understanding of a complex and interesting area of law, and judicial review generally.

Sam Nafissi is a senior lawyer, in GLD’s Department of Health team. She joined the civil service 9 years ago having been a tenant at 7 Bedford Row Chambers. She said:

I have always been interested in politics, so a move into government as a lawyer seemed a good fit. Within GLD you work closely with government and have direct involvement in the development of policy and law; unique as compared to any other legal job.

Another motivation to move in-house was to work as part of a team, and belong to an organisation with shared values and goals. As a GLD lawyer you work with other lawyers, departmental colleagues and stakeholders, and I find this rewarding in itself.

Another great benefit I’ve found to working in the Civil Service is that people work hard, but they are supported to balance that with their family lives and outside interests. GLD has a very positive approach to part-time and flexible working.

You can find out more about GLD’s work on gov.uk/gld.

Published 3 November 2016