Its Monday, and I am returning from two and a half months away from practice as a barrister. The case I am assigned to cover is listed ‘not-before-11.30’ at Newcastle Family Court before a district judge. A colleague in chambers is for the applicant local authority, so I know it is in good hands.
It feels disconcerting to arrive in chambers after a long break. Annie looks up from reception to buzz me in, and greets me with a smile. “Hello Mr Twist, how was the trip?” “Fine, Annie, but it does seem strange to be back”.
Yes, it does feel very strange. It reminds me of the first day at school after a summer break. The smell of the building – a combination of coffee and hot paper on the scanner; the sounds of articulate voices drifting in corridors; light slanting through the dust.
The problem is that my colleagues have been beavering away during my recess – finding places to park or taking trains to court; bumping their wheeled cases along pavements; emptying their pockets at security; meeting solicitors and clients; and advocating before judges and juries. Whilst that film has been running, I have not been watching, or even present. The world has moved on a little, and I have remained still.
This mood lasts but an hour before momentum drives it to the back of my mind, and I question if I have ever been away. The meeting of advocates sees tight-scripted positions coalesce into agreement; the judge smiles and approves our efforts, signing the order with a few kind words. And the day becomes just another day in the life of a busy barrister.
But, as you would expect with this blog, there is an unresolved issue – not with the case – but with me. Advancing to the end of professional life, I ask myself about me; my longevity at the Bar, and what lies ahead. My colleagues become younger as I age. My conversation is on the differences of the past rather than the opportunities of the future.
Today I rise early to complete my attendance note for yesterday’s hearing. BBC Radio 4 burbles in the background. ‘The Life Scientific’s Adrian Thomas explains to Jim Khalili about ‘silver engineers’. And with those words suddenly all becomes clear.
When it comes to retirement, as a species we waste considerable resources, experience and skills. In another blog I addressed the question of preparing for retirement. Here I propose to extend those ideas into the new concept of the ‘silver barrister’.
Like the ‘silver engineer’, the ‘silver barrister’ is one who for whatever reason has decided to retire from active practice, but who still possesses the energy and capacity to contribute professionally. This contribution may be in relation to mentoring, supportive training, assisting or managing complaints and grievance processes, preparing legal digests, library management, or helping the chambers’ head and executive with a plethora of tasks. The ‘silver barrister’ provides a safe, available and sufficiently independent pair of hands – backed up with a professional lifetime of experience.
As a trained facilitator, I ask myself about the ‘balance of reward’ from such an arrangement? So here I list what I consider to be the essential characteristics of the role:
- The status and role of ‘silver barrister’ is to be confirmed and defined by the Bar Council.
- Silver barristers will be invited/elected by their chambers for continued membership for a renewable twelve month term.
- They will not have rights of audience or independent advisory status as barristers, and so be exempt from professional indemnity insurance requirement, and professional competence regulation. Their chambers will pay a nominal annual Bar registration fee.
- Their status as non-practicing consultants must be declared clearly on all professional communications.
- They will not be entitled to remuneration for their role as silver barrister, but may be remunerated by a practicing barrister for advisory/preparatory work undertaken for that barrister.
- Individual chambers may decide with regard to internal arrangements, such as voting and chambers fees and charges.
As pressures on chambers administration – and the potential contribution from retiring seniors increase, why not look at that symbiosis to match needs and resources? This may be the ideal solution for our profession – for both young and old alike.