Clive Moys is a barrister at Radcliffe Chambers, a leading set in the heart of the Lincoln’s Inn.
In this article, Stephanie speaks with Clive about how his early career as a solicitor helped shape his practice when cross-qualifying to the Bar. Clive also shares advice on deciding which area of law is right for the individual and some of the best ways to get there.
Why did you decide to pursue a career in law and choose to qualify first as a solicitor rather than going straight to the Bar?
I am old enough to recall watching Crown Court on television – and being intrigued by how one’s view changed after having heard both the Prosecution and then the Defence cases. I found the law, the legal process – together with thinking about justice in practice – interesting and stimulating. So, by my mid-teens I knew that I wanted to be a lawyer. Neither of my parents went to university, nor did we have any lawyers in the family or legal contacts. It was a different time then and far less information was available to those considering the profession, so I never even considered the Bar until after I had studied law, trained and qualified in 1988.
What was the reason, or were the reasons that made you decide to cross-qualify? And what advice would you give to law students who are unsure as to whether a career at the Bar or as a solicitor is more suited to their personality?
As I gained more experience as a solicitor I gradually became more confident in court work and as an advocate. By the mid-1990s I had decided that I wanted to do more advocacy – together with research and advisory work myself – as opposed to instructing someone else.
There is no substitute for experience. It’s really important to try out work in different fields of the law to identify what areas of legal practice you find most enjoyable. As for which branch of the legal profession, again ideally you should try to sample both sides. I cross-qualified in 1998. Nowadays there is even more movement between the two branches. Take your time and ask practising solicitors and barristers what they most enjoy – and most dislike – about their work.
How did your experience working as a solicitor in London local government help to develop your practice at the Bar?
Gaining exposure to areas of public or administrative law such as planning and non-domestic rates was really valuable, as was experiencing the power structures, working practices and dynamics of a large public body. It provided a useful insight into decision-making in practice and helped me build a network of colleagues and contacts.
What initially drew you to your specialist practice area, which is focused primarily upon real property, planning and development?
I liked (and continue to like) that it is practical and has a tangible impact on communities. I really like the site visits, or “views”, that you undertake for planning and some property work. Not only do you get out of the office regularly, you get to see something being built – or demolished and redeveloped. I also like that every case is different. The most recent planning public inquiry (appeal) involved the construction of 675 dwellings, a local distributor link road, a new primary school, a retail space (i.e. a shop) and a community space, relocating a rugby club (3 pitches and new club house). Contrast that with a judicial review challenge at which I represented a London borough council, which concerned the prior approval of a rear extension to a single house.
What advice would you give to students who have decided to pursue a career at the Bar but are torn between practice areas i.e. family and commercial?
Family and commercial are very different. Again, it is important to try out different sets of chambers e.g. chancery, common Law, commercial, public, criminal and so on. At the start – as a young junior – you tend to try out most of the areas of work that come into the chambers you are in. Becoming more specialist happens later on.
What are the biggest challenges you have faced in your career and how have you overcome them?
Life, like law, is full of uncertainties. Leaving behind a secure, reasonably well-paid job as an experienced solicitor with very good pension provision to come to the self-employed Bar was a challenge. I suppose it took courage to take that step. I firmly believe that if you are really determined to practice at the Bar, persevere and are resilient there is every prospect you can achieve that. I did not want to arrive at the end of my legal career saying to myself “what if?”.
What advice would you give to law students that are looking to improve their advocacy skills and public speaking?
Trial and error. And experience. Experiment with different styles. Go to court and observe others, taking notice of what you think works, and what does not and why. Ultimately you have to find your own style. You should also look for opportunities to get involved in pro bono work. There is very considerable unmet need out there, so you can do some real good, as well as gain experience. Explore what the options are with an open mind.
Being self-employed can be an attractive aspect of a career at the Bar. However, being self-employed can be stressful. How would you advise students and lawyers that are planning a career at the Bar to deal with the pressures that come with self-employment in their future career?
I heartily agree with both points – as, I imagine, would most of the Bar. Try to be well-organised and avoid the temptation to take on more work than you can actually do. Remember that you will not be paid a monthly salary and sometimes cash flow issues can occur while you wait to be paid on your latest case. You need to be aware of your income and balance your spending.
What are the most rewarding aspects of your profession?
Gratitude of clients. As a barrister you can make a real impact on someone’s business or their day to day life.
If you could give a piece of advice to yourself when you were at the beginning of your profession at the Bar what would it be?
Understand that technical legal skill is but one aspect of the profession – soft skills are very important, together with the ability to think from a strategic and tactical perspective about a case, and anticipate how the other side will react.
Thank you Clive, for sharing your advice with The Student Lawyer.
To learn more about Clive Moys’ practice you can view his profile here.