With less than five weeks to go until pupillage, I’ve been reflecting on past experiences which surely helped me to get this far. One such experience is my time spent performing in a rock band, which I started with my younger brother in 1998 — when I was just 18.
We were known as “The Cornerstones” for a while, then as “Original Sin.”
Below is some raw video footage. I’m the lead guitarist on the left.
Those who know me will spot the additional leg, as I wore an (utterly uncomfortable) artificial limb in those days.
As a musician, I came into my own a few years later — as a solo performer living in Belgium. Indeed, I would soon front my own act. For now, though, I want to focus on my time spent in the band, and to reveal what I took from that. It was a time of great change and realisation in my life.
It was also great fun! We did more than a hundred paid gigs together.
In case anyone is wondering what rock n’ roll has to do with the Bar, the answer is… plenty! When filling out pupillage application forms, you must demonstrate the skills relevant to life as a barrister, and these can come from any type of work you’ve done. In fact, I think it’s better to have acquired some skills from non-legal experience, as this can help to distinguish you from the crowd.
The first skill I learned from being in a band was LEADERSHIP.
Starting a band involves an initial financial outlay to purchase a PA system, including microphones, amplifiers, etc. I funded all of this from the wages of my first job — proving that I’m comfortable taking calculated risks, as a self-employed barrister ought to be.
I then had to advertise for a bass player and drummer, agree the terms on which the band members would be paid, and book a space for us all to rehearse in. This demonstrates good organisational skills of the type needed by barristers.
Finally, with our act nicely polished, I had to record a ‘demo’ tape and use this to secure paid bookings from the local pubs and clubs. I formed a rapport with managers and entertainment secretaries. Sure enough, after a few months, gigs started to fill the pages of our diary. This proves I’m able to maintain professional friendships — as barristers must do with their solicitors in order to get work.
All of this comes under the rubric of leadership.
As it turns out, my career will be based at the employed Bar; specifically, the Crown Prosecution Service. This means I won’t have to chase solicitors for work. Even so, the networking I did as a musician remains relevant today.
The second skill I learned from being in a band was NEGOTIATION.
Most pub managers I encountered were friendly, honest people. They loved live music, and supported it by booking local bands like mine. To them, we were there to do a job — and they paid us for our work accordingly. However, surprising as it may seem, this cannot be said of all pub managers.
During our first few months on the road, it was touch-and-go whether we would be paid. Sometimes, after performing an entire show, the manager would take me aside to explain why he or she was “unable” to pay us tonight. When I argued with them, I was treated as though I’d misunderstood the agreement.
That was the downside. When we were in their pub, we were at their mercy. Nobody would book a DJ and expect to get free entertainment; yet, my band was expected to perform as in the video above, then go home sweaty, tired and broke. We wanted to play, but not pay to play!
I learned (the hard way) that my best shot at resolving this lay at the telephone stage. From the very first call, I had to leave managers in no doubt that we expected to be paid, always — no matter how many punters showed up; no matter how many drinks got sold (etc). I needed to agree a price and fix the terms of our performance. Then, if the slightest reluctance or hesitation persisted from their end, I could avert disaster early.
Better to walk away than pay to play.
Aside from making a good negotiator of me (as I discovered on the Bar Course, during my Mediation option), this experience gave me the confidence to politely assert myself with clients and others in authority.
The third skill I learned from being in a band was TEAMWORK.
As the band’s founder, I had a firm vision of how we should look and sound. However, I soon realised that being in a band is like any other relationship: there has to be compromise. Without give and take, people fall out. And this is especially true when the lead vocalist happens to be your kid brother!
It took time, but I really came to appreciate that our end product was the music, and that was best served by me playing a lower profile on stage than I did when off it. And if playing too many Beatles songs kept my brother happy, so be it!
I believe this insight will make me a better, more collaborative barrister.
Lastly, I learned from being in a band that THE SHOW MUST GO ON!
That may not sound like a skill, but I would argue it is — especially for barristers.
I’ve broken guitar strings mid-song. I’ve hit bum notes during solos. I’ve cut my thumb and finished a set with it bleeding. But stopping was not an option with a paying crowd waiting. And I learned: Although you may be crying inside, if you keep going, and just give it your best, very few people ever notice your blunders!
My pupillage starts next month. I dread to imagine what blunders are in store. But with the gods of rock n’ roll smiling down, I know the show will go on!