Christianah Babajide, one of Lawbore’s journalists, has, during her summer break, managed to squeeze in this interview with British barrister and former litigation paralegal at Slaughter & May — Charles Streeten. In this article, Charles offers advice to aspiring barristers and tells us exactly what the Bar is looking for.
Chambers: Francis Taylor Building
Law School: GDL (Commendation) and BPTC (Outstanding) City Law School
Degree: MA Literae Humaniores (Classics) Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford
Year of Call: 2013
Practice: Public Law especially Environment, Planning, Licensing, EU and Human Rights
Inns of Court: The Honourable Society of Lincoln’s Inn
Interests: Cooking, Riding
Fun fact: I’ve eaten ribs in 15 different US States
At what age did you become interested in the Law?
I think I was about 9. Before that, I briefly wanted to be a builder, but otherwise, this was always what I wanted to do. I should add that at the age of 9 I was a long way from the top of the class and my teacher told me I wasn’t suited to a career at the Bar. For that reason, I feel strongly that the Bar is what you want to do, you should go for it.
You completed your GDL and BPTC the City Law School. Can you tell us a bit about your time there?
I probably wasn’t the model student. The gear change from my undergraduate degree, which involved very few contact hours, to a more structured environment like GDL didn’t entirely suit me. Having said that the quality of the course and teaching at City really is second to none. Learning from world-class academics like Mark Elliott made a real difference and likewise Clare Brown who taught me on the BPTC is a practitioner at the top of her game; her help was invaluable. Outside the classroom, I wouldn’t underestimate the importance of City’s connections with leading sets of Chambers and bar-focused extra-curricular activities on offer. They really do help in the long slog to pupillage.
What was your route post-BPTC to now?
I accepted an offer of pupillage during the BPTC which left a fallow year before starting in Chambers. I worked as a paralegal at Slaughter and May (during part of which I was seconded to the Serious Fraud Office) to save up some money and then I spent a few months travelling around South America, the USA and the Far East.
Can you tell us a bit about your practice at the Bar?
I’m a public lawyer which means all (or at least the very great majority) of my work centers around the decisions of national or local government. My clients include government bodies like the Police and Westminster City Council as well as multi-national corporations (Tarmac) and pressure groups who want to take the government to court.
My Chambers specialises in environmental, planning and licensing law so those three areas make up the bulk of my practice, although I do other types of public law too especially for police forces and cases raising human rights issues. In terms of the day to day, I am in a court of one sort or another about two days a week.
I do quite a lot of judicial review work, either advising on whether to bring a claim or appearing at the hearing in the High Court.
These are fast-paced (even more so if they’re expedited) and almost always turn on a point of law.
They tend only to involve legal submissions and cross-examination is very rare. At the other end of the scale are planning inquiries, which can last an extremely long time and are very fact heavy, involving lengthy and technical cross-examination. The rest of my time is spent doing licensing work (normally in the Magistrates’ Court), police work, or drafting opinions for clients.
Could you tell us a little about your practice areas for those who might not understand the different public law areas? Also did your interest in these stem from the GDL or come later on?
Francis Taylor Building is a specialist set. We practice predominantly public law and have an extremely strong reputation for planning and environmental work. We are also known for licensing which includes gambling, taxis, nightclubs and other licensed venues. A lot of this tends to be very commercial, acting for large house builders, energy companies or infrastructure providers. Whilst we do also do other sorts of public law including education, information/ privacy and police work our clients and the nature of our expertise is that we are at the most commercial end of public law practice. The type of advocacy also differs between practice areas. Later in their career, some people do more inquiry work whilst others have a more court focused practice.
What aspect of your job often surprises people?
The sheer variety. No two days are the same. One day I might be drafting an opinion in chambers, the next in the High Court arguing a technical point of law and the day after that doing a knock-about case in the Magistrates Court for the police.
In your opinion, why do you think people are attracted to a career at the Bar?
It’s hard to speak for others, and I know there is a real range of practice areas from those whose interest is predominantly academic to those who just enjoy the sound of their own voice. I probably fall somewhere in the middle. I enjoy the intellectual challenge and the satisfaction from working out a point but nothing compares to the cut and thrust of the courtroom. I love making submissions and being tested by a judge, it’s a massive adrenaline rush. Finally, and trite as it sounds, I wanted to do something that makes a difference and for all the bad press, law (especially public law) allows you to do that.
A career at the Bar Is known to be demanding, how do you divide time for your family and friends with a career at the Bar?
Striking the balance can be very difficult and nobody gets it right all of the time. When work is at its most intense it can be all consuming and you can forget to come up for air. The best advice I can give is to try and make the most of the free time when you have it, rather than worrying about when your next case will start.
You were actively involved in the Law Society at University. Would you encourage City’s Law students to participate in the Law Society?
Absolutely, I think the more you can do to understand what practice is like, what Chambers are looking for and to hone the skills you need for pupillage interviews, the more likely you are to succeed.
You were also the Oxford Law Society Master of Moots. In your opinion, why should Law students take part in mooting?
Mooting is a great way to show you have what it takes to come to the Bar. It gives you a safespace where you can experiment a bit and learn what works for you and what doesn’t. Don’t be put off just because the first one doesn’t go to plan. Listen to feedback and try something different next time. If you can win or come close in a major moot, more’s the good as Chambers will recognise that as an endorsement of your advocacy ability.
Most memorable case and why?
I’m afraid I can’t pick just one, but I can manage two. The first would be a case R (Dillner) v Sheffield City Council  EWHC 945 (Admin). I was acting for an environmental pressure group challenging a decision by Sheffield City Council and a major infrastructure company called Amey to fell some 6000 trees. The case made the newspapers when I managed to get an interim injunction preventing the felling but eventually we lost in both the High Court and subsequently the Court of Appeal. Its nevertheless a case I’m proud of as I was fighting a very hard and extremely complex legal case against the much more senior opposition.
The second is a case where I was led by David Matthias QC before the Court of Justice of the European Union concerning the fees changed to administer the sex licensing regime in Soho. Going off to Luxembourg for the first (and sadly if we leave the EU perhaps also last) time was an amazing experience and I couldn’t have asked for more agreeable leading counsel whilst I was there.
Do you have any advice for City students looking to follow in your footsteps?
Getting pupillage is hard and there is no substitute for diligence and determination. Making sure you know yourself and your strengths are important. Some people are excellent technical lawyers and less good on their feet, others are demon cross-examiners but find themselves slightly out of their depth when it comes to the most complex legal analysis. Even within the law, there are lots of different ways of tackling a problem and different specialisms will suit different individuals. So work out what you’re good at and then find a specialism that suits those skills. Once you’ve done that make sure you know the chambers you are applying to back to front – what areas do they practice in, who are their clients and what is their Chambers ethos. After that its a matter of making sure you have a grasp of the relevant law and selling yourself as best you can – be confident ad persuasive, that’s what advocacy is all about.
You’ve published a number of pieces in the last 2 years, including one on Brexit in July, why is it important to write as a barrister?
The Bar, and particularly the public law bar, is a fast moving, intellectual profession. The law is constantly evolving and it’s important to stay on top of that. Lots of leading chambers, like mine, have a panel of leading academics as associate members which are an indicator of the importance of the interaction between the academic and practicing branches of the law. Publishing keeps a foot in both camps and it can also be great publicity. That Brexit article you mentioned has been cited by Reuters, the Independent and much further afield (including the Kuwait Times); I’ve even been interviewed by Sky on the subject. Not only is that good for your legal reputation but it’s also a great way to stimulate debate on matters you think are important.
Last but not least, who is the Bar looking for?
That’s the hardest question of all and I’m not sure there’s really an answer. One of the great strengths of the Bar is that it is a diverse assortment of individual practitioners. There’s certainly no such thing as a ‘face that fits’. Having said that, there are qualities prized by the bar: intelligence, independence and integrity are paramount. If you can combine those three with the ability to present an argument both orally and on paper you stand a very good chance of making the grade.
Quick-fire questions :
- Favourite place in London?
Ba Shan, Soho
- If you weren’t a barrister, what would you be?
Probably an art critic
- Unusual fact about you?
I’m dyslexic (I don’t know if that counts as unusual but it’s certainly so amongst barristers)
- Favourite holiday destination?
(Italy or Argentina)
- One thing you can’t live without?