Andrew Stephens is a specialist criminal law barrister who acts solely for the defence. He is regularly instructed in serious matters as well as those needing that bit of extra care as Andrew is adept at dealing with both clients and witnesses with vulnerabilities.
Andrew is also particularly well regarded for the way he deals with not only his professional and lay clients, but also with juries and judges.
In our latest spotlight on Westgate Chambers’ leading advocates, we wanted to find out more about what Andrew has learned during close on 20 years at The Bar.
How important do you feel it is now for you and other practitioners, in any area of specialism, to actively promote themselves along with input from their administration?
The best way to promote yourself and your chambers as a whole is to be good at what you do and to do that where it is most important, in court and in dealing with your professional clients and your lay clients.
This is as true now as it has ever been. And, of course, the administration is a key part of that. However, there is no point being good in the hospitality tent at a match at Twickenham if you are no good in Court 3 in the Crown Court Sitting in Lewes.
With historic cuts to many areas of criminal work, what do you feel the future holds for your practice now the Government has approved an increase?
It means that my practice is just about sustainable.
What is more important is that the review body recommends and is listened to. Historically, we at the Criminal Bar have had to strike for anything. It is my sincere hope that the review body may avoid that.
At the same time, it is foolish to think that earnings will go back to a relative position of where they were in the 1980s / 1990s etc.
In truth, the Criminal Bar probably earned too much back then. However, and as is so often the case, the pendulum has now swung too far. 15% and the ‘bolt-ons’ are taking us back in the right direction. It is a start, but it has to be a foundation upon which future increments are built.
How important do you think it is for practitioners to work as a team when attracting clients?
Yes, we must work as a team. But we must not lose sight of our individualities. What is a good fit for one professional client may not be for another. Part of our strength is our diversity.
What has been the best professional advice you’ve been given?
Don’t let your work overtake your life.
What guidance would you give the junior Bar in your areas of specialism?
Firstly, the same advice that I was given. Then:
1. You won’t ‘win’ every case in that you won’t get the verdict your professional or lay client wants but, you will have ‘won’ if you leave court knowing that you did your best for you client.
2. Don’t put pressure on yourself. Easy to say, I know.
3. Remember you are dealing with real people and their lives. Often, they have vulnerabilities and therefore rely on you to advise, assist and represent, which is a privilege. Never lose sight of that.
4. Finally, put your case well and thoroughly, but don’t ask questions that you don’t have to.
Away from the pressures of work, how do you like to unwind?
I work to live not live to work. I keep my private life very separate from the Bar.
Anyone who is considering coming to the Criminal Bar is more than welcome to contact Westgate Chambers to find out more about the opportunities we provide.