I’m the youngest of three children. My brother and sister both read law at university, and have become lawyers themselves. My sister is a general counsel, and my brother is a silk. They’re both older than me, and when it came to applying to university, there wasn’t much choice on my part! I benefited a lot from their revision notes…
I briefly contemplated a career in the City, and I did an internship at Goldman Sachs in 2005. It was useful in the sense that it confirmed that I did want to pursue a career in the law.
I thought hard about whether or not to be a solicitor or a barrister. I was very attracted to working in big teams at a law firm, and slightly wary of becoming a barrister which is quite a lonely profession at times. I did some vacation schemes at a couple of law firms and had a great time, which made the decision even harder. But ultimately I decided I wanted to do advocacy. I did a mini-pupillage at Brick Court, and it became clear.
At school, I wasn’t someone who did lots of debating or public speaking, so the performance aspect of advocacy isn’t something I’ve always wanted to focus on. I enjoy the art of advocacy more in terms of persuading people of your arguments.
Advocacy is something you can learn. Some people enjoy the public stage and the spotlight more than others, but advocacy is definitely a skill you get better at by doing more of.
I would name two professional mentors: Charles Hollander QC at Brick Court is one. I did my mini-pupillage with him in the summer of 2004. Without him I wouldn’t have ended up at Brick Court. I had a fantastic week, he was very kind to me.
Mark Howard QC is the person I’ve learned the most from since joining Brick Court, He has a big reputation, and is absolutely phenomenal. I’ve been very lucky to be working closely for many years with someone who is at the top of the profession.
You have to be incredibly motivated to be a barrister. You need to be someone who is able to drive themselves. So much of it comes down to you – even when working with lots of people on a big case, you need to be someone who takes a lot of personal pride in their work and who is prepared to put in the hard yards. You need to be self-sufficient. At the end of the day, no matter how big and collegiate your team is, your job is very much an individual one. It attracts a certain type of person to take on that challenge.
I have been very lucky over the last 13 years to work on an interesting range of cases. I’ve worked on a number of Supreme Court appeals, which are always interesting as you are genuinely creating new law.
The case that has defined my career to date is the Lloyds v HBOS litigation, which I was involved in for five years. It was fantastically interesting, concerning the takeover of HBOS by Lloyds right at the peak of the financial crisis in 2008. To see a case like that from start to finish, culminating in a five-month trial, was a significant learning curve.
The environment we work in is very high pressured. Because you are self-employed, no-one is supervising you and, to a large extent, you’re responsible for your own welfare. You need to retain balance. In the very big cases, there is a danger of being totally overwhelmed by the amount of work. You could work all the time – there are always things to do. You have to keep your personal life going and continue to see your family and friends. It’s easy to fall into the trap of constantly working weeknights and weekends, but it’s not sustainable in the long-term.
There’s been a real increase in group litigation. I do a mixture of banking and competition work, and I’m being instructed in more and more class action cases in those areas. By happenstance, I’ve ended up at the forefront of group litigation, and that’s something that’s going to be very important for practitioners in years to come.
The Merricks v Mastercard case was a really interesting one to be involved in. It will be very interesting to see how the Supreme Court decision gets applied in future proceedings.
My dispute resolution style? I try and work out early on in a case what really matters. In every case, there will be lots of issues and facts, but the critical thing is to identify early on the really key points and not get distracted by the noise. It sounds strange, but even the biggest cases boil down to a handful of really fundamental points. It’s often tempting to focus on certain points where you think you have a strong position, but if they’re not ultimately going to matter, then you need to cut through.
I pride myself on being accessible and approachable, and hopefully the fact I get a lot of repeat work from solicitors means I am doing
I’m tough in court, and don’t shy away from a challenge. I aim to ensure the client feels like they’ve had a really good fist of it in court. As barristers we’re in court all the time, but for some clients litigation may be a one-off. The priority is to make sure you present their case as persuasively and powerfully as possible.
It’s difficult not to take courtroom debates personally. In reality, you would hope that everyone understands we are professionals fighting on behalf of our clients. So in a sense you and your opponent shouldn’t take anything that happens in court personally. But that is unrealistic because we all spend so much time and energy on our cases. It’s only human.
In terms of disappointments, a particular case stands out. I worked very hard on the Supreme Court appeal in VTB v Nutritek and we thought we had won. But the Supreme Court found against us three to two. That was very disappointing.
I would hope my colleagues would describe me as someone who makes a difference to cases and who’s very easy to work with. I pride myself on being accessible and approachable, and hopefully the fact I get a lot of repeat work from solicitors means I am doing something right. I would hope the solicitors and the barristers I work with don’t think I have a big ego. But on the other hand, when I’m in court, I will not take a backward step. So I hope my opponents regard me as tough.
Brick Court is an amazing place. The very day I found out I was going to be a tenant I was brought into a big dispute between BSkyB and Virgin Media. We are very spoiled here, because the cases that come to us tend to be the market-leading, high-profile cases. We also have some of the most talented people at the Bar: it is easy to forget that when they are down the corridor.
The QC application process is a bit of a marathon. The application went in March last year, and I found out in December, so it’s a nine-month process. The form is around 60 to 70 pages, and it requires a lot of preparation. It’s very difficult to put it out of your mind once you submit your application. It’s a bit like waiting for exam results though, you can’t let it consume you. It’s tough, but rightly so, because it’s a real landmark in your career.
I was really chuffed to take silk. It’s a huge achievement. I’m 37, which is about as young as you can be to take silk in my line of work. It’s something that when you start out, it feels like a very long-term ambition. But the years fly by so quickly. It’s the culmination of those years of hard work, because to build up the cases and references you need, you can’t do that in six months or a year. It’s incredibly nice to have that recognised.
The significance of becoming QC only dawned on me when I received literally hundreds and hundreds of congratulatory emails and messages from barristers, solicitors and clients. Even people I only worked with for a short time, years ago. It made me realise how fantastic an achievement it was, and it only happens once in your career. You need other people to remind you.
It was a very low-key celebration due to lockdown. There will be a big one when restrictions are lifted. The silk ceremony will still go ahead, but later in the year. There’s no getting out of wearing the fancy dress!
My biggest hobby outside of work is sport. In particular, cricket. In fact, I found out that I’d become a full member of the MCC in the same week as I found out about taking silk. I played a lot of cricket to quite a high level while younger, and I look forward to watching some test matches in the summer if restrictions are lifted.
I’m very passionate about skiing. My favourite holiday is skiing in the French Alps, and saying that will get me in trouble because my wife is not a skier! I highly recommend it, despite it being tough for beginners. You have to be prepared to fall over a lot at the start.
I’m not much of a drinker, but I do like the occasional shandy which I often get stick for.
I watch a lot of box sets, but I tend to be literally years behind everyone else. I remember watching all of Homeland during the Lloyds v HBOS trial, and it got me through that. I’m currently watching The Crown, which remarkably I only started watching a month ago.
Are you allowed to say you like Top Gun? I probably know every word of that movie off by heart. I’m sure there are more sophisticated films I should be mentioning. Goodfellas is one my favourites, an absolute classic.
I love Marmite. Doesn’t everyone?
This is going to sound very cheesy, but as a barrister, the Rudyard Kipling poem If – the line about treating triumph and disaster just the same – is good advice. Unfortunately, we can’t win every case.
Tony Singla QC is a barrister with Brick Court Chambers. He took silk in 2021 at only 14 years’ call.