The family law barrister with a strong stomach, the patience of a saint and a sense of humour
“I think I may be one of the youngest people to have been called to the Bar, six months after my 21st birthday.” So says Christopher Ferguson, some 37 years later, as he reflects on his career as a barrister, now exclusively practising family law.
Born and brought up in Dorset, Christopher went to Law School in 1975 at the age of 17. While looking for pupillage, he worked as an executive officer at the Court of Protection. As someone who always enjoyed writing, he entered the Ede & Ravenscroft legal writing competition and, to his great delight, won. The prize was his full barrister’s robes and wig (no small expense for an impecunious student).
He secured pupillage first with Edward Southwell in Farrar’s Building in 1980, and then with Robert Rhodes (also now a myBarrister barrister). Both were very helpful pupil masters (as they were then called) providing a wide variety of knowledge and experience, from advocacy and drafting documents, to involving him with the morning school run, delivering Christmas gifts by motorcycle and changing one of their tyres in the Inner Temple car park. All of this has proved useful in subsequent years. Pupillage is perhaps rather different nowadays.
Christopher knew that an opening for a tenancy was unlikely in his London chambers, so looked further afield towards the West Country where he grew up. He secured a third six-month pupillage in a small common law set in Bristol, Assize Court Chambers, where he then secured a tenancy and concentrated on crime and family law, in which he had specialised at law school. He found that these were areas of practice that he preferred, as he “wanted to deal with people and court rooms, rather than documents and libraries.”
Christopher’s greatest priority was his family - he met his wife when she was studying history at London University. Raising a family (his children were born in 1985, 1987 and 1989), he found time to play squash, rugby and cricket, while trying to build his practice. He was a founder member of Unity Street Chambers in Bristol in 2001.
He moved to Sovereign Chambers in Leeds for both professional and family reasons in 2008. There he practised exclusively in family law. Sovereign then merged with N0.6 in 2015 to create Park Square Barristers, where Christopher currently practises with over 100 colleagues.
Dealing with direct access clients
With his propensity for dealing with people, Christopher has been well suited to direct access work. “I have found three particular attributes to be especially useful in family law,” Christopher says: “first, a strong stomach, to deal with what can often be difficult and unsavoury situations; secondly - the patience of a saint, as it is important to listen to people trying to explain their worries and problems; and, thirdly, you need a sense of humour, to offset the tension that frequently exists, to maintain your sanity and sometimes even to help put a client at ease (unless applied inappropriately...). I may not always get it right, but I do believe that an element of ‘bedside manner’ has helped me to win the trust of many clients and so to fight their cause more effectively."
“It is, however, still important to be dispassionate – I have to be objective to give clients the best professional advice and guidance.”
Christopher is also honest about looking after their best interests when it comes to fees. “I try to help my clients save money. No one really likes having to pay for legal advice. I often tell clients, they should be spending their money on their children rather than on mine. Equally, I am not a charity and have a living to make, so I invoice at a realistic rate, but tend to charge for hearings, rather than for conferences and drafting assistance generally.”
Outside of work, Christopher continues to be interested in music, theatre and sport. He was chair of a Disciplinary Tribunal of the Modern Pentathlon Association of Great Britain and officiated at Greenwich Park in the Modern Pentathlon at the 2012 Olympics.