Barrister of the month: Victoria von Wachter

30 May 2024

Name: Victoria von Wachter
Role: Barrister
Specialist in (areas of law): Employment
Geographic areas covered: Nationwide
Called to the Bar in: 1996

Joining 5 Essex Chambers

I joined what was then 5 Essex Court (5EC) in 2001 after a brief stay at another chambers.  5EC was looking to expand its employment team and I wanted to move away from a small common law set.  I remember my interview and being particularly impressed that the Head of Chambers and senior Chambers members were quite content to be challenged by junior tenants and engage in a very public debate.  This open approach was very attractive and I was honoured to be offered tenancy.

My career before I became a barrister

I was more so honoured as my route to the Bar had not been an easy one.  Starting my working life as a Biochemist but then moving to industry and working within the Industrial Relations arena for some 15 years was not perhaps the most obvious route to becoming a barrister.  Although I had enjoyed considerable success in industry with my final role being the first female Chief Officer in the Water Industry, I did not enjoy corporate life at all.  During my time there I became involved in representation at what was then Industrial Tribunal.  This prompted me to study part time for a law degree (external London) which I finished in 1992 gaining a first class honours – my advice to others being never to do this as it was a wearisome slog!   By the time I finished my law degree I had left industry in 1990 and started working as a consultant focussing on behavioural training and organisational development.  This was more to get out of organisational life than a vocational career choice but I enjoyed the eight years of consultancy that I did especially as it funded my year at Bar School for which my LA felt unable to offer assistance.  Having been bitten by the advocacy bug it was really a no brainer for me to set my sights on the Bar for my third and hopefully final career.

I often look back and wonder if I should have remained as an academic scientist.  I am reminded of this crossroads at least once a year when I am contacted by one of the pharmaceutical companies tempting me to join them in their Intellectual property organisation.  It is sad that the area of Biochemistry in which I pursued my PhD namely Biochemical genetics, was so new and undeveloped that this in part informed my decision to leave that discipline.  That same area is now at the forefront of scientific endeavour.  I console myself that I am probably a better barrister than biochemist.

Personally I continued to balance work and leisure.  I had been a member of the junior British team for horse trials and continued to ride competitively for many of my adult years although I suspect that I had peaked too early as my adult successes did not mirror those I had enjoyed as a junior.  Being married to a farmer meant that I could retreat into the relative quiet of country life when work was stressing me out.

The importance of a mentor

Gaining pupillage was probably the most arduous time of my career and therefore the most satisfying for having achieved it. No-one wanted me at my age being the most often cited reason for rejection. I do however wonder if my low-level Autism and resultant rather direct approach to life may have been a contributing factor.   I would not have been writing this article had not a Bencher of my Inn, Monique Viner QC been so incensed at my failure to gain a place at any Chambers that she intervened and helped me to secure a pupillage.  Not conventional I know but without her actions I would be doing something else today.  She was my mentor and support, giving freely of her time so that I could accompany her to court and learn from her.  She would never let me get away with sloppy thinking or rambling arguments.  She died some years ago and I still miss her terribly.  Her assistance is typical of the help that I have benefitted from and seen given by fellow barristers.

What that episode in my life taught me was never to give up and that is the advice I give to all the prospective pupils I meet.  Learn from every rejection and try to address those points if you can.  Also a good plan is to think round the problem; I worked for a year as a paralegal in a magic circle solicitors firm which gave me relevant experience and made me more attractive to Chambers.

Pupil life

My pupillage was an experience in itself with my desk being squashed into the corner of a sunroom in a private dwelling that served as a small Chambers – boiling in Summer, freezing in Winter.  But I learned so much mainly from doing CPS lists which involved turning up at the relevant court, being refused entry until 9am by the ever vigilant gate keepers (known to me as the Soup Dragons – look it up) and having only 30 minutes to absorb the morning’s list whilst trying to decipher the scrawls of my predecessors in the case files, all the time aware of the mounting queue of defence Counsel outside the CPS room waiting to persuade me of the merits of their particular client – wonderful stuff and a real education.  

Life as a barrister

5EC has been my home for over twenty years now and I cannot imagine working anywhere else.  Both I and my dogs have enjoyed considerable congeniality from colleagues.  I am allowed to bore the pupils with presentations on employment law and I am let out regularly to do battle for a variety of police forces either in the Employment Tribunal or the Coroners Court as well as presenting in police disciplinaries. All of this means a lot of travelling around even in the era of remote hearings.  Those wishing to work in the same areas as I do should prepare themselves for lots of travel.

What others say of Victoria

Legal 500 

  • “Victoria always demonstrates an impressive ability to assimilate and analyse information, often of great volume, to distil the essential issues. Always impressive, clear and fluent – clearly immensely capable, skilled and fiercely intelligent, but also very personable, approachable and able to put clients from extremely diverse backgrounds, and with different levels of confidence, at their ease.”

Chambers UK 

  • “She has a very incisive understanding of the pressures of working in a commercial organisation.”
  • “She is fantastic in tribunals and has the ability to unnerve in cross-examination.”



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