By DebbieH 01 Oct 2018 7 min read

My legal career: Expert advice from an experienced tax barrister

Introducing Patrick…

My name is Patrick Cannon. I qualified as a solicitor in 1984 and was called to the Bar in 2003. I originally graduated in law from the LSE, then went to Oxford to do a further law degree. I then spent a year at what was then called the City of London Polytechnic, undertaking the solicitor’s finals course, followed by two years as an articled clerk with a small City of London law firm. The firm, though small, had a film practice and did a lot of work for a world-famous broadcasting organisation, so the legal work was very interesting. I got involved in some tax work and liked it, so on qualifying I decided to specialise in tax work and I joined what is now PwC, and passed the exams for the Chartered Institute of Taxation. As a solicitor, I gravitated towards stamp duty advice and property taxes.

I moved to a firm called Arthur Andersen because they wanted to have an in-house stamp duty specialist. In 2001, I was promoted to partner in that firm, but following the Enron scandal (a client of AA) the firm collapsed in 2002, shortly after we all had a partners’ meeting in New Orleans.

To the Bar

The silver lining in this development was that it gave me the impetus to grasp the nettle and do something that I had always wanted to do, namely go to the Bar. I joined my current Chambers (Old Square Tax Chambers in Lincoln’s Inn) in 2003 and quickly found myself very busy with the changeover from stamp duty on land to stamp duty land tax.


I am now 60 years old and have enjoyed my time to date at the Bar enormously. The great thing about the Bar is that you are totally independent and completely responsible for the advice you give. This gives you a real sense of freedom and unlike in a professional firm, you spend very little time on management, admin and staff appraisals and just do what you are there to do i.e provide advice and representation to clients. You can also stay in practice as long as you wish to and there is no pressure to retire and make way for younger people – in the big professional firms you are regarded as over the hill at 50 – this may seem a long way ahead for many of you, but believe me it comes along quite quickly, and at that point you may wish to keep working!


The scary thing about the Bar though, is that you only eat when you kill! That is to say you will not have a nice salary paid into your account each month come what may, nor will you get paid holidays, and any pension that you can build up will be from your own contributions only. Nor will you get sick pay. You also have to pay expenses contributions to your chambers and provide your own computer and office furniture.

Advice for up and coming legal professionals

If I were starting out today and wanted a career in tax I would qualify first as a solicitor and spend 10 years or so in the tax department of a good firm or firms to build up my experience of tax and get a specialism within tax, be it VAT, inheritance tax, banking tax or whatever. I would then transfer to the Bar if I still wanted to be in independent practice, become an advocate and represent clients before the tax tribunals.


Good luck!