From an early age I was attracted to logical arguments tempered with a fascination for the more gruesome aspects of criminal law. As a teenager, I flirted with the idea of being a barrister, but was advised to keep my options open and study subjects that I enjoyed rather than focusing on law. I studied A Levels in English Literature, Music and Religious Studies, then a joint honours degree in English and Philosophy. In my third year I realised I’d completely missed the various deadlines for graduate schemes, and in any event, I still didn’t know what I wanted to do. I decided to do a Master’s degree, and enrolled on an interdisciplinary MA in Medieval Studies, focusing on languages and literature. With hindsight, this was an invaluable year because it was during this year that I really learnt independent research skills and developed my academic writing. It also bought me some time to think about what I wanted to do. I realised that I wanted to do something practical, preferably involving people. I narrowed it down to either teaching or law, and sent off applications for the PGCE and the Graduate Diploma in Law in the same week, receiving offers for both.
What followed was a very difficult decision. I was hugely put off by the cost of legal training and the poor job prospects, but in the end, I decided I had to at least try for the Bar. I funded my GDL through savings from part-time work and a scholarship from Gray’s Inn. My GDL did not at all go to plan. In December 2013, my grandmother was very ill in hospital and then my father died suddenly from a rare, undetected heart defect aged only 51. When I try to think about that time, everything goes a bit dark and hazy; I can’t really remember the first few months of 2014 and still struggle to talk about it in any detail. I did not return to my GDL for some time; there was a lot to sort out, and I had to help with my two younger siblings and my grandmother. I therefore completed the GDL across two academic years whilst volunteering at Citizens Advice, deferring my BPTC place until September 2015. A BPTC scholarship allowed me to complete the Bar course in London, the epicentre of the UK legal system. Being in such close proximity to the Inns, the higher courts, and a large number of chambers and law firms meant I was able to immerse myself in law and observe legal developments from a ringside seat.
I was called in 2016, and had intended to move back up north after my Bar finals. I had applied for pupillage in Manchester, Liverpool and Leeds as well as London, but pupillage interview panels didn’t seem to know what to make of me. I remember a set in Leeds that rejected me after interview having decided that I wasn’t Northern enough, but London-based sets equally questioned my commitment to the capital. I started pupillage in 2016, aged 25, and became a tenant in 2017. The early years of my practice have been challenging, both in terms of the huge learning curve and also financially. At one stage, I was spending more on train tickets to travel to court than I was receiving in fees, and nearly burnt out through taking on extra work to try and make ends meet. I now prosecute and defend a wide range of criminal cases as led junior and junior alone, and am also gaining experience in regulatory and extradition law. A particular highlight was spending three months in New Zealand as a 2019 Pegasus Scholar, working abroad for the first time. I was seconded to the Crown Law Office in Wellington and spent Monday to Friday advising on criminal appeals, extradition cases, and requests for mutual legal assistance. At weekends, I explored New Zealand from the Bay of Islands in the north, all the way to Stewart Island in the south.
My advice to aspiring barristers is that no time is wasted. Everything that you do is valid and relevant as part of your wider life experiences, so own your story. It doesn’t matter if it takes you a few extra years to get where you want to be. Learn to recognise the value in what you have done, and then apply it to your applications and your practice. For example, I’m still an odd blend of creativity and logic – hello, colour coded schedules! I am incredibly grateful for the financial support I received at every stage of my training, from Gray’s Inn and the Criminal Bar Association, and encourage all students, pupils, and junior barristers to apply for scholarships and bursaries. Finally, I would encourage people to make the most of the opportunities available to them, whether marshalling, mini-pupillage, or taking part in a drama production at the Inn! You never know where things will lead you.