Sara Anzani

Sara Anzani

 

Tell us about your background and why you decided to become a barrister.

I grew up in the North West. My parents separated when I was 2 and my mother ultimately ended up bringing my sister and me up on her own. My father spent most of our formative years in and out of prison. Growing up in a small village meant that everybody in the community knew of this, something I recall causing me considerable feelings of shame growing up.

My mother held down numerous low-paid jobs in a bid to put food on the table. In the early 1990s, she started working for a high street solicitors’ firm as a filing clerk. With childcare costing double what she was paid per hour, my sister and I would often spend our school holidays at the office. I remember seeing the solicitors in their smart suits and being starstruck by their appearance and confidence. I was a smart child and showed promise with my studies. I recall having a conversation about a career in law with the principal of the firm one day, and him saying I should aim high and try to become a barrister. This really sowed the seed of my determination to pursue a career at the Bar. 
 

Did you face any obstacles along your journey to becoming a barrister and how did you overcome them? Have any of them persisted since becoming a barrister? 

As with many who come to the Bar from 'non-traditional' backgrounds, one of the main obstacles I faced pursuing a career at the Bar was money. It is easy to overlook the extent to which the financial backing of family can make a significant difference to an individual’s ability to pursue this career, particularly where competition for pupillage is so tough. Chambers routinely look at extra-curricular and, often unpaid, work experience as a means of differentiating candidates. Unable to bear the financial burden of unpaid work, I sought paid work with the firm my mother worked for during my school and university holidays. This occasionally saw me going to court and sitting behind counsel, an experience that cemented my desire to become a barrister. I also had to work two other jobs around my A-level and degree studies.      

I managed to secure a First in my undergraduate degree at Liverpool John Moores University and applied to Inner Temple for a scholarship to assist with the cost of the BPTC (then the BVC). I was extremely fortunate to be awarded an Exhibition and Scholarship which covered the cost of my full course fees.

Financial considerations have certainly played a part in shaping my career and practice over the years. When the legal aid cuts in crime came into force shortly after completing pupillage, it became almost impossible to make ends meet with the significant living costs of London. Criminal law quickly became an unviable practice area, not only for me, but other newly qualified barristers from less well-off backgrounds.     

Aside from the financial constraints of my background, there were also the ones I placed on myself. There was the inevitable self-doubt; that my family’s history would make me an unsuitable candidate for the Bar, that my state-schooling would place me at a disadvantage to those privately educated, that my ‘regional’ accent would mean that I never really fitted in, or wouldn’t be taken seriously. I remain forever thankful that I didn’t let those moments of self-doubt stop me.
 

What opportunities, support and encouragement did you receive along your journey to becoming a barrister? 

The BVC Exhibition and Scholarship afforded to me by Inner Temple, enabled me to pursue a career at the Bar. I would not have been able to risk the significant debt completing the BVC would have placed me in, certainly not at that stage of my life and with no guarantee of pupillage following its completion.

I was interviewed for the Exhibition and Scholarship by a panel chaired by His Honour Judge Jeremy Roberts QC. After I explained my family circumstances during the interview, he invited me to marshal with him at the Old Bailey. Not only was this invaluable legal experience, but it also served as a sign of encouragement that notwithstanding my background, this was still a career open to me.   

I had two fantastic pupil supervisors who were incredibly supportive. They proved seminal in shaping the career I have gone on to have. Added to this was, and remains, the unwavering support of my mother and sister. 
 

What is the most rewarding thing about being a barrister; has life at the Bar met your expectations?

There are so many rewarding things about being a barrister, but for me, above all, it’s making a real difference to the lives of those I represent. As an immigration and asylum practitioner, the decisions that I challenge can have catastrophic consequences for my clients if determined wrongly or left unchecked. Although there are many people facing multiple disadvantages in current society, migrants, refugees and asylum seekers experience a distinct range of problems and inequalities. The ability to help individuals in challenging this innate inequality makes my job one of the most rewarding possible.
 

How do you use your experience of coming to the Bar from an under-represented background to support those seeking to do the same, and/or why is it important for barristers to contribute in this way?

I have volunteered to attend events at local state secondary schools to give under-privileged pupils an insight into a career at the Bar, to inspire them to consider this career path, and to highlight that they don’t need to be privately educated or Oxbridge graduates to become a barrister. It is imperative that the Bar is seen to be accessible to people from all backgrounds.

In chambers I have sat on both the management committee and pupillage committee and have worked hard to ensure that chambers attract and recruit individuals from diverse backgrounds. I have also acted as a mentor to pupils and junior tenants recruited over the years. 
 

What are the challenges facing today's aspiring barristers, and how could they be addressed?

The cost of qualifying as a barrister, coupled with the financial uncertainty that then follows – even for those fortunate enough to secure pupillage – remains the most obvious challenge. This is particularly so for those from less well-off backgrounds. The current pandemic has highlighted the very real financial difficulties that even established practitioners can face at the Bar. Cuts to legal funding continue to disproportionately affect those at the junior end of the profession. The increase to the minimum pupillage training award is a step in the right direction, but more needs to be done by the regulators and Inns to ensure diversity at the Bar going forward.  
 

What advice would you give to someone from an under-represented background, seeking to succeed at the Bar?

‘Imposter Syndrome’ can often be a self-imposed limitation for many aspiring barristers from under-represented backgrounds. Don’t waste your energy on this. Identify your strengths and unique selling point – and don’t be afraid to flaunt them. If anything, I think my background gives me an advantage. I never take anything for granted – I have a job I absolutely adore, and I am acutely aware that that isn’t true for everyone. I also believe that my background has made me a far more compassionate, and in turn, effective advocate. Identify your weaknesses and work on them - competition is rife, and a career at the Bar involves a lot of hard work – but you can do it!