Sarabjit Singh QC
Tell us about your background and why you decided to become a barrister.
I am the son of immigrants from villages in Punjab in India. My family were farmers back in India and have no history of anyone becoming a lawyer or otherwise entering the professions. When my parents came to the UK, they did all the stereotypically Indian jobs, such as driving a taxi (my dad rather than my mum) and running a corner shop. I grew up in Peterborough and attended my local comprehensive school, which was not academic but had a great down-to-earth culture which I loved.
I became interested in becoming a barrister when I found that I was always arguing with my teachers and challenging what they told me. I decided to see if there was a job where I could argue for a living, and that is how I discovered the job of a barrister. Another major attraction to me of becoming a barrister was that I did not like being told what to do and so the idea of being self-employed was a very attractive one.
What opportunities, support and encouragement did you receive along your journey to becoming a barrister?
I got good grades in my GCSEs and A levels and from there I studied law at Oxford University before going straight on to Bar School and to pupillage in my current chambers. The entire cost of my year at Bar School was funded by a scholarship from Lincoln's Inn. There are numerous such scholarships available from the Inns and all pupillages are funded, which can help a lot with the costs of qualifying as a barrister.
What is the most rewarding thing about being a barrister; has life at the Bar met your expectations?
There are many parts of my job as a barrister that appeal to me. I like being self-employed and having control over my work. Also, whilst my barrister friends laugh and call me pretentious when I say this, I really do think that as barristers we are artists. We take our knowledge of language, the law and the facts of our case and we aim to craft it all together to create persuasive arguments. I enjoy that creative element of the job. I also love the confrontational aspect of going to court and facing an opponent who is arguing that everything I say is rubbish (often with good justification).
How do you use your experience of coming to the Bar from a non-traditional background to support those seeking to do the same, and/or why is it important for barristers to contribute in this way?
In the last few years, I have been making an effort through outreach initiatives to speak to children from state schools to get them to see the Bar as a career option for them. This is because the Bar is still some way off being representative of society and one way of tackling this is to encourage those from under-represented groups to think of a career at the Bar from a young age.
What advice would you give to someone from a non-traditional background, seeking to succeed at the Bar?
I advise those I speak to that becoming a barrister is not easy, as there is a lot of competition and they do have to work hard. However, I emphasise that if they properly apply themselves, and with mentoring and support from people like me along the way, they are young enough to become not only barristers, but whatever they want to be.