As I logged onto the Microsoft teams call, I felt my stomach turn at the thought of embarrassing myself in front of a group of academics. I sat in the virtual waiting room, with the words ‘the meeting host will let you in shortly’ on my screen, uncertain of whether the anticipation of being in the familiarity of my own bedroom was more excruciating than whatever nerves those who attended the courts in person would have felt. My initial preconceptions about the placement were that as a young woman of colour, I would feel out of place – like a small fish in a big pond of elderly, white men. I had concerns that the experience would be dull as it was taking place virtually, worries that the scheme would completely tarnish my perspective on a career in law, and anxiety that I would not understand any of the courtroom lingo which, to me, was the stuff of legal dramas. This could not have been further from the reality of my experience.
From the moment that I was warmly welcomed by John-Paul, I felt an immense sense of relief. I had initially applied to partake in the scheme to see what life within the legal sector was like, but I had never actually considered a future as a barrister. I did not fit the ‘pale, stale, male’ stereotype that I had read about and certainly did not feel as though I was academically capable. However, it was at the very first moment of joining the online bar placement that I came to the realisation that the reality of life as a barrister does not at all fit the preconceived idea that I had.
My experience of the Bar Placement Scheme was unforgettable in that it has truly changed my perspective on a career as a barrister in many ways. For example, a particularly striking moment for me was when the very charismatic and dynamic Alastair Hodge laid out the modern rules of advocacy, the most poignant one to me being ‘be true to your personal brand’. The idea that barristers are encouraged to have a sense of individuality was really reassuring. As someone who strongly believes in maintaining your own identity, the fact that this was promoted really changed my attitude towards the idea that all people in the legal profession are robotic, cookie-cutter, money-making machines. Especially as an ethnic minority who has not come from the wealthiest background, this was a key moment during the week that made me feel worthy of a career in law.
As I was making notes during the talk, I scrawled the affirmation ‘it does not matter where you’re from; it only matters where you want to go’, in the margin of my page. How empowering is it to know that we are living in a society where there are opportunities to succeed without having to alter your identity? Remaining true to your personal values was an important message and something that I will apply to not only my potential future as a lawyer, but also my everyday life.
Another element of the Bar Placement week that I thoroughly enjoyed was the introduction to employment law. John-Paul Waite’s engaging approach to a topic that I had never considered well suited to me opened my eyes to career options I did not think were possible for someone with my personality. As an empathetic individual, I felt as though this characteristic would be best suited to family law. I was very limited in my mindset, in the sense that this was the route I was almost certain I would follow through with.
However, after going through some scenarios, many of which were based on cases John Paul had first-hand experience of, I realised that I had a knack for making inferences from employment law scenarios and considering the perspectives of both the employer and the employee. As well as discovering that I could incorporate my compassionate nature into this task (to a certain extent!), I realised that employment law was genuinely fascinating. Again, this is another prime example of the Bar Placement Scheme enabling me to develop aspects of my personality that I never knew made me so well suited to being a barrister!
Finally, with further reference to my background as a woman of colour beginning to navigate the murky legal sector, historically dominated by people who do not look anything like me, I spoke to Kate Cornell on her perspective on issues within the Bar. Her insight into my concerns were detailed and perceptive. Another reason why I am so grateful for this experience is how genuinely helpful all the people that I met during the scheme are and how much they want to see budding young lawyers succeed. It is truly admirable.