"Mum, what do you actually do all day anyway?" It wasn't until the eyes of my teenage sons began to redirect their gaze somewhere to the far horizon beyond my left shoulder that I realised I'd probably lost them only part way into my thrilling account of chancery practice. And I hadn't even got to the best bits! They're a tough audience, aren't they, teenagers? I imagine it's like doing stand up. Is it just me, I thought, or is it genuinely difficult to conjure up an accurate but engaging picture of the professional workplace? Hmm, I concluded, like a lot of things in life it probably needs more than five minutes.
Time passes. It's autumn 2017. I'm sitting in a Radcliffe Chambers equality and diversity meeting. We're talking about access to the profession. We need to increase our diversity and attract pupillage applicants from a wider range of backgrounds. I think about the glazed expressions on my children's faces as I compared working out what a testator's will might mean to cracking a code. (Yes [sigh] I thought it was a good analogy too.)
Talking about what it's like to be a barrister isn't enough. I start thinking out loud: of course, what we should really do is run a two day workshop in chambers for sixth formers from backgrounds that are currently underrepresented. That way, we could show them what it's really like to be a barrister and that the chancery bar is somewhere they could have a successful career. There is a silence, but only a brief one. And then there is a babble of excited chatter that soon becomes a torrent.
By January we have an outline programme in place and two days in early July booked in the chambers diary. We're going to have interactive workshops on legal problems, we're going to tell them what "chambers" is, explain the routes into the profession, our pupil and junior tenant are going to spill the beans, there'll be a mini-hearing where the students will take sides, we'll take them behind the scenes at court (thank you, judges!), we'll help with their interview technique and we are most definitely going to give them a goody bag and a certificate when they leave.
Enter Big Voice London, a legal outreach charity doing fantastic work to increase social mobility within the legal profession. They ran an application process for us last May which meant we could offer ten London sixth formers from under-represented backgrounds a place on our inaugural two day programme in July. Thank you Big Voice. We could not have done it without you.
And, guess what? It all worked out amazingly well, largely thanks to 20 or so of my wonderful colleagues who helped put everything together, gave up their time, role-played, devised workshop problems, and agreed to mentor the students; and to our staff and clerks who made sure everything ran like clockwork. There is insufficient space here to share all our insights, although we hope to do so soon at an open meeting arranged through the Chancery Bar Association; but, in brief, I had the genuine sense that we were able to help each of our ten students, all at their own particular educational and career crossroads, to see potential new pathways opening up to them. That's exciting.
It was a hugely rewarding experience for students and barristers alike and we are looking forward to running the programme again this year; the second, we hope, of many.
Kate Selway, barrister at Radcliffe Chambers, has a wide ranging and highly successful commercial and traditional chancery practice. Her core areas of practice are trusts (including the taxation of trusts); all aspects of real property and landlord and tenant; wills, probate and the administration of estates; charities; Court of Protection; and professional negligence. She was appointed to the Attorney General's A Panel of Counsel in 2016.