I am in the first generation in my family to go to University. I went to Thomas Bennett Community College, a state school in West Sussex and graduated from Queen Mary University of London with a 2:1.
I originally picked law as one of my A-Level subjects not because I knew at that point that I wanted to be a barrister, but because my older sister had studied law and I was sufficiently intrigued by the legal problem-questions that she brought home as homework. The turning point for me was when my sixth form entered into a National Mooting competition. After being selected as one of the barristers for our team, I knew that this was what I wanted to do with my life.
There were several moments where I doubted whether I could become a barrister. I didn't see people like me represented at the bar and I thought that I would need to change myself in order to "fit in" so that I would stand a chance of making it.
Initially, I thought that not getting into Oxbridge would be fatal to my aspirations. I thought I would be hindered by not having a certain number of mini-pupillages and marginally missing out on a 1st-class degree. But I was wrong. I have since started pupillage at the Government Legal Department, and it has been a real privilege to be learning from lawyers who also come from diverse and non-traditional backgrounds.
My biggest strength in obtaining pupillage was not ticking all of those boxes, but instead in the unique experiences that made me different to other students who might have gone to Oxbridge, or achieved a 1stclass degree or completed multiple mini-pupillages. Some of my own unique experiences ranged from working as a football coach at a premier league club, trading the financial markets professionally and starting and running my own company.
I think my best advice to aspiring barristers would be to figure out your unique selling point. All aspiring barristers are "dedicated", "hardworking" and have "wanted to be a barrister forever", many of them have also completed multiple mini-pupillages. So, what makes you different?
Think about the skills you'll need to practice effectively as a barrister and find creative ways of demonstrating them rather than just gaining the same experiences that everyone else has. I am not saying that you shouldn't be trying to gain those experiences because you should, but I think if you're going to make it, it's going to be because of the things that make you different. So, I would advise that you figure out what those things are.
An excellent place to start is spending some of your spare time chasing an old dream of yours. Your childhood dream is a good place to start: what did you want to do? Was it acting? Singing? Perhaps you wanted to write a book or to start a business? Or was it something else entirely? These are just some suggestions, but the point is that doing something away from the law can sometimes make you stand out from the crowd. The trick is to ensure that you can still demonstrate why that "unique" experience has better prepared you for a career as a barrister.
Your unique selling point is your strongest selling point. Value your difference.
Mass Ndow-Njie is a Pupil Barrister at the Government Legal Department. He volunteers for various organisations that aim to support aspiring lawyers from non-traditional backgrounds to access the profession.