You know those sitcom episodes where they simply air a montage of flashbacks instead of featuring a new story? Those always irritate me (much as I otherwise unreservedly love the show Friends). Regardless, I am going to drink from that well because this is a topic which warrants repeat visits. I speak, of course, about social mobility.
To inform my New Year’s resolutions, I have been reflecting on my role as a Bar Council advocate and thought that now was as good a time as any to proffer some thoughts on what I have learned since taking up the mantle in October 2021.
First, the highlights reel: I was motivated to pursue the Bar Council role because of the difficulties I had in obtaining pupillage. Dozens of applications, a score of interviews and plenty of time for self-evaluation led me to question those circumstances beyond my control: where I come from, where I went to school, how I speak and so on. Of course, I banged on the door long and hard enough that it eventually opened.
That I finally succeeded in realising my ambition prompted me to use the platform to raise awareness about the importance of social mobility and I have been grateful for the support of, among many others, the Bar Council, Lincoln’s Inn and, of course, the Government Legal Department. With that in mind, I note as follows:
Patience is a virtue
It is so easy to forget when you have become steeped in the mythos of the Bar, learned its tricks (or at least some of them) and worked out its idiosyncrasies, that all of those things are completely alien for many just starting out. We may be au fait with the terminology and processes and so on, but everyone begins somewhere and many who come from 'non-traditional' backgrounds (a horrible phrase, but convenient shorthand nevertheless) may know nothing more than the very basics (for example, a barrister wears a wig and goes to court and argues in front of a judge and jury).
I know from experience the value of the kindness and understanding of professional colleagues who took the time to offer insight and encouragement. I would urge my colleagues at the Bar to bear that in mind when next asked something which might otherwise seem obvious to us.
Experience is key
Speaking of experience, I truly believe and reiterate ad nauseum that everything we do and have done has informed our outlook and approach to things; moreover, there is inherent value in that. The Bar, like much else besides, is at its best when it more closely reflects the pluralism of society, rather than being the preserve of a caricature which thinks and acts along similar lines.
When applying for vacancies, pupil applicants should craft a narrative with a throughline that demonstrates how they have logically come to this point through their accumulated experiences. The next step is learning how to apply as appropriate the lessons from those experiences in practice.
Perseverance will out
For some it is much harder than others, sometimes unfairly so. However, if I didn’t believe this I wouldn’t be where I am now: you cannot give up. The frustrations may often seem insurmountable, but your resolve strengthens and hopefully by the time you get into practice you will be a more effective lawyer because you appreciate how difficult it can be to get here. If anyone takes only one thing away from anything I say or do on this subject, it is the importance of persevering.
By way of conclusion, let me say this to those of you who are aspiring practitioners. Yes, there will be certain common skills and attributes which most barristers will likely possess. However, if anyone implores you to accept that there is but one archetype as to what makes a good barrister, consider that a 'moo' point; as Joey Tribbiani taught us, like a cow’s opinion, it doesn’t matter. What does matter is that you ask the questions, use your background and experiences to your advantage and keep going.
And with that, back to scheduled programming…
Jack Meek is a barrister at the Government Legal Department, currently working for the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. He has been a Bar Council Social Mobility Advocate since 2021.