Sophie Quinton-Carter reflects on her journey to the Bar as she marks Justice Week

‘Why do you want to be a criminal barrister?’ When choosing to pursue a career at the Bar, it’s the question every budding advocate dreads. “Because I just do”, we have all exhaled at some point.  

As we mark Justice Week, it made me think of my own journey to the Bar and how I have always answered that question. Last week, as an alumni of the Bar Mock Trial Competition, I was invited by Young Citizens to speak to students about my journey and I told them this story.  

For me the real answer originated 15 years ago, when a love of drama, public speaking and persuasive writing led me onto the Bar Mock Trial team of Kesteven and Grantham Girls’ School. 

At this point, I had no idea what career path I wanted to follow; but nothing could prepare me for the exhilarating rush of presenting a case to a judge and jury; interacting with witnesses and formulating arguments. 

Like every criminal practitioner who can’t help themselves, I’ll tell you about my first mock trial case in Nottingham... My team were defending an offence; defendant accused of spraying graffiti, one single prosecution witness. “So you told the court you saw the defendant spraying graffiti on the station wall?” I began. “No I didn’t actually see it,” came the reply from the opposing team’s witness. Panic set in. This was not how things were supposed to go. What about all my prepared questions on distance, lighting, timing? To this day I have no idea whether the response came from final round nerves, or a simple error of communication. Finally, coming back to reality and sensing victory, I paused, “No further questions…” and sat down. 

Anyone at the criminal Bar will tell you that rarely is a day ever quite that straightforward, but you’re certainly never short of a good story to share over dinner. I should probably take this opportunity to apologise to my long-suffering friends and family for that…

From that moment I knew that this was the profession for me. It is a unique career that affords the opportunity to grapple with different challenges, requires a truly open mind and allows you to play a pivotal role in giving both victims and defendants a voice.  

The experience in Nottingham took my team and I to the national finals in Cardiff, which in turn, led to the pursuit of a law degree and ultimately, pupillage.  

Every day is distinct – a different court, a different client, a different case. Whether prosecuting or defending, each case provides an opportunity to meet people from a wide variety of backgrounds. Every court appearance is a new learning experience, a new challenge and ultimately, the culmination of many years’ hard work.  

Each time I have the pleasure of working with students conducting mock trials, as judge or mentor, I reflect on my own experience, particularly the pride I feel now that I have the honour of conducting cases for real.  

I would recommend Bar Mock Trial to anyone. Its value, whether interested in the legal profession or not, is immense. The self-confidence, teamwork and analytical skills it provides to students cannot be underestimated; and if it encourages the next generation of criminal advocates, all the better. Without it, and I mean this sincerely, I wouldn’t be where I am today.

Making it to the Bar these days is no easy feat. The competition is vast; as the number of BPC graduates increases, the number of pupillages available takes the opposite track. There is also the financial pressure, only exacerbated by further cuts to legal aid and underinvestment in the criminal justice system.

However, Justice Week serves to remind us of the importance of legal services and access to justice. By building public understanding and support for the rule of law we can increase understanding of the justice system and the roles we play.

Although times are challenging, I would certainly not deter those who are committed to a career at the criminal Bar. The profession, and those at its heart, need you, now more than ever.

Sophie Quinton-Carter practices at Red Lion Chambers and is alumni member of the Bar Mock Trials hosted by the charity Young Citizens.