Aged 16 I took part in a mock trial for state school kids, now I’m a pupil barrister at a top commercial chambers

Legal Cheek finds out how participating in the Citizenship Foundation’s Bar National Mock Trial Competition helped launch Sophia Hurst’s career

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Law firms and chambers love private school kids.

It’s undeniable: top lawyers are ten times more likely to be privately educated than anyone else. The state school-educated — despite making up more than 90% of the population — just have to do that bit more to make it big in the fiercely competitive world of legal practice.

Luckily, the profession is beginning to open its eyes to its pitiful lack of diversity, and state school kids now have the support of social mobility programmes like the Bar Council’s placement week, Pathways to Law, and the Citizenship Foundation’s annual Bar National Mock Trial Competition.

The 2016 edition of the latter is fast approaching. It’s exactly what it says on a tin: an opportunity for students to have a good go at playing lawyer, and learn a bit about the criminal justice system at the same time. It’s open to youngsters in years 10 to 13 of state schools only and, given the bar’s overwhelming preference for public school kids, it’s a piece of CV boosting that’s not to be sniffed at.

Legal Cheek spoke to Sophia Hurst, a pupil barrister, to find out how she’d used the competition as a springboard.

Hurst took part in the mock trial twice — once in her final year at Summerhill School in Dudley, West Midlands, and once in sixth form at King Edward VI College, Stourbridge.

The “eye-opening” experience, she explained, gave her that motivational push to bump her barrister dreams along into fruition. She recalls:

I had thought vaguely about a career in the law [before doing the trial] but I didn’t really know what it all meant.

Playing advocate made her realise that being a barrister felt a good fit, and made her feel motivated to go on. Speaking about the trial, she continued:

It was a fun thing to do anyway and it gives you a better understanding of the legal system, and that’s beneficial to anyone, not just people interested in a legal career.

Having taken part in the trial once before, Hurst — who is currently at top commercial set Serle Court — was delighted when she made it to the national final on her second go. The competition was held in a real courtroom in Cardiff, and local members of the bar even came down to watch. It was no doubt nerve-wracking, she remembers, but fun and exciting at the same time, plus the healthy dose of team rivalry spurred her on to give a good performance. While her school didn’t win, she still looks upon the experience favourably.

For starters, it looked good on her personal statement. When it came to applying for universities — including Oxford, where Hurst eventually went on to study, achieving a first — mentioning the trial definitely came in handy. She told us:

It’s increasingly hard to show you’re committed to something. The trial was a focal point to me — it gave me something to talk about.

Speaking to Hurst, it’s clear that the programme demands a significant time commitment. Each participating school is sent over the same documents for the same, fictitious case. For former Law Commission research assistant Hurst, who recently completed the Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC) at the University of Law having achieved a distinction in the prestigious Bachelor of Civil Laws masters, sifting through the papers and practicing her advocacy skills was hard but rewarding work. Having decided she was going to apply for law school by this point, Hurst described it as a time commitment worth making.

Speaking about Hurst’s advice for wannabe barristers, she urged students to make sure a career in this tough and competitive industry is really what you want to do — and the best way to do this is to try it out. Go to careers events, do mini-pupillages, do work experience places, otherwise you’ll never know. Unsurprisingly then, when we asked her if she’d recommend the Citizenship Foundation mock trial, she replied “definitely.” She added:

The competition is fierce, but you’ve got to back yourself.

This year’s Citizenship Foundation Bar National Mock Trial will be held at the Old Bailey on 23 April.

31 Comments

Anonymous

Not particularly shocking that she got pupillage when she went to Oxford and got the BCL Totally negates the State schooling.
Portraying it as a rags to riches story is misleading. Obviously, quite impressive going to Oxford after a State School but hardly groundbreaking she pulled pupillage.

(61)(14)
Tyrion

I don’t think the purpose of the article was to shock, just merely to illustrate how the bar is being opened up.

I honestly don’t know when people will be happy, maybe if someone with a third from Anglia Ruskin get pupillage at one essex court some of you guys will finally be satisfied. She went from a state school to a selective sixth form, to top her years at Oxford and then to the bar, and people still want to dismiss it as ‘oh well she went to oxford, typical’.

(24)(4)
Quo Vadis

The real scandal is how variable the quality of state education can be. I went to an elite grammar school, and had a wonderful education. A few hundred yards down the road was the local comprehensive, which served as the ‘overspill’ from the grammar school and was perpetually in special measures. Entry to the grammar school was governed by catchment (i.e. who can afford a house close to the school) and the 11 plus (i.e. who can afford to tutor their children to pass an extremely obtuse and prescriptive exam). The original mission of the grammar school (providing an excellent education for bright children, regardless of background) has been forgotten. Money has trumped ability. The grammar schools have now essentially been ‘captured’ by the pushier elements of the middle class. Parents with the money, time or experience to help their children prepare for the entrance exam can win a very great prize indeed. Their children can enjoy an education with all the rigour, tradition and social segregation one would see at the local private school, but with a key difference – the fees are paid for by you and me. The outlook for children whose parents do not have these advantages is very bleak indeed. Imagine being sent to the local sink school, as a child of 11, because you have failed an utterly incomprehensible exam and are thus branded a failure for the rest of your school career. Imagine what an impact that has upon that child’s life. I have many bright friends who went through this treatment and never came out the other side. It is they who we ought to feel sorry for.

(12)(1)
Tyrion

Whilst I very much agree with you, and liked your comment, I’m afraid that it will be difficult to remove privilege from the education system. I too went to a grammar school and had a great education. I didn’t come from great wealth, but nor was I from an estate. The thing is I had “pushy” ambitious parents, and that is the key. Wealth will of course help, but without the parental guidance and ambition, a kid is doomed, and the State cannot save every child in that situation. Its easy to blame the system or the rich, but many people have to lay the blame at their own feet for how their kids turn out.

(6)(1)
Anonymous

How the **** is someone who got into Oxford, got a first and then did the BCL a demonstration of the Bar being opened up?

This woman is a token. No doubt she worked hard to get it, but lets face it – she was always going to get pupillage. She hasn’t come from a deprived background merely because she went to a state school.

(0)(3)
A Barrister

The Bar National Mock Trial is an excellent scheme which I can’t praise highly enough. My Sixth Form College entered in 1999 and I had the experience of conducting advocacy before a number of judges at Nottingham Crown Court. I’ve now been at the Bar for just over 10 years.

Well done to the Citizenship Foundation, and well done to LC for highlighting this competition.

(20)(2)
Anonymous

The First from Oxford makes her schooling completely irrelevant. Manifestly, a very bright talented woman: meritocracy rules. She deserves to do well.

(53)(3)
Crime Pupil

State schoolers are already common place at the bar and have been for many years. It’s a damning indictment of the current state of social mobility that Legal Cheek feels it needs to put its article in these terms.

If I could give fellow state schoolers some advice: the bar is very much open to you and it always will be. Prove your academic credentials at university, and the rest will fall into place.

(21)(4)
Anonymous

Nah Bruv. State schoolers are common at yu crim bar, not at the rest.

Dats cos crime is dead easy and there no money in it, innit?

(0)(1)
Anonymous

Her sixth form college was a highly selective school with an Outstanding rating. I doubt a public school would have given any additional advantage.

Yes, public school pupils are proportionally more likely to get into Oxbridge, but it’s worth remembering that most entrants to Oxbridge went to state school.

(11)(1)
Anonymous

All the statistics show that most pupils are state-educated. This appears not to suit Legal Cheek’s prejudices.

(9)(3)
babyb

King Edward VI College is highly selective and appears to be fee paying given it has a scholarships and bursaries section. In any event fee paying or not, it’s one of the top ten sixth forms nationally, hardly an ordinary education. She then went on to get a First from Oxford and a distinction in the BCL far more important I would suggest in her obtaining pupillage at a “top” set

(5)(2)
Anonymous

It obviously isn’t fee-paying when the bursaries are small amounts to cover travel costs to college

(0)(0)
babyb

Regardless it is hardly a standard state school is it? Which is what I stated in my original point if you read it in full before commenting however, to help you, here is the pertinent bit: “In any event fee paying or not, it’s one of the top ten sixth forms nationally, hardly an ordinary education. “

(0)(0)
Anonymous

That’s a list of independent sixth form colleges. King Eds is a state school and is not fee paying. It get’s quite a few of its students to Oxford and Cambridge (and other good universities) thanks to the effort put in by its teachers to run extension courses (teaching material not on the A-level syllabus), debating classes, the national mock trial etc. The premise of this entire article is deeply patronising.

-Another King Eds’ alum, Oxford alum, now ‘top’ (perhaps to old to be ‘rookie’) commercial chancery barrister.

(5)(2)
Anonymous

What does it even matter about the sixth form? Yes, the article is patronising, and that’s because Legal Cheek chose to use the final of Bar Mock Trial (which is a really good initiative) to write yet another piece on diversity. So, someone who was obviously asked to talk about their experience of a competition of which the national final is taking place next week, which is supposedly the point of the article, is now getting scrutinised in the comments section on whether she was too privileged a state-school student to count as a success story.

(8)(0)
babyb

I was quoting the principal “one of the top ten sixth form colleges nationally”, if that’s wrong you might want to tell her not me.

(0)(1)
Anonymous

That’s a link to a list of private and independent schools/colleges.
King Edward VI College in Stourbridge is a state sixth form college.

(0)(0)
Boh Dear

“Individual with Oxford 1st and distinction on the BCL finds penny on floor. Penny-finding solely attributed to professional legal success”

(6)(5)
Anonymous

This post has been removed because it breaches Legal Cheek’s comments policy.

(2)(2)
SoK

Went to an inner-city state school in London where 90% of students spoke English as second language; schools funds were dry so students didn’t know what after schools activities were, let along taking part in debating competitions and mock trials; had to work part-time during uni to afford it; went to non-Oxbridge but then turned it around, perhaps did a BCL and then got onto the Bar.

Find me that story and then I will call it progress! Enough of this faux-equality at the Bar.

(4)(2)
Tootingite

Closest I can get to that is Sadiq Khan, MP for Tooting. Comprehensive followed by Uni N London. Not a barrister but appointed partner in his first law firm after 3yrs in practice. Close enough?

(1)(0)
Anonymous

Whilst I am happy that programmes like the Mock Trial Competition exist, this is a false “rags-to-riches” story. What’s more, the Bar has its head far more up the ass of Oxbridge graduates than private-school kids – and I am aware of the correlation between the two.

(0)(2)

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