Eloise Le Santo got through pupillage at top set but decided the bar wasn’t for her
Eloise Le Santo has a very interesting story.
A single parent to two small children, one just a year old, in 2006 she decided to bite the bullet and do something she’d always wanted to do: pursue a career as a barrister.
Putting her advocacy skills to good use years before she qualified, Le Santo managed to persuade the University of Lincoln to let her enrol on their LLB course, despite her not having a single A-level to her name.
She threw herself into her law degree, got a first, went to bar school in Nottingham — and then came the hunt for the elusive pupillage.
Le Santo had her heart set on Matrix Chambers, a prestigious London-based set that specialises in human rights and public law. Lincoln Uni-educated Le Santo didn’t think she stood a chance:
I didn’t think I had a hope in hell of getting into Matrix. Matrix really was my dream set, but looking at profiles of juniors I just didn’t think I could compete with them.
But she could and she did.
Family in tow, Le Santo moved her entire life down to the capital. After a stint at the Law Commission — an independent body set up by parliament to review and recommend law reforms — she started her pupillage in 2012.
In what must read as a fairy tale for aspiring barristers, Le Santo then managed to secure tenancy at the big name set, that currently offers a hefty pupillage award of £50,000.
She was a successful junior barrister with buckets of potential; but fast forward three years, and things haven’t quite gone as one might expect for Le Santo.
She’s now a London-based personal trainer, yoga teacher and nutrition coach, who also runs her own wellness blog. Her barrister days, though just a few months behind her, are gone, she tells me. And she has no desire to reignite them. She continues:
There is just no way I’d go back. I feel I’ve just found the light at the end of the tunnel, and there’s no way I’d want to step into the darkness again.
Though they’re words that may make law students shudder, it’s clear from Le Santo’s story that thoughtful consideration of your career plan doesn’t always equal a happy career:
Once I got there, I realised being a barrister was everything I expected it to be, but I just didn’t enjoy it as much I expected to.
Speaking to Legal Cheek, Le Santo was very candid about her reasons for leaving her (and we’re sure many aspiring barristers’) dream job.
Ultimately, life at the junior bar is no walk in the park; it didn’t take Le Santo long to realise this. She explained:
I threw myself into my law degree and my BPTC and made a lot of personal sacrifices in the knowledge there was a deadline, an end to all this hard work: that I would finish whatever I was doing come September and could relax for a bit. I managed to keep this up during my pupillage, just telling myself ‘I just have to keep working this hard until my pupillage is up.’ Then I got taken on, and I realised there was no deadline anymore; I really would be working this hard for the rest of my life.
In the end, Le Santo confessed the whole experience was starting to make her ill. It was during this time she found sanctuary and comfort in fitness and nutrition, and began to think idly about a career change. Come the beginning of this year, Le Santo took time out to think long and hard about what she really wanted from her life — and the bar wasn’t it.
But did she make the right decision?
Many will think Le Santo has made a mistake. She has waved goodbye to the — pretty much unparalleled — prestige that comes with working at a top set, as well as the huge financial costs and time commitments inherent in barrister training.
Le Santo knows this. She admits personal training, financially anyway, just isn’t in the same league as advocacy — but that doesn’t mean she has regrets:
I can totally understand why some people would think I’m crazy, and really it’s that that stopped me quitting for such a long time. Matrix is an amazing place to be, but now I’m just so much happier.
For aspiring barristers feeling disheartened and confused by Le Santo’s story, she has some advice for you:
I wouldn’t want to discourage anyone from a career at the bar but I think you need to think very, very carefully. The junior bar is a stressful place, and given the financial investment involved I’d definitely caution people.
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