Ed note: This is the fourth in a series of posts where leading members of the legal profession share their wisdom with the next generation of wannabes. The first three are here. We’re featuring one-a-week in the run-up to ‘Legal Cheek at the Google Campus‘ on 5 December.
When I dropped out of school to ride horses and work in a bar I thought I knew everything, writes Felicity Gerry. It took me four years to realise that in order to properly exercise my brain and do everything I was capable of achieving, I needed an education. The rest is history.
I take the starting point of my career as a barrister as exam week at Bar school. I completed the multiple choice questions, filed a final piece of coursework and submitted the answers to written questions provided by 2 Crown Office Row in their interviewing process #EpicFail.
It was all law and no action. That changed with a party on the Friday night, a dustbin full of Pimms and an electric skateboard. The ensuing trip to A&E was a sobering moment and an opportunity to reflect on the lack of balance in my life. Ask yourselves what you want to be and why, without having to suffer a bang on the head.
As for the day I started my pupillage, typically for me, I had a spectacular start. On day one I was in Market Harborough Magistrates Court where my pupil master was being led by James Hunt QC (later Hunt J) in a murder by poisoning live committal. To be honest, it was all just like it is on the telly – only better. The advocacy ranged from particular to engaging to stupendous. It was so cool, but for advocates then, as it still is now, it was a duty – albeit an exciting one.
So what is my advice? I know now that advocacy very much depends on what you bring to a case in terms of preparation and presentation. Preparation is an education as you research, learn and understand issues, evidence and science. Every day is a challenge and a new chance to learn something interesting. In the early days I was star struck. Now I am expected to put on my own show.
On my first day in the Crown Court my pupil master’s client exhorted him to “fight the good fight”. It sounded trite, particularly since it related to a planning appeal. But although I didn’t know it then, he was right. This is what we have to do every day.
Many will tell you that you’ll learn to deal with misogyny, inequality, and a progressive lack of quality and inefficiency. They are right, but the good fight is to make sure everyone receives a fair trial no matter who they are or what the cause, nor how you are treated. Your duty is an exciting one and it is something you should never forget, even when the Pimms and the parties beckon.
Felicity Gerry is a criminal barrister dealing with serious and complex cases, legal media commentator, co-author of The Sexual Offences Handbook, member of the Bar Council Public Affairs Committee and mother of three.