Day of action: ‘My uni mates went to magic circle firms, I chose the criminal Bar’

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By Alex Aldridge on

23 Essex Street junior Vicky Gainza finds the Crown Prosecution Service’s (CPS) threat to withhold work from striking barristers scary — but not as scary as the alternative of doing nothing to prevent the government’s legal aid cuts.

26 year-old barrister Vicky Gainza could have followed her mates from university into a lucrative job at a big-paying magic circle law firm. Instead, she opted to follow her heart and join the criminal Bar.

Bad move, you may think, but Gainza — who graduated top in her college from Cambridge University in 2009 — doesn’t regret her choice because she still “cares passionately” about what she does. Accordingly, despite struggling to get by on earnings of around £20,000 last year, she is going nowhere…for now, she told me when we caught up for a chat over coffee in King’s Cross.

“I will stick around for as long as I can afford to pay my rent and my travel,” she says. “I care passionately about what I do, and that is the reason why, when many of my very talented classmates from university have gone on to careers in magic circle law firms, I chose to come to the criminal Bar.”

However, when pushed Gainza acknowledges that there may “come a time when I need to start thinking about another a viable career option,” adding: “If I’m forced out it will be the Bar’s loss.”

Few would surely disagree with her, including — one imagines — the CPS, which last week issued a warning to barristers that they may lose work if they strike. The threat, made by Chief Crown Prosecutor for London Baljit Ubhey, unnerved Gainza, but not to the extent that she considered abandoning her participation in the day of action.

“At this stage we’re more worried about what would happen if we didn’t take a stand…so yes, it is a concern but actually I think the good relationships our chambers and other chambers have with the CPS will survive any perceived letting them down on Friday.”

Other barristers are making the same calculation as they prepare for tomorrow in a climate of unprecedented anger. Despite the government’s legal aid cut announcement, the determination of formidable characters like Gainza suggest that this one is far from over.

Listen to my conversation in full with Gainza in the podcast below.