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
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.