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Top criminal QC: ‘Let’s give disadvantaged kids role models beyond pop stars and YouTubers’

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Chris Daw QC’s social mobility film featured on BBC1’s The One Show goes viral among profession

Chris Daw QC

In a punchy and very personal film called Raising the Bar, Serjeants’ Inn barrister Chris Daw QC has called for more mentoring and inspirational talks in schools by the legal profession to combat the number of pupils with “no aspirations or ambitions whatsoever”.

“For me the barriers to the profession start at an early age: school-age kids without a decent education and without supportive parents are giving up. They don’t — they can’t — see themselves as being professionals,” he told Legal Cheek in a follow-up interview this morning.

Daw, who specialises in crime and fraud, argues that “mentoring is one way to replace the lack of parental input in kids’ lives”, and talks in schools from professionals will combat the celebrity-aspiration issue.

The short film, which has had more than 16,000 views on LinkedIn mostly by lawyers, was featured in last week’s episode of BBC1’s magazine programme, The One Show. In it, Daw tells his story from mediocre state comprehensive in Milton Keynes to top-of-his-profession criminal barrister at the Old Bailey.

He kicks off: “Most people think that to be a specialist barrister you have to be born with a silver spoon in your mouth. That was not the case for me.” Daw had, he explains, “an ordinary upbringing, my dad worked on building sites seven days a week.” But a fortuitous careers questionnaire that he filled in suggested he think about being a barrister or an actor. The seed had been planted and was then nurtured by him “spending hours and hours” sitting in crown courts watching jury trials.

Daw was inspired to apply to Manchester University to read law and studied for the bar at the Inns of Court in London. Taking silk in 2013, Daw has in his career has represented a whole range of clients, from notorious drug barons through to footballer John Terry (in his racism charge) and, currently, the retired police chief superintendent during the Hillsborough disaster.

The film has been a huge hit online, prompting a virtual standing ovation from a number of lawyers on LinkedIn as well as sparking a debate about the barriers to social mobility in legal and how best to help the next generation overcome them. One legal counsel disagreed with Daw’s focus on aspirations, arguing that it is barriers to entry that is key here. He writes: “We need [to] go further than giving kids career aspirations. They should have tangible career opportunities. For that, there needs to be systemic change. Without [it], what’s the point of aspiring to it?”

But Daw is passionate in the belief, a belief that he tries to get across to pupils at his alma mater secondary school in his film, that “anyone from anywhere can do anything.” He says in his talk:

“Think about what you want to do, set the limit as high as you like: the only person who sets limits is you.”

Or as he puts it to Legal Cheek: “I went into advocacy believing that it was the best job in the world and I still believe it 25 years later. I am living proof that if you have that level of passion and enthusiasm for something, and commit 100% to it every day, then you will make it.”

Barristers interested in boosting access to the bar can register with the Bar Council’s Barristers in Schools scheme.

40 Comments

Anonymous

I can understand why the tabloids seem unable to use ‘QC’ in a headline without prefacing it with ‘Top’, but here?

Anonymous

“Racism charge”?

Racism is not a crime, dear Legal Journalists.

Just Anonymous

Indeed. And if you’re going to explicitly reference that incident, you should probably clarify that Terry was found not guilty.

Anonymous

“Not guilty”

Well, he was acquitted at the magistrates court of a public order offence, but disciplined by the FA for racial abuse. https://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/football/19723020

Anonymous

Was it not a charge levied by the FA in professional disciplinary proceedings? If you are going to be a pedant at least check your facts.

Anonymous

Your typical plumber makes more than a criminal barrister, mostly as people with money have problems with plumbing much more often then they commit crimes

Anonymous

So what’s aspirational? Being a criminal barrister subsisting on magistrates court fees, or owning a plumbing company?

Barry G

“Think about what you want to do, set the limit as high as you like: the only person who sets limits is you.”

This is the standard 21st Century line, very attractive to politicians, kids and their parents, but it happens to be pernicious bullshit. No successful person wants to admit the enormous role luck plays in life.

There’s something so tedious and self-serving about mediocre barristers doing the whole “my Dad grew up in a mine and look at me now!” schtick.

Also, there’s nothing particularly amazing about being a barrister. Some people, like me, quite enjoy it. But it’s basically an enormous pain in the arse most of the time. And there’s a really unpleasant snobbery in the endless references to builders and bus-drivers and all the other jobs these people impliedly sneer at. Your average builder is a hell of a lot happier than your average barrister.

Anonymous

Quite. A barrister is no more clever than any other professional.

Anonymous

Yes. That barristers, and plenty of solicitors, bang on about opening up paths into the profession for poor kids, kids suffering from poor parenting, disadvantaged kids, working class kids, or whatever other patronising label they choose, says more about the lawyers’ high view of themselves than anything else.

There are plenty of much more interesting jobs which are just as socially useful. Starting up a record label, running clubs and events, art and design, film making, food and hospitality, professional sports and athletics, the performing arts, the creative industries, any number of manual trades etc etc…they’re all more varied, fun and challenging than dressing up and boring clients in cons and judges and jurors in court.

Glorification of the bar is really a lower-middle class thing. The posh just take it for granted; the working class (in its traditional sense) see nothing great about it; and neither is afflicted by a Hyacinth Bucket complex.

Hyacinth

It’s “Bouquet”

Licia

Totally. I had a proper old-fashioned common-as-muck (and happy as you like) hairdresser about a decade ago who asked me what I did. When I told her I was a barrister she pulled a face bordering on disgust – “Ain’t that like still bein’ at school?”

With that ability to “get straight to the heart of the matter” she’d have probably made an excellent barrister. If only she’d had someone like Chris Daw to tell her how marvellous it is, she too could have spent her days having arguments with arseholes about another arsehole’s problems!

Anonymous

Bill Connolly declared that toffs and the working class are one and the same. Both are according to him whackos.

Only the ones in the middle cause problems ! According to him.

The skit is called toffs dinner party. Give it a watch.

Anonymous

The problem with the Bar reducing its public face to a long running version of the Monty Python skit about Northern millionaires boasting about how hard they had it when they were young is that it never confronts the flip side of its virtue-signalling coin, namely, downward mobility.

If the Bar Council is honest about what it is doing, it should declare that all the children of those gritty success stories that it likes to laud, are, as the spawn of their now bourgeois barrister parents, Class Enemies.

Barry G

1000%. Best comment I’ve ever read on here. Perhaps the idea is that the ancien regime be discriminated against for evermore, but people from families in which someone was doing a blue collar job later than about 1950 will always be considered revolutionaries no matter how many generations of bankers there have been since.

The corporate harem king

The Yoof need to realise how much money can be made from being a lawyer, especially in commercial and torts. They need to realise that with the kind of money they can make they can have access to best looking thoty secretaries, and the finest and purest coke.

These fools need to understand that there are other ways to tap the thickest women, than becoming a “YouTube star” or some wannabe rapper.

In my experience law provides it all money, women, power, and drugs.

I really feel that as a profession lawyers need to reach out to young people, with a video showcasing the finest showcasing the lawyer (typically tort-commercial) lifestyle, I’m talking about big ass video hoes, champaigne, charlie, gettin drained everyday by the seccy after hours.

Modern law practice is a walk in the park. Most of the time it’s just copying and pasting lexis nexis template and getting some desperate paralegal to all the remaining work and finding a mug of client stupid enough to pay for what is essentially a free template.

Scouser of Counsel

I endorse what this guy says 100%.

Anonymous

Sorry, who won the take away?

Anonymous

Rather be a popular YouTube star win good cpm and brand deals who can nail lots of impressionable sluts at summer in the city.

Anonymous

I know what you want to be but what you are is a, wanker.

Anonymous

How is this even a question?
Make ££££ to make a bunch of idiotic videos or be a paper pusher for maybe decent £ (and maybe true shit £ if you’re doing legal aid)?
Such a hard choice

Chris Daw QC

Some of these comments are disappointing and I think misguided.

Social mobility is not about the superiority of one career over another. It is about empowering kids to fulfil their potential, which can only happen if they believe they can do so.

I have visited and spoken at schools and colleges up and down the country, not just my old school in the BBC piece.

The consistent message from teachers, parents and students, in more disadvantaged / underfunded schools, is that levels of aspiration are at rock bottom. This leads to a lack of interest in education and poor academic achievement, which in turn severely limits career options for a lifetime.

My message is not “you can be a QC like me” but “you can be whatever you want to be”. My choice was to become a barrister and for me it was the right choice. 25 years in I still believe it is the best job in the world for me.

For others it might be any number of things, many of which require luck and natural talent as well as incredibly hard work.

Many readers of Legal Cheek are aspiring lawyers, including from “non traditional” backgrounds. They and their families will have made great efforts and sacrifices to get this far.

I hope they will not be put off my some of the negative comments about the profession from those who may not feel like I do about it.

Anonymous

Dear Chris

The comments on this website rarely fail to disappoint. Quite why encouraging kids to aim high would attract criticism is beyond me.

Many thanks for the work you have done.

Keep it up.

Anonymous

What pupillage award does your chamber pay? Does it support baby barrister incomes, and if so at what level? What kind of work do junior juniors at your chamber tend to do, and are you aware of how well it’s paid?

Having answered these Qs, do you perhaps appreciate why those from poorer backgrounds might not find the shit sandwich you’re hawking all that appealing?

Chris Daw QC

All the answers are here. The headlines –

1. £55k in year 1.
2. Yes
3. See the comments of pupils on the website. Junior juniors are busy, properly paid and supported at Serjeants’ Inn.

Not all chambers are the same.

https://www.serjeantsinn.com/join-us/pupillage/

Anonymous

Whatever criticisms there might be of Mr Daw’s message, he’s seen off that (intemperate and rude) comment without any difficulty!

Anonymous

Yes, show some respect for the silk, you utter bowel-voids!

TGr

I’m sorry to see that after putting so much heart into your video that it has been met with derisive comments.

To people who must work alongside studying for law school, or any professional vocation, you are an inspiration sir.

Anonymous

But one can’t be whatever one wants to be. Life doesn’t work that way. One needs to have the aptitude to begin with regardless of talent and capacity for hardwork.

I’m not a STEM/maths guy. Thus I couldn’t become a doctor a profession which I deem eminently noble. Despite how hard I may work science and maths were subjects in which I barely scrapped a pass. Does it mean that I’ve failed ? No, I moved on.

Hardwork which is necessary at the Bar isn’t the only guarantee, nor is talent. Luck however maybe.

The ones with stellar grades will/do practice in the more lucrative areas of the law.

The others will have to struggle especially at the Criminal bar. And most will not be rolling in it.

So no matter how much access is widened practice at the Bar is a gamble for students. The pay in the beginning just isn’t good enough.

That’s assuming one secures pupillage, which regardless of how many people aspire to them almost all but a few will be rejected.

Hell, according to chambers students there are 510 pupillage spots in 2017/18 for 1624 enrolments to the BPTC for 2017/18 and there are overall 3000 applicants annually.

The Bar by design is a small profession.
Solicitors far outnumber barristers.

140k solicitors to some 30,000ish barristers.

So how is it all right to tell children that you can be whatever you wanted to be if you’re talented and work hard. I wonder if luck as a factor ever highly emphasised ?

The Bar at least requires a heavy dosage of luck and so does success in life.

Anonymous

Realistic options for non-trust fundies in the modern U.K.:
1. Manual trades
2. Some kind of number crunching or paper pushing to add 0.05% to Corp profits
3. Porn

Everything else is strictly the preserve of people with £1m ++ inheritances or access to large amounts of start up capital in the short term (or both)

Anonymous

Commercial law fits into 2. but is it even the best form of white collar Corp drudgery? Debatably finance, marketing, even accountancy are closer to the bottom line and so have a clearer P and L for the employer.
No surprise that the C suite is filled with accountants, finance, marketers but the only lawyers there are in strictly legal roles!

Anonymous

And I speak as someone who has done 1, is doing 2, and have considered 3 on more than one occasion

JonJon

It’s because all the Solicitors hero worship the senior profession so much that the Barristers get so big headed

Anonymous

TRU

Anonymous

I love this self promotion from a man who gave up doing any legal aid work years ago as it didn’t pay enough

Anonymous

Only trust fund kids do legal aid work – sad!!!

Cross Counsel

Absolutely right he did, and to be honest most would trade up the self same way in order to have some quality of life back. When the money means you’re unable to pay the mortgage the goodwill fades to grey and eventually becomes dust. After 22 and a half years of me doing the job I agree it’s still the best, but the silks have destroyed AGFS funding to line their own pockets at the expense of the rest of us. At leas Chris wasn’t one of that merry band of self serving kiss asses.

Future Trainee

“Daw, who specialises in crime and fraud…”

Wow… the profession really is widening access to law!

Anonymous

Chris Daw QC.

Let’s see. You want more social mobility.

First step, stop hawking around this “QC” title. We are in the modern world now, we have the internet, and we are not impressed by the hypocritical establishment telling us “social mobility” on the one hand and pulling rank on the other.

Second step, you can start to campaign to end the closed shop for barristers. That means no more artificial restrictions on the license to practise (i.e. pupillage). You misrepresent this as quality control but you know perfectly well that there is an infinitude of incompetence at the Bar most of which arises because incumbents have articificially limited competition from potential incomers. Of course, you get agitated whenever any working Brits oppose your God-given right to hire a Polish nanny or builder at bargain basement prices, all the while externalizing the costs of said Polish nanny/builder’s extended family drawing on public services from now until the end of time.

So Chris, mate, do yourself a favour and address the points that really would bring fairness and quality to the profession.

But I’m not holding my breath.

Anonymous

Hilariously, Monty Python many years ago anticipated this, and the classic sketch is here: https://youtu.be/VAdlkunflRs

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