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Sainsbury’s shelf-stacker turned Doughty Street barrister becomes one of Inner Temple’s youngest benchers

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Amal Clooney chamber mate breaks 650-year record

Tunde Okewale (credit: Instagram @tundeokewale)

Celebrity barrister Tunde Okewale has added another string to his bow and been honoured master of the bench of Inner Temple, one of the youngest in its 650-year history.

The 35-year-old crime specialist at Doughty Street Chambers was elected governing bencher earlier this month. He shared the news with his 15,000 Twitter followers over the weekend. “Looking forward to playing a useful role”, he wrote.

A bencher is a senior member of one of the four Inns of Court. They are barristers (typically, but not always, Queen’s Counsel) elected in recognition of the contribution made to an Inn or to the law. A bencher, among other things, governs the Inn’s finances. They hold office for life once elected.

The Nigerian-born lawyer, who grew up on a council estate in Hackney, east London, has spoken candidly about his modest upbringing and graft to get into law. Okewale revealed he worked the fruit and veg section in Sainsbury’s in Dalston while studying law at London Metropolitan University in an interview with The Times (£).

Despite graduating with a 2.2 Okewale hustled his way to the bar:

“For six months I asked every customer who came into the store and every person who worked in Sainsbury’s: did they know anybody who worked in law who could give me work experience? That’s how I did it. If you don’t ask, the answer is always no.”

He eventually bagged a mini-pupillage with his colleague’s dad and ended up at famed criminal law set Doughty Street Chambers — the same set as human rights barrister and Hollywood style icon Amal Clooney.

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Since then the junior barrister, who was called in 2007, has appeared before the Old Bailey on a string of high profile murder cases. He is one of the most followed barristers on Instagram, nabbed a spot on GQ magazine’s ‘cool’ list and has even been awarded an MBE. Okewale founded charity Urban Lawyers in 2010 to promote access to the legal profession among those marginalised in society.

The reception to Okewale’s rags to riches story has been overwhelmingly positive, with blogging barrister hopeful, Blessing at the bar, tweeting:

“Hearing about how innovative [Okewale] was about finding experience whilst working in a supermarket reminds me of how I got my first legal experience working as a waitress in a pub because I had no legal connections!”

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65 Comments

Leeds Beckett BA Law (Hons)

So it’s really quite easy to get pupillage at a top chambers then? Why do I keep hearing otherwise. Would Blackstone or Matrix be better assuming I have the choice?

Anonymous

You’ve completely missed the point of the article and are assuming he got pupillage at Doughty Street and not that he moved there at a later stage in his career…
It is hard to get pupillage, full stop.

Anonymous

Yes, and this bloke travels around university campuses in his silly pinstripe double breasted suits telling people at average universities that they can do exactly what he did…the reality is they can’t and it’s likely to cause capable students of becoming fixated on the ‘bar route’ when they should opt for a training contract for the financial security, better chance of getting on etc.

Anonymous

Yep. For every one rags to riches barrister story like his, there are hundreds that ended in disappointment.

Steve Bor

Yeah he only started at DSC in May 2011, so he would’ve been somewhere else for about four years. Presumably got a doctorate at some point too, so that would explain the lack of need for a higher class of undergraduate degree.

Not Oxbridge and proud

Everyone seems to be missing the point! Whilst it’s brilliant that Tunde got pupillage at Doughty Street Chambers. There is no way on earth that his application would have been looked at by a top-tier commercial set such as Essex Court, One Essex Court, Brick Court, Fountain Court, Blackstone etc. They barely look at candidates who didn’t go to Oxbridge, yet alone candidates with a 2:2 from London Met.

Tunde has clearly worked hard to be where he is. It just goes to show that it shouldn’t really matter what university you went to. Not doing great at A Levels and going to a mediocre university doesn’t make you less academic. A lot of people develop academically at university. Granted, even this didn’t happen for Tunde. It happened at an even later stage when he completed his PhD.

The question is when are the commercial sets going to realise different people develop in different ways? When are they going to realise that Oxbridge isn’t the be all and end all?

Anonymous

“Not doing great at A Levels and going to a mediocre university doesn’t make you less academic.”

It by definition means that you are thick and badly educated.

ZONE 1

2.2 London met isn’t great.

Why the signet ring.

Also whats with everyone looking into the distance writing quotes about nobody wanting you to succeed.

Anonymous

I like to think that competence is the most important determinant of professional success.

Anonymous

He also has the last button on his waistcoat closed.

Anonymous

His tie is somewhat uncouth as well.

Anonymous

So, for the purposes of a ‘legal publication’ DSC is primarily known for Amal Clooney? Rather than (for example) Geoffrey Robinson, or Helena Kennedy?

I’d expect that from some shitty, vacuous, empty-headed Buzzfeed-type set up, which is exactly why it comes as no surprise to read it here.

Anonymous

lol relax..

Anonymous

Geoffrey Robertson* (Robinson is an MP) 😉

Anonymous

That mistake makes 11:48’s criticism look a bit shit really.

Fritz Kodagoda

Anyone with even a nodding acquaintance with the development of the legal profession knows that that those who made Doughty Street Chambers without doubt really doughty were the pioneers like Geoffrey Robertson QC and Helena Kennedy QC now Baroness, Edward Fitzgerald QC, Kier Starmer QC, Ben Emerson QC and superbly managed by Christine Kings and her team. One has only to read Helena’s Eve Was Framed to realise that those from even non traditional backgrounds could climb to the highest peaks of the profession by hard work and dedication.

Random passer-by

Well done Tunde. Good job.

Anonymous

Who instructs counsel with a 2:2

Anon

I am Counsel with a 2.2 and I get instructed regularly by the same law firms and have to turn work away as too busy. Many reasons people get a 2.2 and some of the best known judges have that degree. I do not put on a posh voice, I do not behave as it is perceived on tv with the plum in the mouth, be yourself and down to earth you will go further. If you pretend to be something you are not it will show through.

(92)(104)

Anonymous

Fake.

fred

@12:32 – “76 people with 2:2 like this comment”

O S

That question is why you’ll probably never get a pupilage and if you do, not make it at the bar.

A 2.1 or above does not make you a good effective barrister. Understanding how to apply the law to the facts of your brief is the main skill, in addition to which you have to develop a persuasive way of putting your case. These two elements are independent of academic prowess, though such prowess does help in making the former easier to achieve. I’ve been opposite many an academically gifted counsel who’s overly intellectual approach to the case has visibly bored the fact finder almost to tears, which has made my job far easier.

Your education is a tool, not who you are. By way of example you don’t need to understand the science behind a computer or computer programme to be able to use it
effectively but without practice, even if you are a swot about the science behind it, you won’t learn to use either practically or properly and get the most out of it.

As a barrister your job is not to have a glorious 2.1 or 1st but to add value to your clients case by mastering the brief , understanding the relevant law including precedent and stitching the two together in such a way that the finished product looks attractive. If you think you are well able to do this because you have a 2.1 or higher or that people who don’t will be less able than you for that reason, then untill you understand what is actually important, real long-term success at the bar at least will likely evade you.

I know a very well regarded practitioner who regularly appears in the court of appeal who barely has a degree. She got where she is today because she has excellent people skills, works hard and the one thing she has passed on to me is that most cases don’t require you to be clever but to understand how people think and behave. That is the key to effective advocacy particularly cross examination and a 2.1 or 1st doesn’t mean you’ll be able to grasp that.

Anonymous

What a brilliant response to the endless tirade of haters on here. I hope you don’t mind me cut and pasting these nuggets of wisdom and using it to inspire myself and others…

Anonymous

Wow, the man has legal qualifications up to PhD level, an MBE because he has made a contribution to society, has a positive public profile and the only thing you see is his skin colour….you should be embarrassed at your thinly veiled racism.

Anonymous

Honorary PhD

Anonymous

Yes, he should not be using the title. That probably amounts to a breach of the Bar Code of Conduct.

Steve Bor

Anyone who ever instructed Rumpole (he had a third).

Anonymous

Really? I have and many people I know have and they greatly admire him.

Annoying anon

Nope he is not a nice chap at all full ego

Queenett Scott

Well done! Well deserve.

Anonymous

Something about this story doesn’t add up. 2.2 from London Met?!

Anonymous

Fiona Shackleton, the solicitor to William and Harry. obtained a third-class degree in law from Exeter University. She also acted for Paul McCartney in his divorce case.

Does that add up?

Anonymous

She was from a privileged background, so she had connections.

Anonymous

You don’t need to be bright to be a solicitor, especially not in family “law”. You just shuffle papers and delegate the legal analysis and arguments to barristers, whilst you wine and dine clients.

Anonymous

Urban Lawyers doesn’t help ‘disadvantaged’ law students, it helps people on the basis of ethnicity!

Craig

The negative comments on this post clearly come from bitter wannabes.

I’m proud to know that my Inn has elected such an honourable person as a bencher and look forward to the great work he will continue to do for the profession! Great work Tunde, and more than well deserved!

Anon

I met Tunde years ago when he was doing his law degree. He was a friend of someone I knew, one thing that is very striking about him he is extremely humble and absolutely hardworking.

It’s his humble attitude that has got him to where he quite rightly deserves..

Well done !

Anonymous

Humble attitude? Have you met many barristers?

Anonymous

So humble that he uses the title Dr when he has no right to do so because it is not a substantive doctorate but only an honorary one? That is probably a breach of the Bar Code of Conduct.

K&E Phatman

Money? What money lmaooooo

Kevin

Absolutely Fantastic. Man, should,Stand Tall and Proud. In,his time and I can assure you,I know. Drugs and Gangs were rife. This,Man is a Gentleman and Scholar. Who,worked many hours and stayed out of Trouble.Never,gave up on his, Dream and strived and percieved in his tenacity. To achieve his Goals. Lot,can be learnt and took,from a Person. Who, through no help. Strives,to make a, Dream come True. Hats,of to you Sir. Kind Regards. Kevin

I threw up reading that.

Get in the bin.

Kirkland NQ

Fuck off peasant I’m rich you’re poor

Anonyman

Let’s just hope that this doesn’t result in droves of dimwits from former polytechnics thinking that they have what it takes to become a top barrister. I suppose Tunde is an exception; perhaps he has more tenacity than most, but who knows.

It’s hardly honest and sincere advice though, telling people at dire universities (who probably have a below than average IQ) that they can become as highly regarded as Tunde supposedly is.

Anonymous

Although I agree with the general thrust of your point, I don’t believe going to a dire university necessarily means you’re not cut out for the Bar. There are quite a few silks and heads of chambers from unis at the lower end of the rankings. Sometimes bright people mess up their A-Levels.

Anonyman

“Sometimes bright people mess up their A-Levels.”

Of course they do, normally from a mix of bad luck and bone idleness. But in reality, a Russell Group graduate will generally be significantly better than some neanderthal who graduated from some irrelevant for polytechnic institution.

Anonymous

Well done Tunde a credit to the profession no doubt !

Anonymous

I have always found that 21st century barristers that dress like it is 1950 are pompous tossers of the highest order.

Anonymous

#blessed

Anonymous

Someone with a 2.2 from London Met is by definition stupid and badly educated.

Ali T

Did a lot of pupillage year training with this guy. He’s a solid guy – humble, affable, popular with clients (this was before Insta etc was invented). He deserves his success. If he inspires one other non-trad-background applicant to make it at the Bar, that’s good enough, surely?

Anonymous

No, because he’ll inspire hundreds more to undertake the BPTC in vain.

Anonymous

This is exactly the former Council estate shelf stacker turned bencher that everybody needs !

Anonymous

We’d rather have one that did not go to a third rate uni and still managed to get a third rate degree while there.

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