Learning should be a never-ending process. During my adolescent years, where trial and error often ended in error, I decided to adopt as my mantra the well-known adage advocated by Nelson Mandela: ‘I never lose. I either win or I learn.’ I quickly discovered that the vicissitudes of life can contribute to growth and development when approached with the correct mindset. Life does not always play out according to plan. However, it is sometimes those unexpected detours that can lead to surprising results, providing opportunities that enrich your experience and build resilience.

Looking back, my childhood was competitive. As the lone girl born into a household of a multitude of boys, each of whom went on to achieve success in their chosen fields, a champion’s mindset was ever present in my home and it was hard not to soak it up as if by osmosis! As an athlete, coaches continued to develop my inner champion; something I believe we are all capable of drawing upon. They instilled in me hard work, diligence, perseverance, patience, confidence, self-belief and attention to detail – widely accepted as hallmarks of success. Little did I know that, as I transitioned from athletics to law, these would also be the underlying factors that would govern my life in my chosen career as a barrister. Some may say I’ve simply swapped one theatre for another, but early on it was engrained in me to dream big, set attainable goals and be the best version of myself. I still hear my mother’s voice saying, ‘Aim for the stars. You may just reach the tree tops.’ In my professional life I have drawn upon this work ethic that predates my sporting career and really stems from my upbringing.

I have always insisted on carving my own story. Growing up, I thought that teaching would be my chosen profession but I fell in love with ‘The Law’. By the time I was called to the Bar I had still not secured a pupillage but did not give up. Despite the setbacks, I tried to brush off the disappointments without losing my passion or allowing them to crush my resolve. This was at times very difficult as I was the first person in my family to read law and could not see myself undertaking any other work. When I was offered pupillage in a wonderful set of chambers under a very helpful and supportive pupil master, I realised that if I played to my strengths, and combined my sporting background with my criminal practice, it may create openings and assist me in building my practice. As a result, I have been appointed to numerous sporting disciplinary bodies in England and Europe for Sport Resolutions and The Court of Arbitration for Sport.

Although cases differ, human nature remains the same. It’s interesting to meet arbitrators from around the world, see their varied approaches to interpreting the law, observe the presentation of cases, construction of legal arguments and variety of defences proffered. Above all, I have learnt that it is interaction that makes the difference; ensuring participants are at ease, have the time to present their cases and feel they have had a fair hearing.

I returned from the International Criminal Court (ICC) wiser and more appreciative of the hard work undertaken by all persons involved in ‘the field’. The ICC has always fascinated me, so I was delighted when I was appointed to the Special Tribunals of Lebanon and admitted to ‘The List of Counsel’. However, I had often wondered how I would cope representing anyone before the ICC who had committed numerous atrocities. When the experience was first afforded to me, I was sent into ‘the field’ alone and a long way from home to meet the witness, hold conferences and prepare him for trial via video link to The Hague. Although on another continent, with the assistance of an interpreter I found myself acting as I would in any Crown Court trial off Circuit; putting aside the emotive aspects of the case, representing the client to the best of my abilities and protecting his interests within the framework of the law. Security and safety requirements were already in place but I knew that I would have to play my part and be alert to any dangers. I was taught what to do if I was stopped at a checkpoint, met child soldiers or was kidnapped.

I have always thought it’s not enough just to achieve my goals – it’s important to set a path to enable others to follow. Encouraging and mentoring young people is enormously satisfying. It takes time and effort but observing their growth, however small, making a difference to their lives is rewarding. Seeing their continued development and confidence reminds me that others can benefit from my small achievements. Middle Temple bestowed a great honour on me by electing me as a Bencher, then I was elevated to Chair of the Middle Temple Midlands Society, honours I did not foresee. This gave me another opportunity with the help of a very supportive committee to create an environment in which others can shine, assist students with their qualifying sessions, mini pupillages and pupillage applications. In all of this I have learnt how important it is to be myself, to be open to new ideas and appreciate the expertise others provide, while implementing those that enhance and promote society.

Life in the legal profession can be hectic and all consuming. I had to decide what I wanted to achieve and how hard I was prepared to work to achieve it. Having undertaken my own research, and learning from others who had attained their goals, I realised that I would have to prioritise areas of my life in an attempt to achieve any of my goals.

Those rarely seen, but multiple late nights of preparation, impact on family life. I have always tried to find a work-life balance, not always successfully and not easily achieved, but it was necessary in order for me to find happiness in both my professional and family spheres. To achieve this, I have found it was important to have a good network of people around me, to learn how to say no at times and remember to count my blessings daily for finding a passion in life that enabled me to enjoy the work I had chosen to undertake. I am indeed blessed.