Marathon man

Long distance running can be very much like life at the Bar


On Sunday 28 April 2019 I ran my fourth London Marathon.

For me, running has been a life saver. Just over four years ago I was approaching 20 stones. I was presented with a choice: lose weight or face a certain heart attack, stroke or diabetes. I started exercising by attending a local park run. From there I went on to run 10km, half marathons and full marathons. London 2019 will be my eighth marathon. I lost a lot of weight but have also found that running has become an essential part of my wellbeing. It helps me to cope with the daily challenges of a busy criminal practice, even though to fit in training I sometimes have to run at 5am or 10pm.

Running this race was particularly meaningful as I have raised just over £2,000 for Middle Temple’s Scholarship Fund and the Sir Paul Jenkins Memorial Fund. As Sir Paul’s Fund states: ‘Paul was always a trailblazer as it was rare for state school pupils to be called to the Bar in 1977. Forty years on and sadly it is still rare – only 6% of the Bar are from working-class backgrounds. Paul’s Fund will encourage and support those who have the talent but not the means to come to, and remain at the Bar.’

Sir Paul’s Fund is particularly significant to me because as a result of some bad luck, from the age of 11 until I went to university, I was brought up in poverty. We spent time effectively squatting in the council flat we used to occupy. In the last two days before my father received his state pension there was no money to pay for electricity and heating and I remember studying in candlelight. At one stage I became anorexic, feeling my life was out of control. In spite of this, I obtained good O-Levels and continued my studies. I will never forget the day of my A-Level results, which allowed me to take up the offer to study law at Kingston. Unfortunately, my father, whose ill health deteriorated considerably while I was doing my A-Levels, died during my first year at university. It was a difficult time as I was an only child and had to support my mother. However, we survived and I graduated. Getting into the Inns of Court School of Law, which was the only Bar course provider at the time, was not easy with a 2:2, but I managed it. On 14 October 1993 I was called to the Bar at Middle Temple; a wonderful day that will stay with me forever. Then followed the long hard road to obtaining pupillage and tenancy. 

Running a marathon is very much like a life at the Bar. After the arduous training you are lucky to be on the start line, full of excitement and slightly in trepidation about the race ahead. Throughout the journey there are times when you feel euphoric, as if you are running on air, but there will be times when you have to dig very deep and only your will enables you to carry on. During a marathon you meet many people with whom you share your experiences and give encouragement to before you move on, reflecting the colleagues that we come across throughout our careers. There then comes the relief at the finish line (or closing speech at the end of a long case) where you promise yourself that this will be the last time that you put yourself through the ordeal. However, both the Bar and marathons are highly addictive and you find yourself signed up for the next run and beginning your next case.

I have been very fortunate in that I have enjoyed a successful career at the criminal Bar. I have always tried to fight for the poor, the weak and the vulnerable. I hope I have given some sort of voice to the voiceless. One of the biggest honours for me was to be appointed a social mobility advocate for the Bar. 

Combining the London Marathon with the causes that I am running for is a perfect match. My message is clear: ‘If I can do it so can you.’ 

About the author

James Keeley is a barrister at the 36 Group. James is an elected member of the Bar Council, serves on the executive of the Criminal Bar Association, an ambassador of True Honour and Vice President of Endeavour. He is looking forward to running his ninth marathon in October in Dublin.

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James Keeley

James is a specialist in serious criminal work especially sexual offences. He is an elected member of the Bar Council, and serves on the Criminal Bar Association Executive, the Bar Council’s and Middle Temple’s Equality, Diversity and Social Mobility Committees and Middle Temple’s Hall Committee. He is passionate about the future of the Bar and devotes a lot of his time to helping the next generation of barristers.