Lord Sumption   Supreme Court Justice (2012-18)

Interview  October 2018 issue

‘Don’t read law if you are going to practise it and can afford the slightly longer route to qualification. Get a broad culture if you can. History is a good training for law. It does help to know “how we got here” – it’s usually halfway to “how we get out”... History teaches you to analyse fact: most arguments about law boil down to factual analysis. But other subjects are also valuable. Classics, for example. Or economics. Languages are another extremely valuable training. A command of words helps. It is partly a literary skill. You have to hold the court’s attention…

‘The Bar itself is a great career. It’s still a wonderful profession for independent-minded people, not beholden to others, working assiduously, taking personal responsibility for what they do. The Bar is still where the magic is.’

Nicky Padfield QProfessor of Criminal and Penal Justice at the Law Faculty, University of Cambridge; Master of Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge (2013-19)

Interview  January 2019 issue

‘There is no reason not to study law. It is absolutely fascinating and I’m a happy perpetual law student.’ But Nicky does try to deter students from reading law if she senses that they don’t know what they are getting themselves into: ‘Borrow this equity textbook and check you really want to read it,’ she tells them.

The start of Nicky’s pupillage was ‘wonderful but I dropped out after four months. The atmosphere was strangely chauvinist and I felt second class. Christopher was heading for Africa and spoke fluent French and Dutch, so I spent a year studying aid at the university of Aix-Marseille; we then had ten fabulous years wandering the world…’

Sir Richard Heaton  Permanent Secretary to the Ministry of Justice 2015-20; Warden of Robinson College (2021-)

Interview  February 2019 issue

Why the Bar? ‘Romance, individualism, iconoclasm; I liked doing my own thing, and I thought the Bar would be the place for it. I didn’t pause to think do I want to do advocacy. I soon decided I didn’t. I’m glad it was soon, because that led on to a career that I’ve been happy with.’

After a common law pupillage – ‘lots of barely comprehensible missions to the Bear Garden’ – the turning point for Richard was ‘being excited by an advert in The Times for a lawyer at the Home Office. It would be a return to what I had liked as a student – questions about why and how we punish people; the balance between rehabilitation, deterrence and retribution – and there was a salary.’

Dame Linda Dobbs DBE  High Court judge in England and Wales (2004-13)

Potential difference June 2019 issue

What advice would Dame Linda give a young Black woman coming to the Bar today? ‘My advice would be the same to any young person. Get yourself a mentor; someone who will support you. Get yourself a champion, who is not necessarily the same person. I had people who pushed and championed me. Had they not done so, I certainly would not have done it.

‘In this day and age you also need to trumpet your own achievements – not in a showy or aggressive way but in a way that lets people know what you are doing. You also need to know yourself. It is important to understand the difference between assertions and evidence when applying for anything.’

Lady Black  Supreme Court Justice (2017-21) 

Wise counsel  August 2019 issue

‘Get other experience before coming to the Bar. At school, studying law at university can seem a good idea, but gain experience of the world and do a degree in something else that interests you. At the Bar you have more chance if you have done something else first. Understanding people and the world are essential tools.’

Lord Hendy QC   Barrister and politician (House of Lords 2019-)

Interview  January 2020 issue

‘The careers adviser told my mum, “He’s tall, he might make a policeman.” No fan of the police, she went spare. She and dad wanted me to go to university. I wanted to be a film director… I did badly at school but managed to get in to do law at Ealing Technical College.’ Why law? ‘Dad had done a law degree whilst an electrician and now lectured on labour law there. I inherited his interest. I thought if I got a degree, I could try films afterwards.’ This strategy was repeated in a master’s degree at Queen’s, Belfast – ‘a unique course in British and Irish trade union law; I was absolutely enthused by TU law’ – and then to the Bar. ‘I thought: no point messing about – I must be in the front row rather than the second.’

Lord Sales   Supreme Court Justice (2019-)

Reflections on legal life  April 2020 issue

‘Looking back, I now see history and maths as a good foundation for legal studies: history because the law moves and develops, especially the common law, and maths because for me it provides a logical structure for thinking about things. Dad was worried I wouldn’t make a living if I did English or history at university. He wanted me to do law as a good basic degree for business; then I could become an accountant; and then a business mogul! I agreed – at least with the bit about law – and by great good fortune I found that I really liked it.’

‘If you absolutely love a subject at school and want to study it at university, do so; you’ll be engaged and you can always turn to law later. But if not, my advice would be to study law: it’s a good way of learning how things fit together… I still find myself as a judge thinking back to topics I learnt back then, especially constitutional and administrative law.’

Attorney General Suella Braverman QC MP  Barrister and politician

The Attorney General  October 2020 issue

‘As someone from a non-traditional background, I am deeply grateful to the Bar. My entry into the profession was fully supported financially through various scholarships. My advice would be: it’s a tough profession, it’s competitive and there’s no guarantee of success. But have faith in the meritocracy of the Bar and in the opportunities it offers.’ 

Mass Ndow-Njie   Government Legal Department and Founder and Chair of Bridging the Bar

The only story that I have  January 2021 issue

On ‘fitting in’ at the Bar: ‘Although I do not share the same cultural and educational background of many barristers already in the profession, I am equally qualified to practise. These qualifications do not require one to have a specific accent, sporting interest or to have taken a particular route into the profession. If all barristers try to ‘fit in’, then we will alienate aspiring barristers from underrepresented groups at the Bar. If we all adopt the same accent and claim to have the same interests, it will seem as if these things are hidden qualifications for the job. If we embrace ourselves, our unique stories and our varied cultures, we can create a ‘new normal’ in the profession. In this new normal, there will be no such thing as the ‘conventional’ image of a barrister. Instead, barristers will be as diverse as the society that we live in and as diverse as the clients that we represent.’

Dominic Grieve QC  Barrister and former politician (Attorney General 2010-14)

Principle over policy  April 2021 issue

‘If you have an interest outside of law, look at universities that combine law with other subjects; if money is less of an issue, think about studying another subject and converting to law afterwards. There are many interesting roles for lawyers: government, in-house, big and small law firms, not for profit – and, of course, the Bar. Decide honestly where your skills and ambitions lie. People mature differently; skills emerge later.

‘The Bar offers opportunities for people of academic ability and with advocacy skills; it is highly competitive; but [there are] hard truths... Today’s Bar struggles with insufficient work of proper quality for those going into it. If you have applied to the wrong chambers for your skills, you will face serious difficulties. The bonanza period won’t come back.’ 

Dinah Rose QC   Barrister and Master of Magdalen College, Oxford

Don't be intimidated  March 2021 issue

‘I am cautious about giving advice because the Bar is in a period of flux. Students need to do their homework carefully on sets of chambers to ensure that they are stable and economically viable. For the commercial and public law Bar, academic results are extremely important. Do as many mini-pupillages as you can, and don’t limit yourself to the obvious high-profile sets.’

Lord Lloyd-Jones  Supreme Court Justice (2017-)

Welsh expertise  May 2021 issue

‘It’s a great profession; a thrilling and rewarding career. I enjoyed my time at the Bar enormously. Stick at it; persevere if you have a sense of vocation. I realise what a tough time entrants are having at the moment. The Bar is doing great work in relieving hardship amongst young barristers and students. It is important that the number of scholarships and pupillages is maintained because the future of the Bar depends on it.’ 

Sara Lawson QC General Counsel of the Serious Fraud Office (2019-)

Hooked on fraud  July 2021 issue

The first female General Counsel of the SFO studied at Huddersfield Polytechnic, then ‘the smallest law school in the country, with a practical focus’. Studying ‘business law, including finance and accountancy, proved helpful throughout my career… when my poly degree was questioned, Peter Rook QC, later Head of Chambers, said, “A business law degree is just what we need.”’

Career paths aren’t smooth. Sara’s advice is: ‘Work with what you have got; don’t be put off by not having an Oxbridge degree; there is lots of help out there for you from the Inns, including sponsorship schemes. In future I expect to see more movement between chambers and employment.’