When I decided on pursuing a career at the Criminal Bar, I was a young girl from a working class family that had no history of attending university. I knew that the odds were against me.
This piece has given me a chance to remember, with great fondness, the females that have inspired me. There are many.
My GCSE drama teacher, who always believed that I had it in me to become a barrister. I remember one day complaining to her that I didn’t “sound like a barrister.” She told me “it’s what you say that matters, not how you sound saying it.” She was right and I’m grateful for her constant reassurance, guidance and support. Mrs. Creane, if you ever read this, thank you.
I remember being on a mini-pupillage with a female barrister who is still at the Bar now. She was incredibly bright, hardworking, and simply fantastic to watch on her feet. She gave me her mobile number and said to text if she could help me in any way. I did and she helped me during applications and interviews. I secured pupillage that year.
After my first Crown Court trial, I was invited to see the Judge in her room. She had been told it was my first trial. She was kind, encouraging and supportive when I needed it most. She told me she was always proud to see young junior women at the Bar and to keep on persevering. Her kindness in that moment reminded me how important it is for women to encourage and support each other.
I am fortunate enough to be in chambers with a host of formidable women who are always on hand to provide advice, support and friendship.
As a mother myself, I hope I am able to inspire my daughter to follow her dreams, whatever they may be, in the same way that my Mum inspired me.
Let us use this day to remind ourselves how far we have come and how much more we can achieve. Look to women around you and be thankful for their presence and try to always remember that we are all someone’s inspiration.
It never occurred to me to become a barrister until, at the age of sixteen, one of my school friends in Belfast told me she thought I might want to be a lawyer – because I liked arguing. After that I never thought of being anything else, so thank you Dominique Armstrong for being the initial spark. We remain good friends to this day.
At first the only female barrister I had the opportunity to observe at close quarters was Anna Forbes from ‘This Life’ – the amazing 1990’s TV series I was glued to as I embarked upon my law degree. Anna was not a role model, but was a great example of what NOT to do if you wanted a successful career at the bar; but she was also smart, funny, and brimming with confidence, and made it seem like a really cool job to do.
When I made it to pupillage I finally got to meet and work alongside real women barristers – my first impression was “Wow – they are amazing” and that feeling has never gone away. From my fellow pupils right at the start, to my second six pupil supervisor (just back from maternity leave, she went on to become Treasury Counsel, then QC, then a High Court Judge), and on to all the wonderful women I have been in chambers with, and in cases with – the women at the bar have been supportive, funny, and inspirational to me and all have helped me to get where I am today.
Most important of all is my mother, who gave me the self-confidence never to doubt that I could be a successful barrister, the love and support to keep me going when times are tough, and the example of hard work, caring, and integrity that are central to being able to do this job. As a former English teacher she also made me a grammatical pedant and gave me the speaking and writing skills that I try to put to good use each day.
Finally, my daughter, who I hope will benefit from my example, and those of her two barrister godmothers, that she too can work hard and find a profession that she loves.
It never occurred to me that I could not be a barrister, as a female from a working class background I have often wondered why.
The importance of women mentors as inspiration for young women is stressed from the United Nations to our own AWB mentoring scheme. I have been lucky enough to have had strong female leaders inspire me throughout my career.
The first female Silk I saw in action was Nicola Davies QC (now Mrs Justice Davies) at the Bailey I saw her quietly and cleverly demolish the prosecution and a co-defendant intent on a messy cut throat in a murder. Ann Curnow QC, who took me quietly to one side and offered much appreciated words of advice and encouragement. Baroness Hale, who from afar has inspired, she was appointed to the High Court the same year I was called and continues to show by example there need be no limit to progress as women of the law.
However, where my inspiration starts is a little less formal but no less formative for that.
I’d like to thank Granada Television for the realistic legal drama Crown Court which may have inspired a whole generation of barristers with its unflinching storylines, characters stood trial for rape, terrorism and racist crimes, sensitive and controversial issues rarely covered in 1970s television.
Vitally for me, there was the fictional but so realistic Helen Tate QC played brilliantly by Dorothy Vernon in 74 episodes. Her convincing performances as a barrister determined to uncover the truth for justice caught my eye and set my eyes on a career at the Bar.
A reminder to those in charge of ensuring the content of all our TV and Film represents the true diversity of society as we celebrate International Women’s Day. The younger me had never doubted barristers can be women because it was on the telly!
Since deciding to write this piece I’ve thought long and hard about who best falls into this category. There are many people, both women and men who have provided me both with inspiration and encouragement.
Here, for obvious reasons I concentrate on the women but I thank the unsung men too.
During pupillage, when I was always short of money and never thought I’d get taken on one of my oldest school friends put her arm around me and told me she knew it would work out for me and I just needed to stick at it. A small thing but right at the very beginning of my career it gave me the encouragement and inspiration to keep going.
The senior female silk who started chatting to me in a robing room one day when I was about 5 years call. She gave me her home telephone number and told me if I ever needed help in relation to anything to give her a call. A small act of kindness which meant so much.
The female silks I have seen taking on men in robing rooms and in court and winning every time. A perfect demonstration of how there is always more than one way to achieve your goal.
The women I am lucky enough to have been in Chambers with for the last 25 years – past and present. Supportive, brilliant and funny. Showing with hard work and determination you can get what you want. Sometimes it’s still not enough to be as good as the men, we have to be better. We can do that too!
Those women who combine stellar careers with motherhood. Those who start the day organising their families and end the day the same way whilst being amazing lawyers in between. The silk who told me how she popped an encouraging note in her childrens’ blazer pockets when she knew they were having a big day at school.
During school interviews in the last month my 11 year old daughter has been asked twice whether a working mother can be a good mother? She has answered yes on both occasions – I think and hope, honestly. I’m going to leave to one side the fact that this question is asked in 2018. The fact she has said yes and been able to justify why makes me proud.
I can’t speak about inspiration for working in the way that I have without mentioning my own mum. She worked her socks off not only to provide for our family but also to give herself a sense of achievement and self worth; important attributes that make for happy and fulfilled women.
I never doubted that I would and could work and be successful. I’ve needed help, encouragement and inspiration along the way.