I commenced my pupillage at the Chancery Bar in a common law chambers. Due to the lack of opportunities to wear my wig and gown I started to cover criminal cases for my co-pupils.
I then worked as a criminal barrister (prosecuting and defending). On reflection, my only practice development strategy was to be grateful to my professional clients for whatever case they chose to instruct me upon.
Five years before I became a Queen’s Counsel I realised my practice was varied and unfocused. I was unsure of what steps to take to remedy the situation. Events crystallised when I covered a Crown Court hearing and was directed by a judge to undertake a series of written, unpaid and laborious tasks. At that moment I realised that if I wanted to successfully develop my practice and redefine my career, then the onus was on me to act.
I decided to carve a specialist career path in what is often perceived as the male dominated specialisms of organised crime and fraud. I worked with my clerking team becoming more selective about the cases I accepted and keeping my goal at the forefront of each case.
In the short term this strategy resulted in a financial hit, but was necessary in order to give my practice focus and direction. The outcome, sooner than anticipated, was real recognition as a defence counsel in these specialties by professional and lay clients.
It was only as a result of making these changes that I was instructed on cases which provided the complex, novel and exceptional challenges, which resulted in my appointment as a Queen’s Counsel in 2019.
Our journey is always evolving. My next challenge and mission is to be recognised as a premier league criminal and fraud Queen’s Counsel, as opposed to a female who defends in such cases.
Serious organised crime and fraud are still specialties which require development in relation to diversity and retention of women. Sadly, it is not unusual for me to be the only female counsel in large multi-defendant cases.
The reasons are complex:
- The hours of work required in serious crime and fraud cases do not sit comfortably with a work and life balance;
- The unconscious bias on the part of professional and lay clients as to what criteria a serious crime or fraud lawyer should be perceived to fit;
- It is still an area of law where women are not actively encouraged.
It is imperative that junior female lawyers have role models and mentors to guide them, in making the changes necessary to their own practices, to enable them to move forward to the next stage of their career at the bar. Approach those you admire ahead of you and ask. Most professional colleagues would be flattered and willingly assist.
There is still a great deal of work to be undertaken to achieve my vision of a legal profession which is truly diverse and inclusive. Small steps by all together, will take us in the right direction.