Law Alumni, Mark Hemming is a Barrister at Goldsmiths Chambers and has been in to talk to our students previously and support in our annual Law Fair. He has written a post to help motivate Law students, which has also been circulated on our Blackboard Community page.
Hi to all students, under- and post graduate at Staffordshire University Law School!
In these difficult times of Coronavirus and Lockdown, I am noticing an increase in requests for assistance and support from law students across social media, largely from people professing to be from a position of disadvantage whether that be socially, economically, financially, geographically or academically.
Whilst I cannot answer to all of these disadvantages, I hope that this outline of my journey, together with my experience of the ever changing, and challenging legal profession thus far, will provide some solace and assistance.
From the outset I invite any or all of you to find me and connect on LinkedIn, which, for those who do not know, is probably the most effective way of getting to know, and being known, in the legal and business community.
I remember from age 13 wanting to be a lawyer, but for one reason or another, mainly lack of true motivation and commitment, I ended up in work, without having gone to university (other than the School of Life!). Save for an attempt to gain employment as a trainee Legal Executive, which was unsuccessful, for lack of Maths ‘O’ Level (GCSE), I thought I had missed the boat for a career in Law.
Twenty five years ago, this summer, I attended at Staffordshire University Law School for what I thought was a “chat” with the Head, about studying as a mature student. I did not know there was such a thing! I shall not bore you with the details, but by the end of the meeting, I was offered a place to study Law, starting that year, 1995!
After a lot of soul searching and rejigging of finances, I, as a husband, and father of a three year old, and a 9 week old child, at the age of 32, left my job in Finance, and enrolled onto the LLB (Hons) degree course, a full time student.
It had been 15 years since I had sat an exam, or written an essay, and by the time I had had my first semester results, I wondered whether I had made a mistake in going down this path. It was only when my tutor told me that exam and essay answers were as much about knack as they were about revision and knowledge, that I was able to move on.
Each semester became easier, as I became more savvy in the art of exam preparation and sitting. I had decided to do my studies each day between 9 and 5, in part because they were some of the hours which I had been used to, whilst working. I had also chosen subjects, where possible, which I could do without tortuous hours in an examination room! LLB (Hons) is that, no matter how it’s completed.
By the end of my degree studies I had achieved a 2:1 degree. This in an era when only two of my contemporaries achieved first class honours, one of whom is high flying attorney in Chicago, and the other equally high flying in the City.
I was fortunate, as I really wanted to complete the Bar Vocational Course (BVC), that as I was about to apply to study the Legal Practice Course, it was announced that the BVC was to be franchised from the Inns of Court School of Law to some regional universities.
Nottingham Law School being one of them, I completed my application, and was granted a place.
Another steep learning curve!
I travelled 2 hours daily, by train, 6am, returning on the 6pm, which allowed me to prepare for classes on both trips, something which I still do now, and which meant that the required work to be done in the evening, was minimal. The course was designed to mirror as closely as possible, life at the Bar, where your instructions will be received late, if at all, before your hearing. We were given our pink ribbon-tied brief each evening. Now we are just “invited onto CCDCS” (Crown Court Digital Case System)!
At the time, this course was the one which focussed on advocacy, which I wanted to do, and litigation, both civil and criminal, mostly assessed, rather than examined. The hardest part was having to learn, part way through the academic year, the then new, Civil Procedure Rules!
Much different now, is the Legal Practice Course (as was) in that it covers advocacy, quite rightly. Then, my former undergraduate colleagues informed me that it consisted of how to fill in forms! Not sure how true.
Whilst I am fully aware that I have said nothing about Legal Executives, that is simply because I know nothing about their qualification, and will leave that to someone with more knowledge! Suffice to say that I am fully supportive of the steps taken for them to do the same work as the rest of the profession.
With a few hiccoughs along the way, I passed the BVC as “very competent”!
Having been called to the Bar in October 1999, accompanied to Temple Church, London, by my wife and two children, who had been a big influence and help, along the way, not least because they meant that failure was not an option, I was then entitled to use the title Non-Practising Barrister. I was a lawyer!
Next step, pupillage.
Pupillages were not paid then (and some are still not), indeed pupils had only just moved on from paying for the privilege!
One piece of advice: a pupillage is just that. It matters not where you complete it, and does not prevent you from moving to another perhaps, more lucrative chambers as a tenant, when you will have been able to prove your worth at the Bar, rather than as one of many “unknown quantities” seeking pupillage.
I decided to apply for positions as a clerk/paralegal while waiting for responses to pupillage applications (plenty interviews, all of which were in London! No offers).
I was offered a job in Family law, of which I knew nothing, which I did for 9 months, before moving to study for the Police Station Qualification, completion of which put me in the position of working most evenings and weekends, as well as the day job as a criminal paralegal! Whoopee!
Whilst I am not sure that it can still be done, having passed the BVC, being called to the Bar, and worked for two years in practice “akin to training contract”, I was able to complete another course and transfer my allegiance to the Law Society. In 2002, I was admitted to the Roll of Solicitors, upon which I remain, during which time I have worked in, supervised and directed legal practices and staff.
For completeness, in 2004, I became a Solicitor Advocate, thereby doing the same work, had I completed pupillage, in all higher courts in England and Wales.
All changed again in 2018, when I was defending a trial against a Barrister whom I had known at Bar School. We got into conversation, during which I emailed him a copy of my cv, resulting in my being invited to become a tenant in a London set, and becoming Barrister at Law, almost twenty years after Call.
Work hard, play hard and keep as many options open as possible. It can be done, and there is more than one way to get there. It does not have to be done over a set period of time.
Barrister at Law