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Paths to the Bar

We do not believe that there is such a thing as a ‘traditional’ or an ‘expected’ background for an aspiring barrister and we actively encourage applications for pupillage from those who do not consider that they have the ‘typical’ background of a criminal barrister.  Set out below are some examples of the paths to the Bar taken by some members of chambers, all of whom did their pupillage at 5KBW.

Jonathan Reuben
I wasn’t particularly academic at school or from a privileged background. My focus was more on sport and other extra-curricular activities rather than exam results.

I got into university through clearing to do a combined honours degree but managed to swap after my first year to do law. Like most people I found criminal lectures the most interesting and had always wondered about being a barrister. I was aware of ‘celebrity’ barristers from my day such as George Carman QC and Michael Mansfield QC. They inspired me to take a keen interest in miscarriages of justice and to work in a local law centre.

After graduating I was offered a place at Bar school but couldn’t afford to go. So began many years building a successful business career. Always in the background though was a desire to fight for others and to challenge myself as a barrister.

In 2010 I decided to go for it. I paid my way through the BPTC studying part time and working full time; as well as looking after my young family. In my final year of pupillage applications I was lucky enough to interview at 5KBW. Finally I had found a set that was actually interested in me as a person and my experiences.

Pupillage was tough especially for someone older who had come from another career. Thankfully though, everyone in Chambers was very supportive and I haven’t looked back since.

Aska Fujita
I grew up in Kagoshima, Japan. It is a conservative area, best known for a volcano across the bay and producing major figures in the Meiji Restoration. Although a good school, at the time, the horizons went as far as Tokyo – when I innocently suggested applying to Cambridge, I was threatened with detention unless I engaged seriously. I engaged, avoided detention, and went to Waseda University in Tokyo to do my LLB.

Like France, Japan’s judicial system is an inquisitorial system, with career judges and prosecutors. Sadly, like America, Japan still has – and enforces – capital punishment. Unlike either, it also has an astonishingly high conviction rate of over 99 percent.

While I was an undergraduate, there was a backlash against a particular sentence in a case where a youth had killed a number of schoolchildren. The sentencing judge had not passed the death penalty – as was proper based on the law – and there was a public outcry; the media fanned the flame of outrage against the out-of-touch judiciary. The result was a plan for a new system for serious crimes, where lay-judges (saiban-in) would sit with professional judges to determine verdict and sentence. The proposal was accepted in 2004, the saiban-in system began in 2009. Even as a student in 2004, I was appalled. Surely being sentenced based on the law was better than being sentenced based on what the public felt?

After graduation, I decided not to practice at home but to study abroad. I decided to try my luck in the UK. Jurisprudence was an elective subject in my Masters, but it opened my eyes to a different legal system, one which I wanted to join and practice in. Despite not knowing about the realities, difficulties or practicalities at the Bar or anyone in it, I decided to take a chance and apply.

It didn’t occur to me that not being educated in the UK would be an issue, and it never has. I had to learn the law in Japan; learning about English law was a similar process – it is distinct from knowing the local language or general schooling. I don’t have GCSEs/A levels but there is always an “Other” box to elaborate. Very few people here know of Kagoshima, but everyone has heard of Tokyo. On the other hand, not being a British citizen came with its challenges, as the barrister visa which was available when I started the GDL had disappeared by the time I completed the BPTC, and many chambers would not take on a third-six pupil who needed a letter guaranteeing income for a visa application. Fortunately, Chambers was helpful from the beginning, and I was blessed with a Senior Clerk who was kind enough to provide me with the required letter.

This being the case, unsurprisingly, I have never felt anything less than welcome in Chambers. In court, although there is the odd exception, on the whole, I find it is less about one’s personal background and more about one’s performance. Although I grew up half the world away, I am happy I chose to be where I am, working in the judicial system which suits me best.

Ria Banerjee

I was born and brought up in Sheffield, my father having come to the UK from India, aged 16. He lodged with a local Yorkshire family, studied and became an engineer. He later married my mother, who then came over from India and worked as a teacher to students for whom English was a second language.

I did not live in a particularly diverse or affluent area of Sheffield and my family and I were regularly subjected to racism, ranging from verbal abuse to racially motivated crime.

I was State educated at primary and secondary level. I spent around 9 months in India after secondary school before embarking upon a BSc Degree in Mathematics and Philosophy at the University of Manchester. My parents moved back to India when I was 19.

I had worked in the hospitality industry since the age of 15, which I continued to do throughout university. I received a 2:1 and then studied the Graduate Diploma in Law at BPP (Manchester) whilst also working around 30 hours a week in a bar/club.

It was during the GDL that I realised that I had a particular interest in Criminal Law and decided I wanted to become a Criminal Barrister. I completed the BPTC at Manchester Metropolitan University, with an overall mark in the top 5 for my year group. Being called to the Bar felt like such an achievement at the time, but for me, that’s when the really hard part started.

Securing pupillage is supposed to be difficult, but I was not prepared for just how difficult. My only real-world connection to barristers was serving them (I worked during the BPTC in a restaurant/bar close to the Crown Court in Manchester).

I knew I had to get experience and so I got a job as a paralegal in the areas of Civil Litigation, Inquests and Actions against the Police. In 2014 I was offered a paralegal job at a Criminal Solicitors’ firm in London, where I obtained my Police Station Accreditation and valuable experience, which I feel was directly linked to securing pupillage four months after starting the job. I continued in this role until I started pupillage in October 2015.

My interviews at 5 King’s Bench Walk were the only ones I left with a smile on my face. I felt that on both occasions the panel were interested in who I really was and what I could bring to the table. Life experience goes a long way at the Criminal Bar and if you’re not from the traditional barrister background, my advice is to embrace it and use it as a strength rather than a hindrance.

William Sneddon
I grew up in in Bradford and moved to Durham when I was 14, was educated in state schools, and in receipt of the (now defunct) Educational Maintenance Allowance. I did not receive any financial support from my family during the Bar course and have been working since the age of sixteen to support both my studies and internships.

My main driving force for coming to the Bar was my desire to practice advocacy and my keen interest in the Criminal Justice System. Before coming to the Bar, I volunteered as a Special Constable for four years in the Metropolitan Police and worked for the NHS in a number of different administrative roles.

My main obstacle to coming to the Bar was money. Without the Exhibition Award from Inner Temple, I simply would not have been able to afford to undertake the Bar course. I was fortunate enough to receive a number of scholarships over the four years preceding pupillage. Inner Temple funded my BPTC, an internship to Malaysia, and provided me with my wig, gown, and circuit case. Moreover, not having any friends or members of family at the Bar, it was difficult to anticipate what chambers would be looking for in a pupillage candidate. As a consequence, the support and encouragement I received from my tutors on the Bar Course were fundamental to my attaining pupillage.

Coming from a non-traditional background, I was initially concerned that I would have little in common with those already at the Bar. I can happily confirm that this is not the case. Upon starting pupillage with 5KBW back in October 2018 (securing tenancy in 2020), I was met with an extremely warm and supportive collegiate atmosphere and immediately felt at home.

In addition to assisting with 5KBW’s outreach projects, I also volunteer for Inner Temple’s outreach program (“PASS”), attend events, and speak with those that are interested in coming to the Bar from non-traditional backgrounds. Through this scheme and Inner Temple’s mentoring scheme I have offered advice and assistance to many aspiring barristers. I firmly believe that, in promoting social mobility, it is important that those aspiring to come to the Bar from lower income backgrounds have access to the same level of support as those from more “traditional” backgrounds.