I cannot precisely recall the moment I decided I wanted to become a barrister. My earliest thoughts on career choices were inspired by a visit from a local police officer and fireman respectively, to my state primary school.
However, my dad, who was a Crown Advocate in the CPS, was a constant fixture in my life. He helped me develop a mindset that, provided I had the desire and ability, no profession was out of reach if I applied myself.
Without this constant voice I do sometimes wonder whether I would have believed that the Bar, or any profession for that matter, would have been within reach for me. Growing up in the UK as a young Black boy in the 1990s, I saw many successful Black people in sports or the music industry, but not so much in the professions.
The inability to recognise yourself in the images of successful professionals has an impact not only on your perceived ability to actually make it in those professions, but also your desire to do so.
Without the influence of someone so close to home – my dad – I have some doubt that the flame that ultimately led me to the Bar would ever have been sparked.
That flame grew because advocacy had always been something that I considered a strength even from a very young age. Not simply arguing pointlessly, but advocating my own position based on proper reasoning, challenging others and always ensuring I had the “appearance” of absolute certainty (that’s what my childhood friends recount!)
From the point that I realised I actually had to work to achieve this goal of becoming a barrister – around GCSE level – my road to the Bar was thankfully relatively (albeit not entirely) smooth, certainly compared to many of my contemporaries. I benefited from an education at a good local independent secondary school and had a relatively single-minded focus which led me to three universities, law school and then eventually a civil/commercial practice as a barrister at Devereux Chambers.
However, getting to the Bar was one thing; thriving and being comfortable there is another.
I had been used to being one of only a few Black people in the room from childhood. However, at the civil and commercial Bar, whilst there is ethnic diversity, there are remarkably few Black practitioners. While I was generally used to this particular dynamic (i.e. often being the only Black person in the room), it is something that I found particularly disappointing.
Despite this, I am encouraged that there are lots of people doing excellent work to try and address this. I think of Harry Matovu QCs Charter for Black Talent; the Black Barristers’ Network, led by Natasha Shotunde; Mass Ndow-Njie at Bridging the Bar; the 10,0000 Black Interns programme that my own chambers has recently signed up to; the Cross SBA Black Inclusion Group and others.
The past few years have led me to consider what my own contribution can be towards improving access to the Bar for people who look like me. The flame was sparked for me by seeing a role model achieve something that very few people that looked like me were doing (at least not in the UK).
In my role as Outreach Officer for the Black Barristers’ Network we have started up the Springboard project which aims to bring students – from year 6 (primary school) upwards into one of the Inns of Court for a day for a tour of the Inn, some group exercises, a talk and some fun mock trials. We were hoping to roll this out properly before the Covid-19 pandemic hit and were practically ready to go. But for obvious reasons those plans were put on pause.
We are nonetheless hopeful that this project can get off the ground before the end of this year. In the meantime, we have (where possible and when safe to do so), gone into schools to deliver an abridged version of this experience, with the mock trial featuring as a smash hit! Spoiler alert: the current mock trial is based on an epic bust up between Superman and Wonder Woman (for any comic book fans), although the next may well be Black Panther based.
These sorts of opportunities for young students, particularly those from backgrounds that are underrepresented or that have less visibility in the professions, have an immeasurable impact on the future these young students can see for themselves. It is my sincere hope that over the years, this project and others like it can encourage and inspire many of the bright young minds within the Black community.
Bayo Randle is a barrister at Devereux Chambers