Name: Kajetan Wandowicz

Organisation: 4 Pump Court

Role: Barrister

Location: London

Trained at: 4 Pump Court

Year qualified: 2018

What’s your most vivid memory from being a pupil?

Being invited to join my chambers. It was a sunny morning in late June, still some three months away from the completion of pupillage, and my co-pupil and I were invited one by one to meet the joint Heads of Chambers. We were both offered, and accepted, tenancy. I had a coffee with my pupil master Alex Wright (now Alex Wright KC), who was – as ever – both generous with his time and wise with his advice, and I was out by midday (and on my way on holiday by the late afternoon).

Tell us about a sliding doors moment when your career could have gone in an entirely different direction?

For one, I could have easily ended up anywhere other than England, and never even stumble upon the idea of going into a legal career, let alone an English legal career specifically, or the Bar more specifically still. Law was never on my radar until I was 26. I grew up and went to university in Poland, with a stint in Paris on a scholarship. I was going to be a philosophy academic, but I had second thoughts, so I spent a year in Europe as an impoverished English teacher – first in Cyprus, then in southern Spain – and eventually headed for the West Country for no other reason than the fact that I was in love with a girl who was taking her degree at Bristol. We have since married. If I had met someone else and gone to live in, say, Crete, I might have been an olive farmer. I would have missed out not only on meeting my wife, but also on the best career I can imagine.

What’s the hardest question you’ve ever been asked at interview, and how did you answer?

I was once asked where else I had applied. I answered on autopilot and gave a few examples; I was not quick enough to realise just how disgraceful the question was. I wish I had had the presence of mind to say, “I am sorry, but I am not prepared to discuss this. That is a matter between me and those other sets of chambers.

If I had been quick enough, would I have risked the interview, despite being so broke that I had to travel to all my interviews from Bristol on the graveyard shift Megabus? I should hope so; having the courage to give the right answer to your tribunal, even if one knows that that is not the answer the tribunal want to hear, is a basic requirement for any advocate.

But this rather illustrates why the question puts the interviewee in a hard position. Interview panels do not ask questions without a reason, so one way or another, they were going to mark me on the number and range of pupillage applications I had made. That is wrong not only for the simple reason that it was none of their business, but also for the much more important reason that it is a fundamentally unfair metric: less privileged students are likely to make more applications and target what may be perceived to be a less focused range of areas or a less coherent group of chambers, purely because they may not be in position to wait a year and re-apply if unsuccessful.

I did not get along with that particular panel for other reasons too, but I hasten to add that it was very much a unique experience. I interviewed at about a dozen of commercial, chancery and tax sets, and every single one of the other interviews felt scrupulously fair, courteous, and pleasant (if obviously challenging). Interviewers generally want candidates to perform at their best; after all, selecting the pupils with the greatest potential is in our own interest.

What advice would you give to someone who wants to get to where you are/do the job you do?

Do not worry about your background. The days when you had to have been born into the right circumstances to go to the English Bar are long gone, and if any remnants of such attitudes have survived in any remote corner of the Bar (which I hope they have not), they will be challenged by the rest of the profession. Similarly, do not spend time wondering what a barrister should sound like. If there is a “way a barrister should sound”, I am unaware of it; perhaps they don’t teach it in state schools in Poland.

Your time will be much more productively spent considering what qualities you have developed which would make you suitable for this career, and what evidence your life so far (whatever path it may have taken) provides for possessing those qualities. Then consider how best to present that evidence fairly, honestly, without overstating anything, but at the same time in the most advantageous and persuasive way possible – which, incidentally, is the job.

Tell us about ONE former colleague who you miss, and why? (It doesn’t have to be a lawyer)

Anthony Speaight KC, who is now retired; he hung up his wig not long after I became a tenant at my chambers. I am fortunate not to have accumulated many career regrets so far, but one I do have is that I never got to be led by him on a case. He is one of the last of the old generation of universal silks who would finish a 10-week trial in the Technology and Construction Court one week, only to argue a human rights case in the Court of Appeal the week after. At the same time, he always cared deeply about access to justice, and was awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award by Advocate for his pro bono work.

A giant of the Bar; they don’t make them like that any more.