Name: Claire Darwin
Firm: Matrix Chambers
Trained at: Littleton Chambers
Year of Call: 2005
What’s your most vivid memory from being a pupil?
Being sent to Penzance County Court for a half-hour hearing. I think I left Paddington at 7am that morning and arrived back after midnight.
What is the wisest thing anyone ever said to you (and who said it)?
My parents were clear that I should never take no for an answer, although I rather suspect there was a period in my teens when my parents came to regret this advice.
Who (for better or worse) has been the most influential person in your career? Why?
James Laddie QC of Matrix Chambers. James has brought me in as his junior on many important and complex cases over the years, including J v DLA Piper (the leading case on the definition of disability under the Equality Act), the War Horse litigation (we represented the five musicians very publicly dismissed by the National Theatre), Abrahall & ors v Nottingham City Council in the Supreme Court, and numerous other cases that are not in the public domain.
James is a brilliant tactician and advocate. I am very fortunate to have many talented colleagues in chambers, and over the last few years I’ve particularly enjoyed leading some of our excellent junior juniors.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to get to where you are/do the job you do?
It may sound obvious, but there really is no substitute for rolling up your sleeves and working hard in this job. A judge can spot a barrister who hasn’t mastered their brief a mile off.
I have found it helpful to impose structure on the somewhat fluid and organic career path of a barrister, by applying for a series of government appointments. I worked my way up from the C Panel to the A Panel of the Attorney General’s Panel of Junior Counsel to the Crown. As a member of the A Panel I regularly advise senior civil servants on the most complex of government cases, and on occasion I have been summoned to Whitehall to advise a permanent secretary in person. I’ve enjoyed doing this work alongside my private client work, and I have gained great exposure to some cutting edge legal issues and a real understanding of the inner workings of government as a result.
A successful barrister needs to be commercial and pragmatic. I have supervised a number of pupils (trainees), and I always emphasise that clients don’t care about pursuing theoretical legal arguments no matter how interesting they might seem to lawyers.
Clients want to win, or at least lose in the least damaging way possible. In most cases clients want to avoid court if at all possible. Although I once had a case where my instructions were to litigate a preliminary point for as long as possible, to the Supreme Court if necessary. My client needed to buy time while it tried to find the money to potentially pay a seven-figure sum in compensation. However, as chance would have it, we won on the preliminary point at first instance and the claimants didn’t appeal…
What’s your best friend from law school doing now?
She’s an award-winning in-house lawyer at the Financial Times. We met living in City University Halls of Residence behind Farringdon tube station when we were both on the law conversion course, and immediately found we had a lot in common. We have been close friends ever since. She’s now mother to two wonderful children, one of whom is my goddaughter.