Work Life Quiz: John Cavanagh QC, 11 KBW

What was your first-ever job?

Residential social worker at St Philips Approved School, Airdrie, Scotland.

What was your worst ­experience as a trainee?

I once proudly informed a startled employment ­tribunal at the start of a hearing on a very dull time limit point that the case concerned a “premature ejaculation”.

Where’s the best place to go if you want to find out what’s really going on in the office?

The clerks room, of course.

What time do you usually leave the office?

Round about 8pm.

What do you do at weekends?

Ferry the kids around and watch my youngest ­daughter play lacrosse, while marvelling that, one, anyone with my genes is any good at sport and, two, such a weird sport exists outside It’s a Knockout.

What’s your favourite restaurant?

The Auberge du Lac at Brocket Hall.

If you weren’t a lawyer what would you have been?

If I’d been any good at ­science at school I would have been a doctor like my father. I blame my physics teacher.

What’s your favourite film?

My son has told me to say The Shawshank ­Redemption, but in fact it’s ­Barney’s Great Adventure.

What was the first record you ever bought?

Supertramp’s Crime of the Century.

Who’s your hero and why?

Anyone who can do DIY. I have to get a builder in to put up a picture.

What’s the best thing about your job?

The buzz of a good day in court, the intellectual stimulation, the variety, and, most of all, the friendly atmosphere in chambers.

What’s the toughest thing about your job?

Losing a case. Even if I expected it, I hate it. And, on a more prosaic level, having to work so often at weekends.

What’s your biggest work/career mistake and what did you learn from it?

When arguing a case in the House of Lords about statutory interpretation, I used the phrase ’expressio unius est exclusio alterius’, and then heard myself explaining to their ­Lordships the meaning of the Latin words. Lord Neuberger was charm itself while telling me that actually they knew what the saying meant. What I learnt from it was not to insult the intelligence of the Law Lords.

What car do you drive?

A Jaguar XF and a horrible old Chrysler people carrier.

What books are you reading?

Freaky Deaky by Elmore Leonard, and Soldiers by Richard Holmes.

What’s your favourite ­children’s book?

The Molesworth stories by Geoffrey Willans.

What’s the most exciting deal/case you’ve worked on and why?

BMA v Chaudhary (2007). We lost badly in the Employment Appeal ­Tribunal, but the BMA’s legal director didn’t lose faith and we won hands down in the Court of Appeal.

If you were stranded on a desert island, what two ­luxury items would you take?

My iPod and my Kindle (provided that the island has an electrical socket).

What’s the worst partner ­conference you’ve attended and why?

One of the best things about being a barrister is that we never have ­awaydays or partner ­conferences.

What’s the longest you’ve worked without sleep?

About 20 hours. I’ve never (yet) had to work through a whole night.

If a movie was being made about your life, which actor would play you and why

When I look in the mirror, I see George Clooney. When my wife looks at me, she sees John Candy.

Who would you least like to be stuck in a lift with and why?

The Reverend Ian Paisley. He has a very loud voice and isn’t very patient.

Tell us two truths and one lie about yourself (in any order)

Seamus Heaney once ­dedicated a short poem to me; I have appeared on stage at the Royal ­Shakespeare Theatre; and I once sang on a record that went to number 71 in the singles chart.


Name: John Cavanagh QC
Chambers: 11KBW
Title: Barrister
Lives: Harpenden

1968-78: Warwick School
1979-82: MA Law, New College, Oxford
1982-83: LLM, Clare College, Cambridge
1984-05: Inns of Court School of Law

Work history:

1983-84: Instructor in Law, ­University of Illinois College of Law
1984-05: Summer clerk, Altheimer & Gray and Keck Mahin & Cate, Chicago
1984-06: Part-time college ­lecturer, New College, Oxford
1985-86: Pupil barrister, 11KBW
1986-present: Barrister, 11KBW
2001: Took silk
2004: Recorder