Case study

Family barrister — Adiba Bassam

Adiba is a family barrister at Three Dr Johnson's Buildings. She studied for a Law LLB at the University of Westminster and completed her Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC - as was) at BPP law school

Why did you decide to become a barrister?

I decided to become a barrister in the second year of my undergraduate degree as I realised that I enjoyed advocacy, preparing speeches and researching into points of law, which all pointed towards the Bar.

I also undertook vacation schemes and work experience at law firms and obtained mini pupillages, to gain a better understanding of both strands of the profession and to ascertain which suited me more. During these experiences I realised that no two days are the same at the Bar, and a career as a barrister requires constant thinking on one's feet, which was a challenge I enjoy and thrive at. I have always worked well under pressure and enjoy having a lot on my plate, and the Bar certainly caters for that.

I completed a Masters in Sociology of Childhood and Children's Rights, as I was knew that I wanted to work within family law focussing on children especially.

Tell us more about applying for pupillage. What does it involve?

I applied for pupillage in three rounds, obtaining pupillage on the third. Applying for pupillage is a difficult, laborious task. The pupillage cycle opens each year around November and closes in February, after which the interviews take place. The outcome of these is usually known in early May. All chambers have to advertise on the pupillage gateway, although there are sets that are outside of the gateway and will have their own application procedures. I applied to 12, mostly family sets and a few common law sets who also practiced family law.

The year I was successful, I had eight first round interviews and four second round interviews, which culminated in two offers and a reserve spot.

My issue in the previous rounds were that I struggled to translate my first round interviews to second round, meaning I was a strong candidate on paper but tended to get nervous in interviews. The year I was successful I changed the manner in which I approached interviews by focussing on whether I would like to work in this particular set and what I could add to the set, rather than desperately hoping to please them.

Law is a competitive industry. How did you stand out?

I used my unique background of having moved from Finland to pursue law and the fact that I have a multicultural background and upbringing. Everyone has a unique selling point, and I used my background and languages to stand out.

I also gained work experience in law as well as volunteering experience/probono work, so that I was able to demonstrate a clear understanding of the profession and what would be expected of me. I found that life experience helped. The first year I applied I was straight out of university and had limited experience of the real world and the problems people face, which is especially varied in family law.

What’s a typical day like as a pupil barrister?

During pupillage I was given access to my pupil supervisors cases. I read the papers, asked any questions if unclear and prepared a position statement. My supervisor would then read my work, and we would chat about the strengths and weaknesses.

Before a hearing, I would meet my supervisor to discuss the case further. At Court, I took notes of pre-hearing discussions, the hearing itself and any post-hearing discussions. After Court I would ask any questions I had and then tidy up my notes and put them in the format of an attendance note, so my supervisor could use them when reporting back to solicitors. This was also a good way for solicitors to hear about me.

What three qualities are important in a pupil barrister?

Flexibility, an eagerness to learn and the ability to admit when you need help.

What part of your job do you enjoy the most?

Meeting my clients and discussing their position and helping them to get their point across and fight for what they wish to achieve. It is definitely a people-facing job and I thoroughly enjoy that, especially as at the self-employed Bar you do not have the same level of interaction with your colleagues that you have if you were employed or working at a firm.

What challenges do you face in your role?

The job comes with its challenges, sometimes you can prepare and know your case front to back, and five minutes before the hearing you get a piece of information that changes the case completely. There are many last minute changes, whether this is in terms of cases coming in and out of your diary or during the course of the hearing. However, equally it keeps the job from becoming monotonous.

Describe your job in five words.

  • hectic
  • rewarding
  • surprising
  • challenging
  • ever-changing.

What more needs to be done to ensure that legal profession accurately represents the society it serves?

Diversity needs to be kept in mind at recruitment undoubtably, however by then it's sometimes too late.

People from minority backgrounds may not have the same opportunities that their peers have, which in itself puts their CV behind others. Focus needs to be put on schools and students who do not have access to the same opportunities. Work needs to be done to ensure that students from minority groups are given the opportunity to learn about the legal profession early on and are made aware of the extracurriculars that are required, such as where one could get applicable work experience.

What are your career ambitions?

I am a highly ambitious person, and I am not satisfied just doing my job - I also want to innovate and improve. Alongside my practice I run a mentoring programme through Themis Women - The Intersectional Women Barristers' Alliance.

I also have an ambition to apply to the judiciary one day.

What advice can you give to other aspiring barristers from under-represented backgrounds?

From the outside the Bar can seem impenetrable and may look as though it does not reflect you or your background. This is precisely why the Bar needs you. The Bar needs more people from under-represented backgrounds, because clients come from all walks of life and the Bar in its current form does not reflect the society it serves. Do not shy away from your background; make that your unique selling point.

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