Mini biography – Harry Smith
I first decided I wanted to become a barrister after binge-watching DVDs of John Mortimer’s Rumpole of the Bailey aged 15 (note: I recommend doing more research than this). There was, however, a problem – or, at least, what I thought was a problem at the time. The problem was that I would not fit in. I am not from an affluent background (cf. everyone in Rumpole); I was socially awkward; I was going to a local state school; and there were certainly no lawyers in my family. When I told the school careers advisor about my plan, she first assumed that I was joking and then told me – firmly – that I needed to be more realistic.
Things might well have ended there, but luckily for me I had a school friend whose dad was a barrister, who offered to take me to court on work experience. I watched him cross-examine a witness for an afternoon, and distinctly remember the moment at which it became impossible for me to imagine doing anything else myself. I decided to ignore the careers advisor and went on to read Law at the University of Warwick.
When I was at Warwick there was precious little help for aspiring barristers (happily I understand this has now changed for the better). I do not recall meeting a single alumnus who had gone on to be a commercial barrister. There were no connections. I do, however, remember a well-known Chambers (who shall remain nameless) giving a presentation to our Law Society in which they made clear that they were only really interested in Oxbridge graduates.
I applied for pupillage whilst doing my finals. Despite wanting to do contract law, Keating was the only commercial set I had dared apply to, and the offer came as a complete – but wonderful – surprise. Even now, years later, I still sometimes find myself wondering if it is all an elaborate hoax.