September 19, 2016

Gemma Witherington, Hardwicke Chambers

(Inner Temple)

I grew up in Birmingham and developed an interest in law when witherington-gemmaI was about 20 years old, so I started considering my career options. I decided that I wanted to do something challenging and rewarding where I felt I could make a difference. Being at the Bar sounded like it combined the things I was good at and interested in so I undertook some mini pupillages and work placements at solicitors’ firms to get a feel for whether I would enjoy working in law. I also did a variety of pro bono work.  However, I did not study law as my first degree: I studied Public Relations at Bournemouth University, as I had wanted to pursue a career in marketing/advertising, originally. Once I graduated, I then took the GDL at BPP Law School in London and I was awarded a scholarship by the Inner Temple, which helped to pay my BVC fees.

My practice is in civil law, mainly commercial work and personal injury, and it’s been an amazing ride. I started out with small 10-minute hearings in the County Court, which then built-in length to a day and now I conduct week long trials and appear in the High Court. The complexity, seriousness and difficulty of the work have increased over time. Recently, I represented a client who had suffered a brain injury in an accident. I was able to negotiate a good settlement for the client and it was a great feeling, knowing the settlement would make a difference to his life and his family.

I tend to be more chambers based now doing conferences, advices and drafting pleadings. I now receive a source of regular work from solicitors I have built good relationships with over time. Last year I was ranked in the Legal 500 directory as a leading barrister. It felt like my hard work had paid off and I realised at that moment how far I had come. I have loved every minute and never looked back. I have met some wonderful people and my confidence and abilities are always improving, because I am continually learning.

Sometimes, you need to be able to switch off and make time for your personal life outside of the Bar. I tend not to work at weekends and I do not take my work life home with me; when I step out of chambers, I leave thoughts of work there until the next day. Having a break is crucial to remain sharp, focussed and motivated. I also enjoy swing dancing which helps me tune off completely!

Anyone can succeed at the bar if they have the right determination and ambition. Don’t let anyone hold you back and aim high. The bar is more modern than many people realise and there are great opportunities for people from all backgrounds, no matter what age, gender or ethnicity. Many modern chambers now are run like businesses and they are looking for hardworking and committed pupils to help make their chambers a success regardless of where they come from.

The key is to set small goals so that the mountain does not seem too high to climb. For example, set yourself a goal of getting a mini pupillage, then a work placement or volunteering at a pro bono centre. That way you will start to build up legal experience. Then before you know it, you will be on the road to becoming a barrister. Like most things in life, being a barrister is worth fighting for.