Cherie Blair QC said last night that law graduates from working class backgrounds should “be flexible” in their approach to a legal career, and said that she would not have had a career as a barrister if it had not been for legal aid.
Blair, of Matrix Chambers, told Open University law students about her background, saying that she came from a single parent family, and that her mother had left school at 14 and was the sole provider for their family.
She said that she knew from an early age that she wanted a career which would mean she would be able to support herself and added: “If it had not been for legal aid, I am not sure whether I could have become a barrister.”
The Queen’s Counsel acknowledged that career prospects for working-class law graduates were now worse than when she began her legal career and added: “I think that you have to be flexible these days.” She pointed to solicitor advocates, in-house opportunities at NGOs and Government Legal Services as careers that could “make a difference.”
“Get your qualification, find yourself a starting place and take it from there,” she said. “Where you start is not where you have to end up.”
In a tongue-in-cheek aside, Blair said that the chief quality that had allowed her to thrive as a barrister was “pig-headedness” and that she was glad she had not known any lawyers before embarking on a legal career as if she had asked a lawyer whether a “working-class girl from Liverpool would have had a chance in the law, the answer would have been, ‘no chance’.”
She added a pronouncement on the furore currently surrounding secret courts, saying: “Secret courts can occasionally be justified. It is all about proportionality and where you draw the line. And who draws the line.”
Blair added a voice of dissent to the legal aid cuts, pointing to Justice Manby’s recent halt of a child custody trial due to the father not being able to access legal aid and being unable to represent himself.
She said: “In some county courts now, if you do not have an urgent family matter, you may as well go away and sit in a corner. You are not going to get a trial because of the litigants in person clogging up the courts.
“If anyone suggested that we stopped access to the NHS or that you could only have a certain operation if you were very poor or very rich… people would be up in arms.”