Name: Rebecca Major
Degree and university: Psychology BSc (Hons), Lancaster University; Forensic Archaeology MSc, Bournemouth University; Global Security MSc, Royal Military College of Science; Postgraduate Diploma in Law, College of Law; Bar Vocational Course, BPP Law School.
Job title: Barrister/ Senior Lawyer in the Government Legal Service
What do you actually do?
I defend the Home Office when people bring legal challenges against immigration decisions. My work consists mostly of defending applications for judicial review in the High Court, but I also have a number of cases in the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court. I draft written defences to the claims, if the matter goes to Court I instruct external Counsel to represent the Government at the hearing. As an employed barrister, I rarely appear in Court. This is one of the biggest differences I have experienced since leaving the self-employed bar.
What skills do you need to do that?
All barristers require good written and verbal communication skills, and the ability to persuade others to agree with you! Working in Government also requires additional skills in that you need to have a good political awareness and the ability to understand how a case may have a wider importance to the Government than just one Claimant.
How did you know you wanted a career in law?
I didn’t really to start with but many of the courses I had studied seemed to be pointing me towards a career at the bar. It certainly wasn’t something I had dreamt of as a child, but with the existence of the conversion course, it is possible to come to a career in law later in life. I have really enjoyed the mix of academic and practical challenges that a career in law can bring.
What would you like to be doing in ten years time?
Until recently barristers were required to be either self-employed or employed, now (as a result of some changes through the Bar Standards Board) it is possible to have a mixed practice, perhaps working in a firm 2 days a week and then being self-employed for the other 3, I would like to try that.
What’s the best thing about your job?
The fact that my cases are of real importance to the law and that I get to undertake work I would not have been instructed on for another 5 or 10 years in self-employed practice. Working for the Government means that any case may be a precedent setting matter, with many of our cases reaching the Supreme Court. Working in immigration law means that cases can sometimes genuinely be a matter of life and death.
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The fact that politics can drive cases more than they really should. A change of Government priorities can have a real impact upon a case. One of the most difficult aspects of being a self-employed barrister is that payment of fees can be fairly irregular, especially at the start of your career.
What advice would you give new graduates who want to do what you do?
A career at the bar can be extremely exciting, but self-employed and employed practice can be very different and graduates should be clear about what kind of practice they wish to undertake (although it is possible to move between the two as set out above). It is a good idea to undertake mini-pupillages and the GLS runs a two-week vacation scheme over the summer in order to help prospective barristers gain an insight into the job. Volunteering in legal advice centres and for organisations such as the Free Representation Unit, may help graduates obtain a pupillage.