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OV

22 October

Law Careers Session with OV Edward Cumming QC

OV Edward Cumming QC (Br 90-01) held a very interesting and engaging session on Careers with members of the Upper Removes in the Bolland Room with fifth and sixth formers joining the discussion through Teams.  There were plenty of questions for Edward, starting with one concerning which subjects should one study at A level if you are thinking of going to study Law. Edward said that, traditionally those who wanted to go on to study Law at university were advised to take English, History and Latin, with maybe a foreign language.  But Edward thinks that any subjects are ideal; he himself studied Geography, Maths, Further Maths and French and he believes that Maths is a good subject because it helps you to think logically and gives you robustness of thought.  In response to the question as to whether he had always wanted to study Law, Edward said no, he didn’t know what he wanted to do and spent a lot of time thinking about what it was he wanted to study and he realised he quite liked the idea of being a barrister because he liked an argument!  Qualifying as a lawyer, he said, is very demanding, very competitive and you have to do well in your degree in order to study Law.

Edward chose to study Law at Cambridge because it is a modular course whereas, with the Oxford course there is a big exam at the end of the third year, and he decided he wanted the summers off, for a better work/life balance and to do something different with his summer time.  When it comes to interview, the key thing is to be as relaxed as possible. The people who are interviewing you want to know how your brain works and if they can work with you.  He remembers some advice he was given by a university don, “ There are Squirrel Nutkins and Eyores. Squirrel Nutkins are bright-eyed and bushy-tailed whilst Eyores are dour and not very enthusiastic.  In the mind of the interviewer, you want to be a Squirrel Nutkin and someone who they want on the course.”

Edward also gave some advice about the experience that students can start getting now, if they want to study Law:

  1. Read some good books and he recommends ‘Learning the Law’ by Glanville Williams and ‘What about the Law’ by, amongst others, one of his university professors, Graham Virgo.
  2. Go to the public courtrooms and talk to the people there about which cases it would be interesting to watch.
  3. Log onto the Supreme Court website where all hearings are live-streamed but also you can access old hearings there, such as Brexit-related appeals.

Edward answered a question about whether he sometimes feels nervous, saying that yes, it can be nerve-wracking before a big case but he knows that a bit of adrenalin is a good thing and makes you perform at a higher level.  He said that he loves the fact that he can put forward arguments for other people and he likes working out what to say and hopes that the jury or the judge will be more convinced by his arguments than those of the opposing barrister.  When you are successful, Edward said, the gratitude from the client is the most rewarding thing.

Edward doesn’t always take cases that he agrees with, and he explained to the students about the ‘Cab Rank Rule’, this applies to barristers the same as taxi-drivers. Taxis have to take you where you want to go and not where they want to go. Barristers are the same, they have to take the case and present the argument as persuasively as possible.

Edward explained that he has lost count of the numbers of cases he’s lost as well as those he’s won.  There is a saying amongst barristers that “we don’t win or lose cases, we just ‘do’ cases.”  But nonetheless he doesn’t like losing a case!  Barristers are not allowed to advertise their win/lose percentage because this goes against the ‘Cab Rank Rule’.

One of the questions asked of Edward was, “Is it better to have a Law degree, or study a different degree first and then do a Law Conversion?” A while ago, Lord Sumption (a Supreme Court Judge) stated at a Cambridge lecture that, “It is positively better not to have studied Law first”.  Edward’s own view is somewhat different but he says this is his own personal view, “If you know now that you want to be a lawyer, then go and study Law, unless you are passionate about doing something else. I don’t think that the one year Law conversion gives the same experience as a three year undergraduate degree, although I admit this is a gross generalisation and the best thing is to get the best degree you can, regardless of the subject.”

Questions were also raised on gender and diversity and Edward explained that the number of people today qualifying as solicitors is almost 50/50 men and women.  The issue, nonetheless remains the retention of women, as generally they are the ones having babies and taking on caring responsibilities (whether this is right or wrong).  Things are, however, improving and much is being done to improve the situation.  Edward said, “Some of the very best barristers I know are women.” With regards the question of BAME representation in the Law, Edward said that, traditionally the Law was quite upper class however, that is now a thing of the past and there is a lot being done to make Law accessible such as reverse mentoring schemes, whereby those practising the Law, who have experienced racism can talk to barristers about these experiences.

Work experience, Edward agreed, is very useful so you can find out whether the Law is for you and it is also helpful so you can point to this and it gives others a little more information about you.  Edward had also taken some time in his career to work in the manufacturing industry where he learnt a lot about commercial experience.

Finally Edward talked about the skills needed to study Law and he said that you have to have the ability to think and express yourself clearly and with reason, both in writing and orally and you need to be prepared to work hard. He is self-employed and therefore has to have a lot of self-motivation.  When talking about his own experience, Edward says that he loves studying Law and he really enjoys doing Law.  Some advice that he shared with the students on how to improve your practical speaking skills, he said that talking in debates and public speaking are both very good.  And the best thing is to set up your laptop and watch yourself back when you’ve presented an argument.  Look at how you are talking and filling the gaps, do you make eye contact, how often to do look at your notes.  Be harsh on yourself and work out how you can improve.

The students were thoroughly impressed and grateful to Edward for giving up his time and sharing his wise advice with them.