Recently, I was fortunate enough to interview the accomplished Barry John Harwood-Ferreira. He is an ex-police officer, a barrister and now the Deputy Director of Advocacy and the Head of the Employment Practice Group at DWF Advocacy Ltd. From such an array of life and working experience, he served as a perfect interviewee for us aspiring lawyer. Below are the questions I asked him. I hope you enjoy the read!

1. What has been the highlight of your journey thus far within the legal industry, especially as a barrister? This could be a case you have worked on or an occurrence whilst practising law.

During my pupillage, specifically during the second 6th at a London chambers, I was part of the defence team for a murder trial at Nottingham Crown Court. We were representing the accused in relation to the murder of his common-law wife. The case involved an investigation by police service to pinpoint the cause and factors leading up to death. Thus, being an ex-police officer the case was of great interest for me.

Unfortunately for the defendant, the police did not carry out a proper and thorough investigation. The pathologist from the home office did not make use of the correct thermometer to measure the dead woman’s rectal temperature and thus it was an inadequate investigation. What we then relied on was the circumstance of the murder. The defendant and the common law wife had a local drinking den. We highlighted that that at the drinking party the defendant drank white cider in excess to the extent of becoming unconscious. When he eventually woke up at 5 in the morning, he went to bed and saw his common-law wife, wrapped his arm around her but noticed she was irresponsive. He tried to resuscitate her but was not met with any luck.

Indeed, the investigation was not satisfactory but to continue the investigation work further it required public aid money. Thankfully, we received funding and enough red fibres from the t-shirt of the actual murderer were found on the defendant’s wife. At first, there was a plea for a lesser offence to manslaughter but he was eventually cleared.

This was extremely impactful on my decision to continue because such a case can be a deciding factor as to whether you pursue a career in this industry. There is simply so much at stake – somebody’s liberty of life. Also, with examples of corruption and a lack of thorough investigation, it makes the work even more difficult. Thus, it is not one for the light-hearted.

2. You do not come from a Russel group university background but have managed to achieve highly. What would you say to a budding lawyer from a similar background who may fear that the legal market does not favour them?

I would emphasise that you take no notice of the opponent because if you are well prepared, you will go further. It does not matter if you are a first generation university attendee or even if your A-levels are not in place – as long as you show that you have the knowledge and skill, it will favour you. Simply, try to be the best at what you do.

3. How did you find your way into employment law considering that there is a vast array of legal types?

As already highlighted, I come from a police service background. Here I was a member of the Police Union where I had a secretarial disciplinary role. Essentially, I covered misconduct charges before the Police Chief constable and represented the employees, dealing with employer-employee relations. This lead on to me studying social sciences in order to then think more formally about sociology, race relations and policy. It helped me understand how people behave and who are vulnerable in society due to discrimination especially, race, sex and gender.

Specifically speaking of sexuality, the Thatcher period was notoriously unobliging. For example, there the Sun reported a joke that went like this: “A gay man goes home to his parents and tells them he’s got good news and bad news. The bad news is I’m gay. The good news is I’ve got Aids.” Moreover, government Acts were passed which disfavoured homosexuality, e.g. Clause 28 which sought to intentionally not promote any material favouring homosexuality. Thus, it was heavily career limiting.

4. Further, what would you say to an aspiring employment lawyer before they start out?

This is for any lawyer or one aspiring to be one – the industry only wants determined people. It is the long game and there will be setbacks until you get your big break, making it similar to acting in fact but those small steps accumulate over time. Be prepared to be knocked back but don’t take it personally and turn it into positive!

5. One question that plays on every potential lawyer’s mind is the work-life balance. How have you managed this and what would you suggest to an aspiring lawyer to not burn out from work?

I don’t see what I do as work in a sense. I love doing what I do and thus it does not feel like work.

Despite that, it is important to have someone there, e.g. a partner or a friend, to tell you to have a break – to go away and recharge the battery. Life as a barrister is very difficult and that is common knowledge. By working individually you carry a lot of responsibility and there is no one overlooking it – you cannot tell another barrister to take over. Therefore, do not take on too much work and remember to take a step back to realise the track you are on so you do not burn out.

6. A great focus of employers now is soft skills. How do you think soft skills, such as an ability to network and communicate effectively has helped you in your career?

The soft skills are extremely critical and can generate income in practice. For example, getting well known through Twitter and LinkedIn can act as vehicles to pick up clients. Be sure to engage with your online platform, e.g. taking a picture of an event you are at and what you take away from it. The person viewing it could well be your future client.

7. I understand that you take interest in raising awareness of the LGBT, evident from you being a Co-Chair of the Staff Forum at MMU. How important do you think it is for these issues to be highlighted in the legal world?

Indeed, there is still a long way to go. Lets put LGBT to one side and consider the minorities as a whole who will see some sort of prejudice towards them and the same applies in LGBT. We need to understand that the person concerned with whatever differences can bring their whole self to work. It is important to see that with differences aside, there is potential for greater productivity and a motivation to do the very best.

The issues at MMU are improving. Over the last 3 years, it has moved from a position of 44 to 14 as a top 100 employer in the Stonewall index. This is mainly due to its focus on equality and diversity and people pushing for the changes. MMU promotes a democratic environment and welcomes change openly.

8. What is some advice you have received from someone else early on in the career that has still stuck with you?

Number 1: Never be late for anything. For example, when a lawyer is late the client and defendant are stressed and a trial cannot happen.

Number 2: Make sure that you always fully research the area or points you are going to make. Failing to prepare is preparing to fail. It will not only take you personal standing into disrepute but it will spiral into a lack of trust in you to carry out a thorough job.

Good luck, do not be put off and stay determined.

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