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The law of Attraction
By Roxie Cooper
HarperCollins PublisherCopyright © 2017 Jo Murray-Dry
All rights reserved.
'It's all well and good saying you have all these scholarships, Miss Bentley, but they have to give them to people like you, don't they?'
Not quite what I expected as an opening question.
I thought they might start with 'Why do you want to be a barrister?' or 'Why do you want to work at these Chambers?', but not that.
I pause for a few seconds, unsure how to react. If it was a normal person I'd verbally smack them round the earhole for being so rude, but I can't do that, for two reasons. First, I would blow any chance I have of being offered a pupillage, a job as a junior barrister, here. Second, pupillage interviews are notorious for having a 'bad cop' on the panel and there's a pretty good chance that he is mine. I need to handle this carefully, not blow up in the manner of an angry, hysterical, working-class hero.
Having said that, he's looking at my long, blonde, peroxided-within-an-inch-of-its-life hair with such disdain, I wouldn't be surprised if he was appalled, expecting I'd been invited to interview based entirely upon my background (and looks). Ten eyes burn into me, waiting for an answer.
'People like me?'
'Well, it's fair to say your background isn't
conventional in terms of the average barrister ...' he points out.
'Well, that depends on your definition of conventional and who wants to be average anyway?' Oh hell. Too feisty.
The other four panel members smirk and scribble down notes. God only knows what.
Shut this down, Amanda.
'I can assure you I worked hard to obtain those scholarships. I attended rigorous interviews with panels not unlike this one. There's no doubt in my mind, I was selected upon merit as opposed to my "background".'
'Hmm, very well,' Mr Rude says curtly, without looking up. It's said in the kind of irritated tone that says he wishes he could really go to town on me, but time constraints won't allow it.
I focus on breathing and not looking completely intimidated and/or terrified. The other four interviewers on the panel are watching everything I'm doing.
Am I keeping cool under pressure? Do I look and act like a barrister?
Mr Rude picks up a copy of my CV and scans it with his posh eyes. I know what he's going to pick up on, now that he's assumed the bad-cop, awkward-arse role.
'You spent your university summer vacations working in Ibiza ...'
There it is.
'What did you do for work there?' he asks, accusingly.
Everyone's ears prick up waiting to see how I handle this.
'Was any of it indecent?'
'Indecent? Do you mean topless? Absolutely not,' I say, confidently.
There's frantic scribbling going on now. The only woman on the panel can't keep up with this. She is both fascinated and outraged at the same time.
'So, tell us, what skills did you take from this employment that will assist you at the Bar?' Mr Rude sneers.
You 're pissing off the wrong girl here, Mr RudeTwat.
'I worked seven nights a week, often days too. Working with live performance will serve me well in court because I am accustomed to dealing with situations when things go wrong. I can think on my feet and deal with things in a calm and collected manner ... and I am used to wearing wigs now.'
Bit of humour, always a risk. Seems to work, though, as all the other panel members laugh. Mr Rude doesn't even crack a smile. He just goes on. We're still not done, it would seem.
'But you must know you don't conform to the stereotype of how a barrister looks. People will notice that and judge you on it. And I don't mean clients; I mean your fellow barristers.'
Like you're doing now, you mean?
'How do you think you'd cope with it?'
He sounds annoyed.
'Mr Dolus,' I smile, now convinced he's not so much the bad cop as just a monumental dick. 'I've been judged my entire adult life on how I look. But isn't that true for everyone? People are rarely a true reflection of how they present themselves externally. I have the qualifications to be here and it's all I've ever wanted to do. I believe I have the potential to be a great barrister. I don't really care what other people think of me. If they want to judge, that's their problem, not mine.'
Wow, almost convinced myself, there.
Dolus doesn't respond to this. He slings my CV down and leans back in his chair as I smile at him, sweetly.
I subtly, instinctively, reach for the hair bobble, but it isn't there. I deliberately took it off before the interview, knowing that if I kept it on I'd just be playing with it the entire time.
At this point, the kind-looking man on the panel, who's obviously had enough of Mr Rude's dumb questions, takes over.
* * *
This interview is all I've thought about for weeks.
Athena Chambers is the most prestigious set of Chambers in Newcastle. Competition to even get a pupillage interview is fierce, so the fact I did sent me into a tailspin. I've been to university (great times, fabulous social life), went to law school (bloody hard times, no social life), and now it's the difficult part: securing a twelve-month, practical, 'on the job' training pupillage in Chambers. These are as hard to come by as pink diamonds. So I really can't fuck this interview up.
I barely slept last night, running through every conceivable question they could ask me in my head. By 5.45 a.m., I thought I might as well get up, despite my interview being at 10 a.m.
I dithered over my interview appearance. I don't look like a 'typical' barrister. I look more like a brainless blonde bimbo who cares more about which shade of eyeshadow to wear than the latest Law Reports (both important, mind you). Massive debate with my housemate, Heidi, ensued over whether I ought to 'tone it down for the interview'. Heidi's exact words were 'No. Your intellect and sparkling personality will shine through. Your look is an asset, not a flaw.' I love her.
I compromised in the end by not wearing false eyelashes. My long blonde hair swept down my back, pinned up at either side. I did consider an 'all-up ponytail'; far too brutal and exposing, though — I wouldn't be able to think. I selected a well-fitting trouser suit and crisp white shirt, which complemented my hourglass figure and felt more professional than a skirt suit.
It was a beautiful June morning as I strolled down the Quayside. The Tyne Bridge made me feel small and insignificant, as always (although I could have done without that today). Athena Chambers is tucked away in a little courtyard just off the Quayside and, if you weren't looking for it, you wouldn't even know it was there; like a members' only club.
As I faced the big, red, shiny door of Chambers, I immediately forgot the harsh pep talk I'd spent the last few hours giving myself. A quick glance at my watch revealed it was 9.51 a.m. Nine minutes early.
Once inside, I was faced with a bright, long corridor with rooms going off either side. As far as buildings go, it was posh. I am not posh. It was one of those crazy old not-sure-what-period-it-belongs-to buildings. Could be Georgian or Victorian, or any other '-ian' – definitely old, anyway. It was very grand: high ceilings, huge coving and massive windows. A chandelier hung in the corridor, catching the light and reflecting it on to the pale yellow walls. The effect was a warm, golden glow, which made me feel slightly at ease. It felt important, respected, traditional and steeped in history. It was everything you imagined a barristers' set of Chambers to be.
I couldn't believe how weirdly quiet it was, much more so than I'd expected a Friday morning to be. The waiting area consisted of green-leather Chesterfield armchairs positioned around a dark-oak coffee table. A big reception desk hosted an enormous vase full of lilies.
' Morning! Is it Amanda Bentley?' a voice shrilled behind me.
'Yes,' I replied, trying not to look like I was about to drop dead with nerves.
'I'm Jill, Chambers receptionist. Let me show you to the barristers' lounge. The panel are interviewing and will be ready for you shortly.'
The 'barristers' lounge' was a room at the end of the corridor filled with scruffy-looking sofas and raggedy old rugs, providing a stark contrast to the grandeur of the rest of the building.
I sat down and waited, feeling light-headed with nerves. I was also in agony with the onset of huge blisters forming on my ankles owing to cheap shoes slicing off my bare flesh. Buying pretty, but cheap, shoes is all fun and games until you have to actually walk in them.
Suddenly, I realised that my mind had gone blank. Completely blank. I couldn't remember why I wanted to be a barrister, despite having rehearsed this answer for the past two days solid.
What did I think of the new provision of the Criminal Justice Act? NO BLINKING IDEA.
Why did I want to practise criminal law? I literally could not remember.
Before I had time to run out crying, a strict-looking woman identifying herself as one of the interviewers came into the lounge. She was wearing a skirt suit, with shiny brown hair scraped back into a tight ponytail. Flat shoes were on her feet and she was wearing barely any make-up. She was everything I am not and told me the panel were ready for me. Suddenly, I felt like I was Barbie applying to marry Prince William. I cannot pull this off.
The interviews were being held in a meeting room on the first floor, with panoramic views of the River Tyne outside. Old legal books covered the walls on ceiling-to-floor bookshelves. I was seated, on my own, at one side of an enormous table.
The chairman of the panel was the enigmatic and relatively famous, within legal circles at least, Sebastian de Souza QC – obviously a very confident man and safe in the knowledge that he could make most young and impressionable women take their knickers off at the drop of a hat. He leaned back in his chair, twiddling a pen in his hand. In his mid forties or thereabouts, with long, untamed, dark hair, laced with grey streaks, and hazel eyes. Maybe it was money, or the power, or both, but he dripped charisma before he even opened his mouth.
The only other panel member who stood out to me was a guy called Sid Ryder. If you were asked to define the 'sexy older man in a suit', you'd describe him. His dishevelled dark-blond hair (lighter at the ends) was long enough to dance around his eyes, brushing his cheekbones every time he moved his head. It was trendy in a way you'd think he wouldn't be able to pull off because he wasn't twenty-one, but it somehow worked, despite his being in his mid thirties. His face was dominated by his icy blue eyes and gorgeous dimples every time he smiled. He looked simultaneously charming and utterly filthy. I had to concentrate to not be distracted by him.
Panel interviews are awful. The main rule being: 'make sure you look at everybody when you answer the questions'. Everyone started scribbling the second I sat down.
How have they found anything to write about me before I even sit down?
'Amanda. Latin. The girl who must be loved,' purred de Souza, staring straight at me, locking his eyes directly on to mine.
'Apparently so, yes,' I replied, a bit too close to a gasp. God, he's good. How does he do it?
'Well ... we'll see, shall we?' he responded, much more steely-eyed.
And that's when Mr Rude came in with his stupid questions.
Once Kind-Looking Man (actually called Peter Lawson) on the panel takes over, however, it is a whole different ball game.
He asks me the kinds of questions you'd expect from a pupillage interview, which really gives me a chance to shine* (*give all the rehearsed answers I've been practising for the last three days, but pausing before I give them so it looks like it hasn't even occurred to me before, and I've only just thought of this brilliantly thought-out answer on the spot).
The all-important 'Why Do You Want To Be A Barrister?' question is first. I give the official answer: academic challenges, interest in the law, love of advocacy, and so on. But I do not reveal everything; that an incident when I was fifteen allowed me to visit a Crown Court, and from that moment on I was hooked. I remember how majestic the barristers looked in their robes and wigs, how respected they were; people listened to them. They combined intellect, knowledge and a passion for justice with flair and showmanship in the courtroom. By the end of the hearing, my mind was made up. I had to do this. No other career would do.
Naturally, every aspect of my background served as a hurdle to entering the profession. A girl from the north-east of England with a funny accent, brought up on a council estate - and I was not privately educated, the first in my family to go to university. The careers advice chats were always the same:
'So, Amanda, any thoughts about what you want to do when you finish school?'
'Yes, I'm going to be a barrister,' I'd say, defiantly.
Every single time, it was met with a patronising 'Oh dear, how do I break this to you gently' face and an even more patronising 'It's good to have other options' line.
But hard work and stubbornness go a long way, so here I am.
The panel fire out questions in quick succession. I barely have time to think but at least I remember to look at everyone, swivelling my neck in excellent Exorcist fashion to ensure I do.
'What's your idea of a great way to spend a Friday night?' Sexy Sid suddenly asks.
I think about it for a few seconds. I have no idea what the purpose of this question is, but I'm not about to lie.
'Going out dancing and drinking cocktails with my friends,' I wince.
Not sure if that's the right answer, but I'm certainly not going to say 'sitting at home reading about the new sex offences regulations'.
Absolutely no idea how this goes down. De Souza smirks, probably trying to telepathically sense where a girl like me would go out drinking on a Friday night.
'Well, you'll fit in very well here then,' Sid replies, doing the charming smile thing. Then I just melt into my chair, never to be seen again.
After forty-five minutes of being relentlessly interrogated, Kind-Looking Man informs me that the interview is over, unless I have any questions, which I do.
'How many pupillages will you be offering this September?' I enquire.
'Well, we say only one, but if we had more than one outstanding candidate, we would consider two.' Yikes.
And that is it. My time's up and I've done all I can.
'We'll let you know either way on Monday and send a letter out first thing tomorrow morning. Thank you so much for coming in,' says Kind Man. And, before I know it, I'm ushered out.
I walk very quickly back down the corridor, picking up pace as I reach the end. Sunlight streams on to my face as I wrench the heavy door open. I take my sunglasses out of my handbag and coolly put them on to hide the big fat tears beginning to form in huge blobs in my eyes.
I'm exhausted. For weeks I've been preparing for this interview and now it's over. A huge wave rushes over me; whether it's relief, worry, or both, I honestly don't know.
I walk away from Chambers at a snail's pace and almost get run over twice. As I wait for the bus, I go through the interview, but the whole thing turns into a load of scenes and voices swirling around my head in a big confused mess.
I really hope I haven't blown it.CHAPTER 2
The last thing I feel like doing tonight is going out and getting hammered. All I've thought about is yesterday's interview; how it went, how I could have answered each question better - going round in circles. I'd be quite happy lying on this sofa until Monday, eating crap food, drinking wine and watching Netflix, while crying about how I've fucked up my one big chance in life. But I promised Heidi we'd go out tonight and she isn't letting it go.
At 5.45 p.m. she stands over me, menacingly, hands on hips, scorn pouring from her eyes.
'Mandy, I'm giving you ninety minutes to sort yourself out. Stop moping and go get glam. You don't have a say in this.'
I screw my face up, recoiling even further into my foetus position.
'No buts! Come on!' she says, pulling me off the sofa with such force that I actually bounce on to the floor, making us both laugh. 'Okay! I'm going!'
Two hours later, we're in our favourite bar, Cryptic. In high contrast to yesterday's conservative interview look, I'm now sporting a black body-con dress so tight I can't wear knickers with it, big hair and even higher heels. I suspect Mr Rude would have a heart attack if he saw me tonight.
Excerpted from The law of Attraction by Roxie Cooper. Copyright © 2017 Jo Murray-Dry. Excerpted by permission of HarperCollins Publisher.
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