Alexandra Wilson‘s forthcoming book, In Black and White: A Young Barrister’s Story of Race and Class in a Broken Justice System lifts the lid on a system straining at the seams – as this exhausting day-in-the-life reveals
I tend to wake up at 6am and sometimes earlier if the court I’m working at is far away. There is a huge amount of travelling involved in my job. The first thing I do when I wake up in the morning is check my emails on my phone. My inbox often feels like a never-ending sea of messages.
By 6.30am I am showered and dressed. It’s really easy to pick what outfit to wear in court because you have limited options: a black skirt-suit, a black trouser-suit, or a black dress-suit. People are often surprised to hear that when we wear our wig and gown, we often wear a plain white T-shirt underneath, rather than a formal shirt. This is because we have formal “collarettes” (they look like posh bibs) and so we cannot wear a normal shirt with a collar.
I’m often on the tube by 7am, on my way to one of the many courts across the country. I can’t read any work papers because they are confidential and it’s almost impossible to keep your phone screen private on public transport during rush hour. I will often listen to music, watch some Netflix or catch up on social media. It’s a chance to relax before a hectic day.
I aim to arrive at court an hour before my case is due to start. Every day I have to go through airport-style security scanners. We aren’t allowed liquids in court (not even bottles under 100ml) unless we taste them first. Often, I’ve bought my second coffee by this point. It never quite cools down in time and so I end up sipping scorching hot coffee.
Once inside, I head to the advocates’ room, a special room for barristers. If I am in the Crown Court I will get changed into my wig and gown but if I’m in the Magistrates court or a family court then I’ll just dump my bags and coat.
One of the most challenging parts of my day is finding my client, just before 9am. I rarely know what my client looks like before I meet them. I consider it a good day if I know what colour their hair is from a witness statement. I always hope that clients have looked up my professional profile online first. Unfortunately there aren’t enough young, mixed-race barristers so I am fairly easy to spot!
In Black and White by Alexandra Wilson is published by Endeavour, priced £16.99
You can follow Alexandra’s work on Twitter: @EssexBarrister
Alexandra is an upcoming guest on ‘A Drink with the Idler’, our live online Q&As free for all Idler subscribers and students
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This is a short extract from a piece in Idler #74, September/October 2020. Copies available here