Single parent working class family- a phrase not commonly associated with a career at the bar, but times are swiftly changing. I began my journey to the bar attending a state funded school, with a single parent mother who worked tirelessly to put food on the table. I watched my mother, and my grandparents strive to be the best at anything that they put their mind to, and I was taught the very same from a young age. ’Something worth having never comes easy in life’, a saying that we all now fondly reflect upon.
Life growing up was challenging at times, but I would not change a moment of it, I truly am blessed to have such a supportive family. Over the years, I have unfortunately faced battles with my health mainly in relation to my food intolerances and irritable bowel syndrome which at times proved to be quite difficult, but I never let this stop me.
School was something that I greatly enjoyed, however parent’s evening on the other hand was a particular highlight, hearing repeatedly, ‘Saskia is an extremely clever girl if she would just stop talking’, a bubbly personality that I am most certainly proud of and who knew that I could make a career out of talking.
I left school with 9 GCSE’s and moved on to study Law, French and Business Studies at A Level at a local college. This is where my love for the law developed, and I was encouraged to pursue a career in law. I explored my passion for law further when I decided to move over 30 miles away to study Law with Criminology at The University of Chester. The move shocked my tight knit family, and it was believed that I would return in a matter of weeks with my tail between my legs stating that I had made a mistake. As a child, I never wanted to leave my mother’s side, we were much more like siblings, inseparable and if the truth be told that is still very true to this day.
I thrived at The University of Chester, but it did not come without its challenges. After a brief battle with health anxiety, of which I am not ashamed to say and I feel at the bar, talking about mental health is extremely important, I came out on the other side with the extensive support from my family, my long-term partner, and close friends. I will be eternally grateful for them guiding me towards the light at the end of the tunnel. However, despite those difficulties I continued to work hard and strived for my dream, to become a barrister. A plaque in the window of my university bedroom window read ‘Be Bold Be Brave Be You’, a moving in gift from my mother that I still cherish, and I did just that. The pandemic then shocked us all, the unexpected government announcement was made that we were entering into lockdown. With that thought in mind, I packed my belongings into my little Vauxhall Adam and headed back to sunny Stoke-on-Trent and that sadly very abruptly marked an end to my face-to-face university lectures as I knew it then. I then began the few short months of my lectures that remained virtually from home, with what can be described as creative presentations and staring at only icons with simply names on a screen, no one dared to show their faces at 2pm in the afternoon in their pyjamas. Fear not, there is some positivity within this story, I passed my studies with the university and received my Bachelor of Honours in Law with Criminology, but what had I planned to do next you may ask? A whole new journey lay ahead of me.
I had set my eyes on the new bright lights of Manchester to study the Bar Practice Course combining a Master of Laws, a decision that I will never regret. Day one, and it was not in the Big Brother house, in fact I was walking into a seminar room in a new classroom, in a new city, but this was very different to the studying that I had previously experienced. Post-pandemic and the universities were adapting to new ways of working. I walked into the classroom to find a desk set out for each member of the class, and I took a seat on the right-hand side, second from the front. In walked our tutor and this was the start of one incredible journey. I found my love for advocacy during a cross-examination session in which I was volunteered by my lecturer to go first. I was slightly nervous and apprehensive as at this time I was not over familiar with my classmates, however I bit the bullet and gave it my best shot and I surprised myself. This taught me my first lesson from bar school, being pushed out of your comfort zone has its benefits. I thoroughly enjoyed the whole experience and my passion for advocacy grew. Cross-examination was certainly one of my best skills and passing those litigation exams felt like truly winning the lottery. It involved many late nights studying after my full-time job, and I will not shy away from failure. Do not be defined by failure, it happens to us all at one stage in our lives, you simply pick yourself up, dust yourself off and work harder.
The results were in, and I could not bear the nerves and shaky hands for much longer. My mother and I opened my bar results sheet online and let out the biggest shrieks of our lives. I had passed the course and it was one of the proudest moments of my life. The tears shed in my family home could have given the Atlantic Ocean a run for its money. Next, the hunt for pupillage began.
I applied for the Crown Prosecution Service for the third year running in January 2023. I had made it further than ever before this time, and I had a good feeling. I passed the Civil Service Judgment test and the verbal test again as the twice before. However, I then received the great news that I had made it to the final round, the panel interview. I was absolutely delighted; I could not quite believe it. My first ever final round pupillage interview, and had I known it then to be my last.
The day of the final round interview arrived, and the nerves were most definitely present. The pressure was mounting, but I composed myself and I had prepared the topic as best as I could, I had worked extremely hard preparing for the interview and I knew that there was nothing more that I could do. I sat down in my new office area, in my new house (as I forgot to mention, I also bought my first house during my bar studies) and I was ready, the moment was finally here albeit via Microsoft Teams. I received my legal question, and I prepared it within the given time, and I submitted my response. I was then entered into the virtual meeting with the panellists. Firstly, I was greeted by their warm kind-natured personalities, and I immediately felt at ease. The interview did not come without its technical difficulties; however, technology is fabulous… when it works. I felt that the interview went well, and I was pleased with the way that I had conducted myself. The anxious wait then began to find out if I had been successful.
A few months later, the Apple iPhone whooshing email notification brought me back to reality. I opened the email to find ‘I can confirm that you have been successful’, and the rest is history, my dream became true in that very moment. To then read the outstanding comments from the panel, brought more tears to my eyes. For someone who at times struggled to believe in themselves and was told by others even those in the profession to give up, to pursue another career, you will never make it to the bar with your background but who never gave up, I could not quite believe what I was reading. The next words that left my mouth were ‘Mum, Mum, I did it’, and the tears were falling like a waterfall, and they did not stop for quite some time, happy tears of course.
The purpose behind my story here is to demonstrate that no matter who you are and where you come from, please do not let that stop you from pursuing your dreams. I was once a little girl with a big dream, that is now my reality and as I have always said from the very start of this process, it only takes one person to believe in you and to give you that chance and I worked extremely hard to have mine.
By Saskia Fagan Future Pupil Barrister at CPS and Litigation Assistant, Thompsons Solicitors