BEING A LITIGATOR “WHAT I’D TELL A YOUNGER ME”: THE SECRET BARRISTER’S SELF-DEFENCE INSTRUCTOR: SARAH ROBSON
The aim of this series is to give an insight into the experiences of a wide range of people involved in litigation. This interview, however, posed a unique problem: how do you interview someone with a black belt in Taekwando? (Apart from with considerable care, obviously).
I met barrister Sarah Robson at her home at the end of last year, taking up an invitation to visit her whilst I was in court in the area. I was in a lovely peaceful home and I was made very welcome. The peacefulness seemed to flow from the fact every family member had expertise in martial arts.
I wanted to interview Sarah for several reasons. Firstly she has a very, very niche practice – issues arising from the portal and fixed costs generally. Secondly she is a black belt and instructor in Taekwando and I am always interested in people’s lives outside the law. Finally she gave online instructions on self-defence to the Secret Barrister in a series on her blog over Christmas. (The game Sarah created is worth a look, Twitter star “Brenda the Usher” is the game’s super hero).
Tell us about how you became a litigator in your specialist area rather than working in any other area of law
It was entirely inadvertent. I had become quite good at costs regarding poor conduct in Part 7, so I was asked to do the first cases on poor conduct in the Portal because the principles were similar. Once the first one was reported, everyone assumed I was an expert in this field so kept giving me cases to do with Portal costs and I became the expert everyone thought I was!
What is the one thing about the technical aspects/rules of litigation that you know now that you wish you’d known when you started out in your career
That just because your opponent is from a big/posh set, has a bigger brief fee or is of longer Call than you doesn’t mean they know more than you.
What is the major aspect of the job and lifestyle of being involved in litigation that you wish that you’d known when you started
How much travelling would be involved. Still, this does sometimes take me past a fine Thai restaurant in Stoke on Trent, and (a very recent discovery) an amazing Crêpe House in Bradford.
Now you are a black belt and instructor in Taekwondo, is there anything in your training and mental element of Taekwondo that could be usefully imported into legal practice
It does help, knowing I could punch the lights out of any unpleasant opponents.
A judge who knew I did Taekwondo once purposely asked me to sit between two litigants who had a restraining order preventing them from being near each other (whilst the security guard stayed right at the back of the court room.)
TKD has 5 tenets – courtesy, integrity, self-control, indomitable spirit and perseverance, not unlike the over-riding objective. I use these both in and outside of the Dojang.
People are going to ask – what is the Secret Barrister like as a self defence student
SB started so well, took everything on board really quickly. Quite a prodigy. Nice punches in particular. That was, until the Secret Santa present incident. We haven’t done any training since. So much for perseverance, eh, SB?
My crunch question: if you had a time machine and could go back speak to yourself at the beginning of your career – what advice would you give to yourself?
Don’t just assume judges know more than you, especially when you practice in a niche area as I now do. If you’ve done your prep well and you keep yourself up to date, you can often know more than they do. You can (very politely) take them to the relevant rules or law, and even anticipate what incorrect assumptions they are likely to have made, of which you will need to disabuse them.