Anu has been a Barrister for the last 23 years and a member of the Bar in England and Wales. She sits as a part time judge in the crown court, she works for different care regulators and sits on the board of a legal regulator.
Anu was born in India. Her parents moved to England and she was brought up in Glasgow. She is an only child with parents who are doctors. There is a huge perception that Asian families have large extended families, but her grandparents all died before she was born or when she was very young, so it was really just the three of them. Anu feels her routes are truely in Scotland.
In the 70’s there were all sorts of problems around multiculturalism. It was difficult and her parents found it hard. When she first started school she was the first brown person to come into the class, and many of the other girls didn’t quite know what to make of her. She wore her hair in two long plates and the only other people that did this that they were aware of were Red Indians, so they were afraid that she would shoot them with her bow and arrow. In the end one of the older girls from another class had to get the girls to come and talk to Anu and play with her because they were scared. That was hard at the age of 5 yrs, but partly she didn’t know any different so just got on with it.
Glasgow today is very multicultural but even now Anu feels much more aware of the fact that she is not white when she goes back, than she does working in London.
Everybody expected her to be a doctor so she was determined not to be. She loved public speaking and debating in secondary school, which led her to law. She was completely addicted to Crown Court, a TV series back in the 1970’s – she thought it looked great fun and was the sort of thing she wanted to do. She set off to university in Colchester Essex, to complete her law degree. She had a clear idea in her mind that she wanted to be that Barrister in Crown Court addressing juries.
Anu’s mum was quite worried when she went into Law – how was she going to get on in this very male, white dominated profession? Anu didn’t really see that – she just felt that she was the person who was good at some things and not good at other things – and she kind of forgot that other people saw her very differently. That was the way she approached things and she feels that this approach has helped her along the way.
If you go through life with the message of I am no different to you, then it is really quite difficult for the person that you are in contact with or interacting with, to continue to treat you differently, if you are not letting them. Perhaps when you have a clear idea of what you want to do you can ignore some of the other stuff? Once you find out what you are good at, then that becomes your focus. Anu was in a very supportive environment where she was valued for her talents and her personality, which allowed her to focus on what she wanted to do.
One of Anu’s biggest challenges was when she went to university where there was a very large London Asian contingent and felt that she was not at all like many of those people. She got much more hostility from other Asians when she went to University, than she ever did from any non Asian people. She did struggle with the reality of life at university after being in such a protective, positive and nurturing environment. Now days, Anu feels the more modern approach of talking about worlds in a more realistic way, is a good thing and helps build personal resilience. If you don’t have that personal resilience you become a casualty very early on.
Following a Law degree, Anu did a year of professional training, kind of like a graduate course. She moved to London where she didn’t really know anybody, did a year at Bar school and then a placement with a senior member of the Bar. Applying for these positions was a shock as Anu didn’t realise when she had to apply and found out that others were applying all over the place and she had done nothing. She panicked and desperately tried to run off as many applications as she could… back in the day of hand written applications! After a lot of interviews she got a placement in two different places for six months in each, which were completely non funded. The idea of being an intern is an old established tradition and it has been only recently that ideas have had to change to attract diversity. Back then Anu was fortunate enough to be a daughter of two doctors that were able to partly fund her though those times.
As she got on her feet Anu started defending and prosecuting. Her first ever case was a dangerous parking trial at Redbridge Magistrates Court, where the client never paid. She was at the bottom of the pecking order at that time as in the beginning she didn’t make much money and often made a loss. That was what was expected then and that is how you got on.
Now, standing up in court is nerve-racking, exhilarating, and one of the best feelings in the world for Anu. Naturally every Barrister is a bit of a showman and it’s your opportunity to be centre stage, but as you get on and realise that it is not all about you, you become a better advocate.
The Bar Regulator surveyed women working at the Bar and found a huge drop off of women after a number of years so they have been working to try to change this and encourage women to stay in the profession. With that in mind the number of women coming through into judicial posts is quite encouraging. But when Anu goes off to Judge at Crown Court and she goes into the dinning room at lunch time, the people around her are still predominantly white men in their 50’s+. It is very easy to be put off, but Anu doesn’t subscribe to the thinking that if you want something enough you will get it. People have to have the ability and the talent. If you have the ability, talent, determination, the ability to be resilient and flexible, open to new ideas and challenges – then if that’s what you want to do you should not be put off. There is opportunity for those who are good.
It’s all about talent and application. The harder you work the more talented you become. You have to work at your craft to become an expert. Anu has interviewed hundreds of people over the years for pupilage, she sees the very earnest young kids coming in who desperately want it – they will all work hard but what is it that they have got that will make them a great Barrister? They have to have a basic talent in the first place as well as wanting to do something and working hard.
Anu demonstrates some of the fundamentals of resilience:
- having a clear sense of purpose
- focusing on your strengths
- making very clear choices about the world
In making those choices Anu has taken responsibility and grown accountability for herself. It can be scary making choices but sometimes you just have to throw yourself in and go for it. Anu feels that the key is self awareness and self knowledge, you have to be honest with yourself and understand what your strengths are, what your weaknesses are and what you have to watch out for. These are the things within your own personality and abilities that may trip you up. Then you can make difficult choices by recognise the things that are in your favour and trying to avoid the pitfalls that you know exist within your personality and abilities. Even if it doesn’t quite work out the way you think it will or want it to, you will have things to fall back on and other things to do. Anu looks back at the low points of her career and the hard times.. and horrible as they were, she never starved or didn’t know what the next day would be and that’s what she feels she needs to remember.
Listen to our podcast with Anu Thompson to hear her full story
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