Having just been appointed as a Recorder of the Crown Court deployed to the South Eastern Circuit, I have been asked by the Law School to reflect on the journey from Coventry Polytechnic, now University, to the Crown Court Bench. I attended a comprehensive school with little emphasis on Higher Education. I turned up in Coventry in 1983 having chosen to study law but with no real idea about a career or even what studying law would be like.
I soon settled into a Department that was full of characters both on the teaching side and the student side. The whole Department worked to support the students and get the very best out of them. We were so lucky to have such a close bond with our lecturers and senior members of the Department. I note the continuity of that band of lecturers with continued presence of Steve Foster in the Law School. Steve was an outstanding lecturer and I’m sure his development into a leadership role will have embedded an ethos of striving for achievement but not at the expense of personal development.
I left Coventry with a solid foundation in all the key subjects needed to advance into a career in law and a confidence instilled by the outstanding teaching and guidance of the Law Department. I went to Bar School at a time when the only place to study for the Bar was the Inns of Court School of Law. That was fortunate for me as I came from London. I had joined Middle Temple as a student member when I was in my 2nd year at Coventry. I had secured a sponsor barrister and had dined at the Inn prior to going to Bar School. That gave me some insight into what life would be like at the Bar. I was fortunate to become a tenant in a criminal defence set of chambers. My career flourished and I built up an excellent defence practice. However in 1994 legislation was passed that allowed for solicitors to appear as advocates in all courts. I saw that as an opportunity so I took and passed the conversion course and became one of the first Solicitor Advocates. I worked for a short while in a solictors practice to develop the knowledge necessary to start my own firm and in 1995 I opened O’Keeffe Solicitors.
O’Keeffe Solicitors quickly expanded and it gave me the opportunity to continue with my Crown Court advocacy and build a criminal defence firm offering opportunities to talented people young and old to join me and build the firm into one of the largest legal aid firms in the country. Our outstanding reputation in criminal law led to the offer of one of the largest publically funded immigration law contracts. Nowadays we are a much smaller setup specialising in defending in the most serious of criminal cases. I have no doubt that my time in Coventry was the most important period of my life in both developing my understanding of the law and all round personal development.
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