I work for ... Michael Mansfield, QC Emily Robb is PA to the barrister


Two years ago I found myself a bit skint after having a baby so when my agency told me that there was a brilliant part-time job going working for an unnamed barrister, with generous wages and flexible hours, I jumped at it. I'm ashamed to say that I didn't know who Michael Mansfield was, even though he's been on programmes like Radio 4's The Moral Maze, but the last thing he would have wanted was a woman gazing at him in starry awe. He interviewed me in a shell suit and I remember thinking that he was the only person who could look sexy in such an outfit. It was a bizarre interview, he didn't ask me any questions about myself. I thought I would be too middle-class and not sufficiently politically aware for such a radical, campaigning lawyer, so I was amazed when I got the job. I found it strange to think Michael would take me on with three very young children and for a long time I assumed that it was because he wasn't interested in my life, but when I recently told him I was having my fourth child he was genuinely thrilled for me. I went home in a daze thinking he was really quite a sweetie.

My predecessor showed me the ropes and I didn't see Michael at all for the first six months. He very much kept his distance, probably because he was too busy with other things. I was flying by the seat of my pants really, I knew nothing about the judiciary except for the fact that solicitors instructed barristers. But the clerks were great, filling me in whenever I needed help. Michael would obviously get very annoyed if he was double- booked, so I had to learn to liaise with the chief clerk who, as the main dynamo, sorts out Michael's work diary. Although the barristers within this Chamber share the same ideology, helping people who can't represent themselves, it is still something of a menagerie. Barristers have the ability to make their clients feel that they are the most important people in the world, but a week later they have been completely forgotten, despite the fact that the client might be starting a life sentence.

Barristers can also be bare-faced liars, for example they might have forgotten to tell me about a meeting at which Michael should have been present, but when Michael gets annoyed for having missed it, the barristers will swear blind to him that they had informed me of it. They seem to think that it is morally justifiable to argue that black is white and white is black. It's slightly sinister and a bit like Alice in Wonderland.

Every day I check the diary and the post. People often write from prison asking for help, and usually I have to tell them that they need to have a solicitor before Michael can get involved. Universities and colleges constantly invite him to speak and there's also the correspondence generated by the many campaigns he's involved in. He set up a charity called Amicus, of which I am secretary, to provide pro bono representation for people on Death Row. The letters from the "clients" on Death Row are very poignant, both heartbreaking and ghoulishly fascinating.

Michael also gets a lot of fan mail, particularly from women who have heard him on the radio, some send him presents or photos of their pets, but it's all fairly harmless. I have a horror of The Moral Maze because I once messed up the dates. Michael was terribly nice about it and didn't sack me. I don't think he receives the brief until nine or ten on the evening before the show, it's quite tough on him. I can't work out how much he enjoys being in the media, but I know that his court appearances always come first.

Michael never tells me what's going on in court, but I know it's tiring because by the end of the day he can get jelly brain and be irritable. I usually write him a note listing the boring questions I need to ask and then log it. But when he's in good spirits he is great fun to be with. I once read in an interview that anger was his driving force, which I found hard to believe because he appears so happy-go-lucky. He is very forgiving, but he is very passionate about issues like police corruption and forced confessions. I've never been a campaigner, but I know that I will never think the same way about the legal system; a case like Carl Bridgewater's makes one very frightened of the police.

Unlike most barristers, his main motive isn't money. He's very generous, when people write in and say that they have fallen on hard times he often sends them money. He once suggested paying my tax on top of my salary, an increase of 40 per cent. I told him he couldn't possibly do that because he would be spending too much. He has six children himself, five of whom are grown-up. I know that he makes a big effort with his youngest boy, taking him to school and football matches and organising the babysitter from work. I think he does all the cooking as well, yet he seems to go out every night of the week and never gets a hangover. He also plays the drums in his spare time. He's just got a huge amount of energy. Although he isn't classically good looking, he is one of those men who have got natural sexiness. I don't think I've met a woman who has forgotten a meeting with him. When he's in court he's amazing, he talks to the jury as if he was one of them.

I have worked for him for two years, but I'm about to leave to go to live in Singapore. It will be a hard wrench, but I don't think Michael will want to stay in touch. His last PA worked for him for five years and it's always been a bit of a joke that Michael never said goodbye to her. That's the irony of the situation, one feels deeply loyal to him and quite protective, while knowing that it's not reciprocated. I think perhaps he can see the broader issues, but not the individuals closer to him. Although being close to someone like this is great, it's good that this has been a part-time job because otherwise one could get swept away by Michael's personality.

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