Nadine Radford: the barrister they call `sir'

The profession's profile has changed, but old habits die hard, as one m odern lawyer told Paula Nicolson

From the age of seven Nadine Radford has wanted to be a trial attorney, the equivalent of a barrister in her native United States. She has fulfilled her ambition and practises in London as a barrister specialising in criminal law, and is a member of the Bar Council.

Her convent school education provided many opportunities to demonstrate a natural talent as an advocate for friends in trouble with the nuns, and both parents were keen for her to achieve her academic and professional goals.

"My father firmly believed that if you had intelligence and ability it should be used to help someone else," she says - a message that has stayed with her throughout her professional life. Her earliest memories of other people's disadvantage date from family visits to Manhattan, when her father made deliberate detours through Harlem.

She arrived in the UK in 1971 to pursue her ambitions, married an Englishman who was also training to be a barrister, and was called to the Bar in 1974.

At that stage there were few women barristers who were married. "Women were routinely asked about their plans to have children," Ms Radford says. "I remember when it was considered a breakthrough to have one woman in every chambers."

In her own set she is one of nine women out of 38 barristers, although she is clear that she does not want to be seen primarily as a representative of her sex. She recalls with affection a new clerk calling her "sir". To Ms Radford, this was acceptance.

She believes that to succeed at the Bar women must break free from the stereotypical notion that they need concessions, and should expect to be judged according to their ability as barristers. She also believes that women need to be seen to have expertise beyond that involved in family or rape cases, where some are still sidelined.

Her aura of professional confidence combined with femininity contradicts any simplistic stereotyping. Her background helps her to provide expert support for her clients without overpowering them.

"I try to involve my clients," she says. "I always tell them the truth as best I know, and inform them that they have a choice. No client need feel they are stuck with me."

She believes that the majority of people she represents in her legal aid work have never been given the chance to participate in any aspect of their lives. When they have her as their barrister, she attempts to turn the tables and give them both information and choice.

"I always represent people to the limits of my ability. Even if they don't get the result they want, the clients have had a proper stab at justice and will probably have learnt something about themselves along the way."

She takes the need to participate seriously and applies this to herself as well as her clients. "I don't believe people should sit on the sidelines and criticise," she says. "If you think something should be different then it is up to you to get involved."

This view led her to stand for the Bar Council in 1986, and she has been a member ever since. She has been elected to a number of committees, including professional services, and now chairs the Bar services committee. In addition to these commitments shesits as an assistant recorder in the Crown Court.

She is deeply concerned with the image and practice of her profession, and has seen many changes, even in her eight or nine years on the council. She believes it to be more representative now, with increased awareness of the public it ultimately serves. "At the same time the public are more aware of their rights against us, which is very important," she says.

And barristers are now drawn from wider social and educational backgrounds. Ms Radford says that the Bar Council is striving to ensure that this new breed of barrister is empowered to make the system work by encouraging participation by the young Bar.

"You no longer have to be Oxbridge-educated and white, male and middle-class. That is not how society is structured, and the Bar has to reflect society."

Her experience of the Bar has generally been positive, although it has no "cosy, clubby atmosphere". Being a barrister is highly competitive, but Ms Radford maintains that she has never been bereft of advice or someone to turn to. Colleagues provide mutual practical and emotional support in both their professional and private lives.

"The public often don't realise the extent of the back-up they get," she says. "They have hired one barrister, but they get the wisdom of many. I may go to my head of chambers to discuss his approach to a particular case, or ask younger members for help with research." And even outside their own chambers, barristers exchange ideas and experiences.

Her private life has not been as sheltered as may appear from the ease with which she accounts for herself. She is the oldest of four children: one brother died from leukaemia at the age of 11, and the youngest child was born with Down's syndrome.

Despite her long-held legal ambitions, she has always wanted children. When she and her husband were told that they could not have them she rose to the challenge of proving the doctors wrong, and produced four children, now aged between eight and 19.

She says that combining career and motherhood does not provide easy options, and whether to have children is a dilemma that every professional woman has to face. "My mother, who didn't go to university, told me that the best thing I could do for myself and my children was to carry on with my career," she says.

The fact that her parents now live in London and occupy the basement of the Radford family home is a bonus, and has been an invaluable opportunity for Ms Radford to focus on building her career while being reassured about the care of her family. She works a six-day week, often from eight in the morning until past nine at night, but she could not be happier, she says. "I achieve a great deal of intellectual satisfaction, meet people from all sorts of backgrounds, and learn about new things with each case . I can't remember a time when I have not gained value back from my work. You couldn't ask for more, could you?"

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
glastonbury
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Shock of the news: Jake Gyllenhaal in ‘Nightcrawler’
filmReview: Gyllenhaal, in one of his finest performances, is funny, engaging and sinister all at once
Arts and Entertainment
Shelley Duvall stars in Stanley Kubrick's The Shining
filmCritic Kaleem Aftab picks his favourites for Halloween
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Kit Harington has been given a huge pay rise to extend his contract as Jon Snow in Game of Thrones
tv
Life and Style
Taste the difference: Nell Frizzell tucks into a fry-up in Jesse's cafe in east London
food + drinkHow a bike accident left one woman living in a distorted world in which spices smell of old socks and muesli tastes like pork fat
Sport
Luke Shaw’s performance in the derby will be key to how his Manchester United side get on
footballBeating City is vital part of life at United. This is first major test for Shaw, Di Maria and Falcao – it’s not a game to lose
Life and Style
Google's doodle celebrating Halloween 2014
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Don’t send in the clowns: masks and make-up conceal true facial expressions, thwarting our instinct to read people’s minds through their faces, as seen in ‘It’
filmThis Halloween, we ask what makes Ouija boards, demon dolls, and evil clowns so frightening?
News
peopleFarage challenges 'liberally biased' comedians to 'call him a narcissist'
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Senior IP Opportunity at Major Firm

vary Attractive Salary: Austen Lloyd: MANCHESTER - AN OPENING AT A VERY HIGH Q...

Nursery Manager

£100 - £110 per day: Randstad Education Ilford: Nursery Manager Long term Ran...

Sales Consultant – Permanent – West Sussex – £24-£25k plus commission and other benefits

£24000 - £25000 Per Annum plus company car and commission: Clearwater People S...

SEN Teaching Assistant

£45 - £65 per day: Randstad Education Bristol: Supply SEN Support Jobs in Bris...

Day In a Page

The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

Commons debate highlights growing cross-party consensus on softening UK drugs legislation, unchanged for 43 years
The camera is turned on tabloid editors in Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter'

Gotcha! The camera is turned on tabloid editors

Hugh Grant says Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter' documentary will highlight issues raised by Leveson
Fall of the Berlin Wall: It was thanks to Mikhail Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell

Fall of the Berlin Wall

It was thanks to Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell
Halloween 2014: What makes Ouija boards, demon dolls, and evil clowns so frightening?

What makes ouija boards and demon dolls scary?

Ouija boards, demon dolls, evil children and clowns are all classic tropes of horror, and this year’s Halloween releases feature them all. What makes them so frightening, decade after decade?
A safari in modern Britain: Rose Rouse reveals how her four-year tour of Harlesden taught her as much about the UK as it did about NW10

Rose Rouse's safari in modern Britain

Rouse decided to walk and talk with as many different people as possible in her neighbourhood of Harlesden and her experiences have been published in a new book
Welcome to my world of no smell and odd tastes: How a bike accident left one woman living with unwanted food mash-ups

'My world of no smell and odd tastes'

A head injury from a bicycle accident had the surprising effect of robbing Nell Frizzell of two of her senses

Matt Parker is proud of his square roots

The "stand-up mathematician" is using comedy nights to preach maths to big audiences
Paul Scholes column: Beating Manchester City is vital part of life at Manchester United. This is first major test for Luke Shaw, Angel Di Maria and Radamel Falcao – it’s not a game to lose

Paul Scholes column

Beating City is vital part of life at United. This is first major test for Shaw, Di Maria and Falcao – it’s not a game to lose
Frank Warren: Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing

Frank Warren column

Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing
Adrian Heath interview: Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room

Adrian Heath's American dream...

Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room
Simon Hart: Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

Manuel Pellegrini’s side are too good to fail and derby allows them to start again, says Simon Hart
Isis in Syria: A general reveals the lack of communication with the US - and his country's awkward relationship with their allies-by-default

A Syrian general speaks

A senior officer of Bashar al-Assad’s regime talks to Robert Fisk about his army’s brutal struggle with Isis, in a dirty war whose challenges include widespread atrocities
‘A bit of a shock...’ Cambridge economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

‘A bit of a shock...’ Economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

Guy Scott's predecessor, Michael Sata, died in a London hospital this week after a lengthy illness
Fall of the Berlin Wall: History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War

Fall of the Berlin Wall

History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War
How to turn your mobile phone into easy money

Turn your mobile phone into easy money

There are 90 million unused mobiles in the UK, which would be worth £7bn if we cashed them in, says David Crookes