School of Law alumna Alice Kuzmenko shares her thoughts on her journey from undergraduate student at the University of Leeds to the Bar.

We spoke to Alice (LLB ’17), about the highs and lows on her journey to becoming a barrister.    

Did you know what you wanted ‘to be’ while you were at Leeds?

I consider myself very lucky in that I knew I wanted to be a barrister after several work experiences aged 13. Whilst at Leeds, that desire only solidified once I started networking with those from the Northern Circuit of the Bar and having opportunities to cultivate my own skillset.

Were you part of any societies or clubs at Leeds?

Unsurprisingly, I was a member of LawSoc. I even served on the Committee as the Mooting Secretary during my second year, organising competitions within the Society as well as against other Universities. But not everything was about law! I was also a member of SwimSoc and trained with the Dev A squad for my three years (injuries permitting! Of which there were several, as I am rather accident-prone).  

What has your journey been from graduating Leeds to getting to the Bar?

As soon as I graduated, I returned home to London to start the BPTC at University of Law. I went through the chaos of pupillage applications and accepted an offer at 1 Crown Office Row to start in 2019. This gave me a year gap between finishing Bar School and starting pupillage.

Having made several other applications, I was fortunate to have secured a place working as a Judicial Assistant at the Court of Appeal. For 10 months I was the JA to the Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales, The Right Honourable The Lord Burnett of Maldon. I had many opportunities to develop my skills in research and drafting, see high-quality advocacy, and benefit from meeting many great members of the judiciary and the future Bar too.

After that experience, I had a few months to relax before starting my twelve months of pupillage in September 2019. Nine months in, Chambers offered me tenancy. I have gladly accepted that offer, and am now in the last few months of my pupillage period before I officially start as a tenant at 1 Crown Office Row.

What is the biggest obstacle you have had to overcome in your career so far?

Definitely lockdown during the COVID-19 pandemic. Until March this year, I was comfortably working in an office with the ability to print key documents to work from. I then had to rapidly learn how to manage a paperless practice, tackle issues of digital eye strain that arose from the increased time I was spending looking at screens, and discipline myself to work efficiently from home without the ordinary office structure that I would have in Chambers. It certainly tested my ability to adapt and evolve.

Did anyone at Leeds help you particularly?

My time at Leeds would have been far greyer if it were not for the help I received from others.

Above all, my friends kept me sane. Through thick and thin, they were there for me. They spent an endless amount of time listening to me obsessing over mooting and dissertation plans particularly, and they were there to cheer me up when it felt like everything was falling apart. I am lucky to still, years on, be in contact with those friends.

Also, there were countless professors and tutors who truly did a lot for me academically, and I do not think I ever really thanked them in any detail. From letting me wander in to their offices at any time to debate esoteric points of law, to sitting me down and challenging my work, they incited a real determination in me to always aim higher and never settle for the average. There are particular conversations that I had with those individuals that I still think about when I feel like I have hit the ceiling of my abilities. 

It is thanks to all of those people in my Leeds life that I managed to achieve a First-Class Honours and the equivalent qualification for life experiences (whatever that is).