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Chief Justice describes his path to legal peak

Would-be lawyers have been given an insight into potential career paths from Bermuda’s top judge, Chief Justice Ian Kawaley.

He was the keynote speaker at a conference for high school students held by the Law Students Association of Bermuda at XL yesterday.

The conference set the stage for similar events to come to “keep young people informed and engaged in the field of law”.

Justice Kawaley recounted his early days of training, sitting exams, and how he ended up in commercial law. He advised students to take extra care in preparing for exams, including their psychological state of mind.

He described how he broke one of his own exam preparation rules by opting to go to a concert on a weekend before major exams.

“George Benson gave a fantastic concert, but by the time I started going back to Liverpool, I felt I hadn’t done enough work and that I shouldn’t have gone to that concert.

“By the time I got in the exam room I was so tense and anxious that for the first hour I couldn’t remember a thing,” he said.

“I just managed to scrape through that exam with the lowest possible grade all because I allowed myself to get into the wrong psychological frame of mind. When you’re studying, you have to find ways or your own personal tricks of making yourself feel confident as you prepare for crucial tests.”

He stressed that no one is perfect and in law school no one will sail through without problems. And then there was his “great fear of public speaking”.

“I had a chronic fear of public speaking, I was so quiet and retiring that I would hardly ever ask a question in a lecture room in front of a lot of people.

“I realised that I was going to have to come back to Bermuda and appear in court, and possibly have the newspapers writing about me; I said ‘How on Earth am I going to do this?’”

After taking a course he said: “I had the most transformative experience that I ever had in my life. So it is always possible to mitigate weaknesses or areas of your skill sets that are not natural strengths.

For every lawyer, he said, the most memorable case is always the first. His first as a Crown counsel was a death by dangerous driving case before a jury.

“The defence lawyer was Julian Hall, who was the greatest defence lawyer in Bermuda at the time.

“I set about trying to persuade Mr Hall his case was hopeless and that he should plead his client guilty. Amazingly, and I don’t know if ever in the history of Bermuda there’s been more effective negotiation than I conducted then based purely on a fear about going before a jury, he managed to plead his client guilty. And I managed to escape the dread of having a jury trial against Julian Hall.”

He then switched to the other side of law to doing criminal defence.

“I found out that there is nothing more satisfying in life than representing someone who’s charged with a criminal offence before a jury and having the jury come back with a verdict of not guilty.

“You cannot imagine how it feels, especially if you’re representing someone who is charged with an offence that will likely result in them being incarcerated for a number of years.

“To think that you can actually impact somebody’s life, their freedom and fortune to such an extent. That is perhaps one of the quintessential social benefits of a lawyer, being able to actually protect someone’s liberty.

“The longer story is that what happens is that you find over time that many of the people who you succeed in keeping free today end up losing up their liberty tomorrow because they commit other offences for which it’s impossible for them to escape.

“But nevertheless the criminal justice system operates to one very important premise, that it’s more important that a guilty man go free than that one innocent person is convicted. And that’s why there’s a presumption of innocence.”

Justice Kawaley eventually moved into criminal litigation where he stayed for 14 years.

With about 400 practicing lawyers in Bermuda he said: “I would suggest that at least 300 are working, one way or another, in an international business related sphere.”

He concluded: “From there I ended up on the bench and being a judge was an opportunity to help decide what the law was as opposed to telling clients what I thought the law was.”

Chief Justice Ian Kawaley spoke to students yesterday about careers in the legal profession.

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Published June 25, 2013 at 9:00 am (Updated June 25, 2013 at 12:00 am)

Chief Justice describes his path to legal peak

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