Acts of kindness see barrister shine a light for social mobility

Barrister Eleanor Temple is on a mission to create equal opportunities.
Barrister Eleanor Temple is on a mission to create equal opportunities.
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Eleanor Temple is determined to give those from disadvantaged backgrounds the career opportunities. Ismail Mulla reports.

By all accounts Eleanor Temple has had a very successful career as a commercial barrister.

She is part of the successful barristers’ set Kings Chambers, chairwoman of insolvency trade body R3 in Yorkshire and is a part-time judge.

However, the Leeds-based barrister realises that it could have been all too different if two people had not intervened.

Back in the early 90s she was at Guiseley School in Leeds. It was here that a maths teacher called Mr Vanham, who in his spare time was sitting as a magistrate, encouraged the young Eleanor Temple to do a law for interest course.

She then wound up doing an A-level in law. However, there was a catch. The Local Education Authority would not fund it. Mr Vanham instead dug into his own pockets and paid the entrance fee for her exam.

“I don’t know whether those sorts of things really happen anymore,” she said. “I was so touched by his generosity that I remember writing him a letter before I sat the exams to say that I was going to work really hard for him.”

The other person who played a role in Ms Temple becoming a barrister was Norman Jones.

Just when she was having second thoughts about whether or not to continue the long journey towards becoming a barrister, Judge Jones stepped in.

“I remember speaking to Judge Jones about it and he said: ‘Eleanor you were born to go to the bar don’t even think about doing anything else’,” Ms Temple said.

Those act of kindness and nurturing have left a lasting impression on Ms Temple and are the reason why she is interested in the notion of social mobility and helping others.

The upper echelons of the legal profession are still dominated by privately-educated white males though the winds are changing as people from more diverse backgrounds filter up the chain.

Exposure to professionals plays a big part in giving young people from less advantageous backgrounds the confidence and the contacts to break through.

“My view is, it is easier if you’ve got exposure to a judge or a doctor or a barrister to feel more confident in applying for those jobs in comparison to those people who have never spoken to a judge or a barrister or perhaps lack confidence in doing so,” said Ms Temple.

The barrister is mentoring a girl from her former school in Guiseley and hopes that acting as an example will inspire her and others like her to aim high.

Ms Temple uses former US secretary of state Madeleine Albright’s comments about there being a special place in hell for women who pull up the drawbridge behind them as inspiration.

“I think I’ve been let through the drawbridge and I’m certainly not going to pull it up after me,” she said. “I’m going to pull some more people in with me.”

The idea of social mobility needs to be more than empty platitudes, Ms Temple added, and that it shouldn’t be about creating opportunities for the sake of it but giving those that are able a chance in life, regardless of background.

“I’d like to see every child in any school thinking that all of those professions are open to them if they’re able enough,” she said. Kings Chambers will this year be running a competitive process to allow students from low income or disadvantaged backgrounds to gain industry experience.

“The idea behind that, certainly from my point of view, is just to give a bit back,” Ms Temple said. “The reason why I am where I am is because I’ve worked hard but also because I was sent in that direction by those particular individuals that I’ve mentioned.”

It’s about expanding the pool of talent from which the legal sector and other white collar professions can pick from, she said.

“Everybody ought to have the same opportunities because it’s in everybody’s interests, society and business, for the best people to get the best jobs and that’s irrespective of the background they come from,” Ms Temple added.

Ms Temple qualified as a barrister in 2000. She has seen many changes in the sector since then with technology playing an increasing role.

The old days of the wigs and gowns are on the way out. The launch of the business and property courts has updated the industry.

The Leeds-born lawyer is a keen advocate for keeping legal work in the region and she helped launched an organisation called the North Eastern Circuit Commercial Bar Association (NECCBA) which aims to promote the expertise of local commercial barristers.

Ms Temple recently took over as the chairwoman of R3, becoming the first barrister to chair the regional group. Her involvement in R3 began in 2003 and she set up the R3 Ladies Group.

“In those days, going back 15 years, women were very under-represented in the insolvency industry,” she said.

By creating a critical mass of people from minority backgrounds, it can boost diversity further and allow the cream of wider society to rise to the top, said Ms Temple. It also makes for a more harmonious society.

“The more diverse the professions, business and society are, the more harmonious the workforce,” she said.

The barrister stands as an example for women and those who don’t come from a privileged background.

She has two pieces of advice for those aspiring to achieve what she has. “The first piece of advice is believe in yourself that you can. Have a go and you might surprise yourself,” Ms Temple said. The second piece of advice is ‘run your own race’.”

Eleanor Temple Factfile

Title: Barrister at law, part-time judge, chair of R3 Yorkshire, chair of NECCBA

Date of birth: November 5, 1976

Lives: Harrogate

Favourite holiday destination: Dubai – the first holiday destination with my husband

Last book read: Emma by Jane Austen (again)

Favourite film: Pretty Woman

Favourite song: You Can’t Always Get What You Want – The Rolling Stones

Car driven: Land Rover Discovery

Most proud of: My family

Education: Guiseley School, St John’s College, Durham University, Inns of Court School of Law