KCL Bar Society 11th Annual Dinner

by Xenia Makridou

On Thursday, February 11th 2016 (exactly a week ago), the King’s College London Bar Society held its 11th Annual Dinner at the Crypt, in London, where Lady Hale of the Supreme Court was invited to deliver a speech and dine with several other people in the profession and King’s students, among them, myself.

Overall, the evening was enjoyable – nothing less; nothing more. Despite being used to formal dinners of that kind to some extent, the experience still presented itself as something very new to me, in terms of networking. I had never really networked before – the only other time I did was after a Lord Phillips’ lecture on human rights, where an informal reception was held for students to talk to him. The fact that it was in such an informal setting, however, and considering the majority of attendees were students on that evening, it wasn’t anything too stressful, or requiring too many skills. As opposed to the dinner at hand, where I found it particularly difficult to network while sitting on a table full of strangers (except one), in such a formal environment, having to pay attention to everything they said, continuously thinking of possible responses which never materialised, laughing to things which were not even that funny.

Let’s take things slowly, though. I dressed up very nicely, indeed, and made my way to the venue, which positively surprised me. The restaurant was inside a church, a crypt, essentially. It looked beautiful, and the candle-light created a very romantic and relaxed atmosphere. On arrival, I met a friend, luckily, and so we stuck together for most of the evening, considering she was also sitting at Table 5 (I believe it was 5, but I won’t bet my life on it).

When we went inside, there were quite a few people already there, meaning that they had already formed their groups. In any case, we left our coats at the cloak room and proceeded to take a couple of pictures – some friends had also come by that time, and so we all took pictures together and formed our own little group of champagne, getting to know each other better, and trying to fit in. Lady Hale came up to us at some point, being friendly as she is, but nothing said is really worth mentioning. What really is worth mentioning, however, is Lord Judge joining our little group. He was incredibly friendly and approachable – engaging with each of us, asking us questions, prompting us, advising us, and really just showing us the way to successful networking. At that point, I was thankful I went to the dinner, because I remember dreading it a little bit beforehand. Just for those 10 minutes spent with Lord Judge, the entire evening was worth it.

Food’s served! We had a wonderful dinner – very gourmet, very classy. The dishes were not entirely conventional, but made for everyone’s taste – which is a skill only the best chefs master. We started off with ‘Dorset crab with marinated Scottish salmon with tomato, herbs and avocado’ (quoting from the menu, which I took with me on leaving the venue as a keep-sake). Quite truthfully, I believe at that point in time I didn’t even realise there were half of those ingredients mentioned in the title in my food (haha). Crab? Avocado? I’m not doubting they were there; I’m just better off assuming they were there, but in a different form than what is usually expected of them. In any case, the main course followed with ‘pan seared fillet of seabass with buttered spinach, saffron pomme mousseline and Trinity fish cream sauce’. This was delicious – on point. And last but not least, ‘pear tart Bourdaloue with walnut and maple ice cream’. I’m not going to lie, I didn’t enjoy this too much – perhaps my wish for something chocolatey affected my evaluation. In any case, considering the place was where Henry VIII enjoyed a feast for five consecutive full days and nights in 1531, it was not surprising that this was the dinner served. We were also served coffee and ‘Petits Fours’ at the very end.

After having devoted an entire paragraph on food, let’s move on to the stuff that really matters. Lady Hale’s speech was rather ‘expected’ – the usual introduction (we already knew everything about her anyway), and just a wish for another woman on the Supreme Court. Don’t get me wrong, it was lovely – but nothing special. Our table consisted of my friend, two third-year female law students, two QCs* and myself. I found it very hard to engage in conversation – not so much in the beginning obviously, that’s the easy part. As the evening went by, keeping up with the different topics discussed required much effort. The two third-year students were very lively, and as older and more knowledgeable, they very much influenced and sustained the conversation, meaning that in certain instances I could not follow – I just couldn’t understand the topic being discussed! Also, what more could a first-year student, who has no legal knowledge whatsoever (especially because the QCs I was sitting with (one practising in family law; the other in injuries) were both working in areas which I had not studied before), talk about with someone of that other level? I believe the evening was saved and ruined by the third-year students. They did break the ice by being very confident and talkative, making it less awkward for us first-years who didn’t know what to say, yet they could be said to go a little overboard in some instances, excluding us completely, by discussing topics we couldn’t possibly express opinions in, simply because we had no idea what was going on. Nevertheless, I was very impressed by their conduct overall. I wasn’t very impressed with the QCs though – they didn’t seem very interesting or friendly for that matter, which was sad, because considering we were only first-years, they should have perhaps given us a little more attention, or tried to engage with us more to show us how it’s done – just like Lord Judge had done previously. And that is where one sees the difference between an elderly, wise judge, and a young, inexperienced barrister. I don’t seek to generalise whatsoever, just to describe my experience and subsequent thoughts.

To sum up, I’m happy I went in the end, just for the sake of the experience really. The venue was beautiful, the food was delightful, and the piano at the end was very soothing. I wasn’t very impressed with the people on our table, but at least I can say I did it: I met 3 new people, and I learned 3 new pieces of information (surely I must have, haha). This is my goal for every networking opportunity. At the very end, I was also given a ‘Thank You’ card with my name written on it, which was a lovely gesture. So, here it is – my long-promised account of the dinner with Lady Hale.

*QC = Queen’s Counsel