Howard Leithead
Trinity College

Ranked in Legal 500 2023

  1. What are you doing now?

I am a planning and environmental barrister at No5 Barristers’ Chambers based in London. 

  1. What is life like as a barrister?

My life as a barrister is varied. My time is divided between advising clients in writing or in conference, representing clients in court or inquiries, and other activities like giving talks,  writing articles, and doing site visits. 

So on any given day, I might be working at home or in Chambers, appearing in my wig in the High Court or without it in a village hall, speaking to hundreds of people on a stage or just a few in an office, or walking round a muddy field with a team of experts. My work involves a lot of travel and it can be tiring, but I really enjoy it. 

  1. How do you remember your time in Cambridge? 

Overall, I had a great time in Cambridge. It provided me with the chance to grow personally and professionally and to develop both my academic and my extra-curricular interests. I would not have achieved the things I have achieved without the opportunities it provided. That does not mean that everything was easy, there were challenging times too. 

  1. A little about where you came from before coming to Cambridge? 

Before Cambridge I was a chorister at Westminster Abbey and then HM Chapel Royal, St James’s Palace. As well as singing, I learnt to play the oboe and the piano. These all helped me to obtain a music scholarship to City of London School. After leaving school, I took a gap-year before starting at Trinity, during which I sang in the choir of Southwark Cathedral, performed in concerts at home and abroad, and worked in an office to earn some money. 

  1. Was Cambridge excellent preparation for what you are doing now?

Cambridge prepared me well for working as a barrister. My job involves developing arguments and presenting them effectively both in writing and orally. Obviously I need to understand the law, but the skills that I learnt studying Theology for my degree and then History at postgraduate level are directly transferable. The performance skills that I learnt as a musician have also helped me when appearing in court. 

  1. What advice would you give your fresher self?

I would try to persuade myself to have more confidence in my own abilities. The system is designed to challenge students and I doubt that anyone feels confident all the time. I think I would have had more fun if I had worried less! 

  1. How did you manage the stresses of your academic commitment in Cambridge? 

Extra-curricular activities were helpful for managing stress. Most of mine involved music. I sang in Trinity choir, played the oboe and cor anglais in various orchestras and I also did some conducting, including of The Trinity Singers, which I founded. Concerts were enjoyable both musically and socially and there always seemed to be free (though not necessarily good) wine. 

Escaping to the cinema for a couple of hours was helpful too. I particularly remember one time when I found myself at the end of my first year watching Good Will Hunting in front of Stephen Hawking in the old Arts Picturehouse. 

And spending time with friends was important. Many of my closest friends now were people I met at Cambridge.       

  1. Favourite Cambridge memory?

My favourite Cambridge memory is of performing with the University’s principal symphony orchestra, CUMS 1. I was fortunate to do many concerts with Sir Stephen Cleobury as well as with various student conductors, several of whom now have an international reputation, such as Robin Ticciati. 

During my time in the orchestra, we performed in Cambridge and elsewhere in the UK in venues such as the Royal Albert Hall, and across the world, including in Vienna and at MIT. Perhaps the most moving concert I did was a performance of the Britten War Requiem at Coventry Cathedral conducted by Sir Stephen to mark the 60th anniversary of the bombing of the city in 2000. We were immensely fortunate.

  1. If you had your time again, would you have chosen Cambridge? 

I would certainly have chosen to apply to Cambridge if I had my time again.