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8 career lessons we learnt from talking to the youngest barrister ever

17th June 2014
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19-year-old Gabrielle Turnquest is likely to make you feel like a little bit of an underachiever: having qualified at the age of 18 from the University of Law and passed the UK Bar exams, she’s now the youngest person in 600 years to have qualified as a barrister in this country.

Her career echoes that seen in hit US legal drama Suits, which also follows a young and impassioned lawyer with a talent that belies his age. Gabrielle is pretty modest, though, for the holder of such an accolade. She’s the youngest barrister “not ever”, she points out: “let’s go with what we have records for.”

Still, we’d say that’s pretty impressive.

Now back at home in the US, where she’s about to embark on a career in fashion law, we caught up with her to discuss her achievements so far, her inspiration – and her love of a good courthouse TV drama.

1.       If you think you might buckle under the pressure to achieve amazing things straightaway, remove yourself from it – that way you can get on with it on your own.

“I don’t think I’ve had as much pressure as I would have had had I remained in the UK. Being back in the US has taken a load off. People are shocked, and probably would’ve asked more of me, but I haven’t necessarily been in a situation where I would face a lot of pressure.”

2.       Sometimes, it’s important to give yourself a break.

On downtime: “I watch a lot of TV... I watch a lot of courtroom dramas: Suits, The Good Wife, comedies, reality TV...”

And on the all-important summer holidays: “at the moment I’m in Florida, but I’m going to go to California – I’m just on a break until July.”  

3.       There’s a lot that can be said for multitasking.

On starting her first degree, a bachelors in psychology, at the age of 14: “I did it part online and part in school... I was actually still in high school when I started; we have a school programme that allows you to do both at the same time. I was a junior in high school.”

4.       Pick a niche area – and make yourself an expert in it.

On her plan to forge a career in fashion law: “I decided it was quite a niche area, and that’s probably something that’s going to be able to help me focus. It’s an area that I think will allow me a lot more opportunities in the future” – rather than getting into an area that is “oversaturated.”

5. Sometimes snap decisions can be the best and most career-defining ones.

On applying to law school: “Honestly, I didn’t make the decision until a month before applying... once I was accepted I started to take it more seriously!”

6.       ...But still make your decisions carefully.

“Research is important. I don’t think that I’d be where I am if I hadn’t been able to research all the opportunities that are available to me... if it wasn’t for the research I wouldn’t have been able to take college classes whilst I was still in high school; without research I wouldn’t have taken advantage of the fact that I could go to school in England, and then come back, and have a shorter qualification course than it the US.”

7.       Think outside of what you think you already know.

“We have so much good research literally at our fingertips... look at things from a more global perspective. You might not even know what it is that you want to do. I have a degree in psychology and am obsessed with fashion; I didn’t start out knowing exactly where I wanted to go. But I was able to research enough options to figure it out.”

8.       Inspiration is most likely to come from home.

On the person who has supported her the most through the whole process: “Probably my mom. She’s a lawyer; she had already gone through a lot of the same things that I was about to and am still going through... ( have) a good support system, and I’m sure that she was really glad that I decided to go to law school.”

Suits Season 3 and 1-3 box set are out on DVD now, from Universal Pictures (UK).

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