Robert ‘Judge’ Rinder returns to QE

On his first visit back to QE since leaving the School 23 years ago, successful barrister and TV celebrity Robert Rinder had some serious advice for the boys – but gave a talk that was characteristically entertaining, too.

Robert, who was a pupil at QE from 1989 to 1994, proved a popular guest, receiving a raucous welcome from his audience, which comprised Year 10, as well as a number of other boys from the Upper School.

In his talk in the Main School Hall, he reflected on his time at the School – which he left after GCSEs to take his A-levels elsewhere – and shared insights on how to get into the best positions in Law.

Afterwards, he met Headmaster Neil Enright, who showed him around the School. Mr Enright said: “It was very good to be able to welcome Robert back to Queen Elizabeth’s School and I am most grateful to him for coming.

""“The boys were ver y excited to meet him and he reciprocated with a talk that was both engaging and fun, while simultaneously informative and packed with the benefit of his experience. Robert seemed to enjoy the afternoon and to be impressed at how the School has changed in the years since he left.”

Whilst not always having had the easiest time at QE as a pupil, Robert explained in his talk that he has subsequently come to realise what the School gave him, namely “self-discipline”. This, he said, is a crucial ingredient if one wishes to do well at anything: “There is only one person responsible for your career – you,” he told the boys, who listened attentively.

""He learned never to do anything for reasons of fear – “Do things because you love them or hold an interest in them,” he advised. This should apply when it comes to choosing university degrees, he counselled. “Pick something you are really interested in, particularly if you are wanting to become a lawyer.” Robert advised against studying Law at undergraduate level (although he recognised that many follow this route for financial reasons), suggesting instead that they obtain a “First” in another discipline and then go on to take a conversion course, which are often funded by law firms.

Among further practical advice for those aspiring to the Bar was that, in addition to “jumping through the hoops”, they should do other things that would make them stand out. These included:

  • “Debate, debate, debate!” He noted the success of those engaged in university-l evel debating at the top institutions in gaining highly competitive pupillages. In this regard, he cited his own Chambers’ experience in deciding between the 712 applicants for the one pupillage on offer there (and drew comparisons with the intense competition for QE’s coveted Year 7 places, which see 2,500 boys sit the QE entrance examination annually).
  • ""“Be nice and be normal.” This had, in fact, been the key for that one successful applicant to his Chambers. “Something that unites the people from this School is that they are all nice people,” he said, advising the boys that they could perhaps develop such social ease by  working with charities, or in a supermarket or bar.
  • “Do as much work experience as possible.” He stressed that the Old Elizabethan network is a great resource for this and that the alumni – including himself – would do all they could to help the boys.

""He spoke about the role of a barrister – “I am an advocate for my client”. His job was to present the evidence and to challenge the other side, not to take a view on the accused’s guilt or innocence, but to present the case.  In his defence work, it involved battling the state and making the state prove something beyond reasonable doubt. This was, he said, a huge responsibility – and here he drew on Spiderman: “With great power comes awesome responsibility.”

QE boys, bein g so bright and able, will go on to positions where they have to take responsibility for explaining complex issues to people who do not understand them: “People will be relying on you to do a good job for them,” he told the boys.

""At base, his work as a barrister is about the rule of law “on which everything else is built”. It was, he said “better to let 11 guilty men go free than for one innocent man to be wrongly convicted”.

He recounted some cases from his professional career – including his role as counsel to the Turks and Caicos Islands’ Special Investigations and Prosecutions Team. (After two weeks, the novelty of being in the Caribbean wore off – “There are only so many times you can go to the beach before it’s boring.”)

""Robert also explained how he acquired a second successful career by becoming involved in television. “Never think of yourself as only one thing,” he urged the boys. “Remember to keep up all the other talents and interests you have.”

He talked about cases from the Judge Rinder TV show, including a memorable episode which involved an 80-year-old man, a green mankini, a ‘wardrobe malfunction’ and a Battle of the Bands-competition in Manchester! He set the boys a legal problem based on this – what were the grounds for action of the manager of the band (who was suing)?

At the end of the session, he ca me back to this question. One of the Year 10 boys correctly identified that the grounds were “loss of opportunity” [to win the competition and the £5,000 prize]. Robert said he had given this same problem to about 17 different groups, including university Law students, and nobody had pinpointed the grounds so exactly before.

""The boys then asked several questions:

  • One concerned the apparent moral dilemma of the barrister thinking the person he is defending is guilty (“It is for the jury to decide their guilt, not their barrister,” was Robert’s response.)
  • Conversely, one boy asked what a barrister should do if the defendant tells you he is guilty (“Advise them that they should plead guilty, and if they don’t you must drop the case, as counsel can never mislead the court.”)
  • What was the hardest case Robert had done? (Emotionally, Robert said, it was defending a British serviceman against a charge of the manslaughter of a detainee in Iraq – “one of the only cases where for the two-month duration I hardly slept”.)
  • What was the hardest dance he had to learn when he appeared on Strictly Come Dancing in 2016? (“They were all hard, but the quickstep was the most difficult due to it being ‘quick!’ and because the music was hard to follow.”)