Daniel Alexander is intelligent, witty and charming – he also happens to be an award winning QC, deputy judge and proud trustee of the National History Museum. NAA spoke with him recently to discover what it takes to ascend to the upper ranks of commercial law in the UK and found out that dedication, flexibility and sheer hard work are essential.
Alexander was born in London to a Ghanaian father and a German Jewish mother and although his academic excellence was obvious, growing up, he could not have predicted that he would rise to eminence as a barrister QC. In fact, Alexander gained a first class degree in Philosophy and Physics from Oxford University. It was during his final year of study that he began to consider possible careers to pursue upon graduating. ‘My mother said she’d support me in doing anything except law,’ he laughs. However, it would emerge that Alexander was destined for a career in commercial law: his college Fellow set up some work experience for the undergraduate at a prominent friend’s chambers and, to put it in Alexander’s words, ‘I never left’.
The legal profession has come under fire in recent years from those who feel it still fails to reflect the diversity of modern Britain. Yet Alexander offers a counterpoint to the accusations, saying, ‘everyone in the industry is essentially New Labour as far as diversity is concerned – even if they’re otherwise Conservative.’ Comparing the diversity of the industry when he entered it in the ’80s to the present day, he asserts that things have changed significantly: ‘At the bar people will either have a first class degree or a doctorate. It would be rare to find a black person at the bar or in commercial law and those black lawyers who were around at the time would usually be doing criminal law or would specialise in immigration. Now there are far more black and ethnic minority groups at the bar.’ When asked whether he thinks this increase has to do with the implementation of access schemes, he says ‘Quite simply, it’s to do with the fact that there are now more black people with the qualifications needed to go far. If you have the grades, ethnicity will not be a problem.’
The challenges that Alexander most frequently encounters has more to do with the nature of his job than the colour of his skin. Cross examining a Nobel laureate or an expert in the field of technology is no small feat. It can often require working until 4 am in order to identify a weakness in the witness’ argument and an early start in court the following day. This is why Alexander emphasises the importance of communication and the ability to switch between dealing with a variety of diverse aspects of law. Speaking of the challenges he encounters at work, Alexander compares his job to that of a sportsman: ‘If you ask a tennis player what his biggest challenge is, he’ll say Federer, Nadal or Murray’. In the light of this, Alexander readily advises that those who aspire to carve out a successful career as a lawyer be willing to put in the hard work and understand that law is difficult: ‘you need to have some respect for the subject,’ he says.
Despite his success, Alexander shows no signs of complacency and understands that he must continue to meet the high standards that he has set for himself: ‘Law is not fancy. Success, to me, is knowing that you haven’t just done the best that you can do but that you’ve done the best that it is possible to do.’