Paying it forward

Inspired as a teen to pursue a career in law, Malcolm Swift (Law, 1969) overcame many barriers to take his place at King’s. With a hardwon degree under his belt, he has gone on to have a legal career most students can only dream of.

Malcolm Swift glimpsed a world he wanted to join from the comfort of his sofa at home in Yorkshire.

‘I wanted to pursue a career in law since I saw the television programme Boyd QC. I was hooked. I have always loved the English language, public speaking and the art of persuasion. I knew immediately that I wanted to be a barrister.’

But as quickly as he had identified the path he wanted to take, Malcolm found obstacle upon obstacle blocking his way. ‘My careers master at school told me not to be so daft. No one from my background could ever be a barrister. I was determined to prove him wrong.’ But when none of the initial universities he applied to offered him a place, it looked like his legal career was over before it had even started.

‘I thought, “What am I going to do now?” I still wanted to pursue this career, so I did a bit more research on my own. I applied to King’s independently of the clearing scheme. I actually rang the Faculty of Law and asked for an interview. My request was granted and I was interviewed by Professor Davies. We talked about what I wanted out of life and eventually he offered me a place. It would never happen these days. I was incredibly lucky.’

This was an opportunity not to be taken for granted and Malcolm knuckled down. He was determined to make the most of his chance, knowing that a law degree from King’s was just the stepping stone he needed.

‘The lecturers and tutors at King’s were simply the best. We were so privileged to have the top experts in their fields. I was also fortunate to be in an outstanding student year group (1966–69) from which many of my fellow graduates went on to greatness. I used to go across to the Royal Courts of Justice and watch cases and see how people did things there. I would go to the Old Bailey to watch trials in action. King’s links with Gray’s Inn were invaluable. I wanted to be a criminal lawyer so it was an obvious place to join. You had to stand up and speak. You would have people barracking you from the floor. It was the perfect training ground. I learned tolerance and patience. As a barrister, you have to keep in control of your emotional expressions. I learned the art of making sure people want to listen rather than have to listen.’

Malcolm’s time at King’s served him well and he was called to the Bar in 1970. He took Silk in 1988 and was Leader of the North Eastern Circuit between 1997 and 2001. His career has been punctuated by headlinemaking cases. In 2008, he defended in R v Iain Davis (UKHL 36 – the landmark ruling on the use of anonymous witnesses in criminal trials, which reasserted the longstanding common law right that an accused has the right to know the identity of his accuser).

‘I do not think there were any barriers to me pursuing my career after King’s. I had support from my Local Authority who gave me a grant for tuition and funding for three years of living expenses. I worked in various jobs to support myself at Bar School. My parents did as much as they could, but they could ill afford to support me.’

Today, the competition to study law at King’s is even tougher. And current students face challenges that the generations preceding them did not have to overcome.

‘Students graduate with considerable debts which hang over them for years. No student today could enter university by the route I took. This is why I have decided to leave a legacy to King’s. I owe my career to King’s willingness to think outside the strict admission rules. As someone who is eternally grateful to King’s, I simply want to help other students from backgrounds such as mine who might, without financial assistance, be deterred from pursuing a career in law. It would be gratifying for other graduates to join in contributing towards scholarships. They could last for a very long time and benefit many deserving students.’

Find out more about leaving a legacy.