Consultant solicitor specialising in criminal law and founder of Legal Lifelines
I have always had an inquiring mind and this motivated me to pursue a legal career. The law affects us all in one way or the other. Ironically, I wanted to be a policeman when I was younger but my application was ignored. When I mentioned being a lawyer, I was told that I could not do it, which is assumed of far too many people who look like me. But I am tenacious.
I took a very unorthodox route into law. I completed the Legal Practice Course in 2008 when we were in the midst of the financial crash. I faced a wall of silence from firms that I applied to. I went back home to Bristol, where I obtained an additional qualification as an Accredited Police Station Representative. I then went back to London with some business cards and phoned criminal defence firms, which instructed me as their agent. Clients started to ask for me by name. This helped with my applications for a training contract. I trained at Hanne & Co solicitors and enjoyed my training there.
Like many people, I am fascinated with crime. My mother always advised me that I should do something I loved, rather than working just for money. The criminal justice system is a key indicator of a functioning society, and I wanted to be in a profession that mattered to the people I advise and serve.
I set up the initiative Legal Lifelines as I wanted to empower the community by providing them with unprecedented access to the best legal minds in the country. I had a vision that I could use the insight that I had gained through meeting large numbers of individuals and their families from a variety of backgrounds, and experts from various professions and other frontline services. I wanted to use this joint expertise as a unifying force for good. We have all seen too many innocent lives taken. We have many people motivated to drive change. As a community, I believe we are ready to break the shackles of low expectations.
The Black Lives Matter movement was seismic… I realised that I need to work with my community to encourage young people to believe they can have fulfilling lives
More BAME lawyers are coming together to highlight discrimination. I am proud of organisations that are working hard to address diversity and inclusivity issues. The legal profession is doing better, but not enough are working hard on a groundbreaking initiative to help turbocharge positive practical progression in this area. Legal Lifelines and our network are working with universities and colleges across the UK to educate young people, especially those from underrepresented backgrounds. I want to show them that if I can pursue the vocation I love, so can they.
One of the most challenging moments of my career was the shriek of pain from the sister of a client, whom I had been instructed to defend on a murder charge, when she rang to tell me that her brother had been found dead in a London prison. My client had pleaded not guilty and was awaiting trial at the Old Bailey when the tragedy took place. He was kind and considerate. The anguish I shared with his family will stay with me for life.
I look up to other frontline barristers and solicitors whom I know fight tirelessly to ensure that our justice system is one that the rest of the world still respects. Given the relentless cuts the courts have endured, and in legal aid, I admire their dogged determination to fight for the integrity of justice, sometimes at their own personal expense. My role model is the Secret Barrister and their wonderful works that help shine a light on the criminal justice system.
Setting up Legal Lifelines has always been a dream and it has been the most exhilarating experience of my life. The Black Lives Matter movement was seismic. Witnessing the protests and stories, I realised that I need to work with my community to encourage young people to come forward and believe they can have fulfilling lives as members of society.
A career highlight was launching the Legal Lifelines Stop & Search App, which will help protect the community. Another memorable moment was being ranked in The Legal 500, with this reference from an anonymous legal professional: ‘Michael Herford is a truly excellent solicitor: charismatic, energetic and engaging.’ That meant a lot to me, as I had been advised to avoid the legal profession.