Baroness Sally Hamwee is currently Liberal Democrat spokesperson on Home Affairs in the House of Lords.
“Are you going to be a solicitor like your father?” was enough to deter me until I had to think seriously about a career, and realised the Law would provide all sorts of opportunities. It didn’t occur to me that these might include acting for rock stars and for the Poet Laureate during my years in an entertainment and media-focused practice after Cambridge. I was lucky enough to find myself in a firm where my partners thought there was more to life than work and were entirely open to my parallel political career. The only doubt was: “Won’t you be very tired?”
I had been on Richmond upon Thames Council for five years when we won control. I became Chair of the Planning Committee (“You’re a lawyer, you could do it” – actually experience in negotiating recording contracts wasn’t much help). I then chaired the pan-London planning committee, and was elected to the London Assembly, which I chaired for much of my time as a member. I had been in the Lords for some years by then, continuing to practice. It wasn’t long before I found that clients were intrigued when a division bell rang during a phone conversation; I felt pulled constantly between responsibilities to individual clients and those that arose from public duties, including everything that goes with being a peer.
I have now been in the Lords for 28 years. People often say that it must be such a help, being a lawyer. Well, yes and no. Yes, because I enjoy dealing with legislation, even if my drafting still owes a bit too much to how a point would be expressed in a contract. No, in that I find it very hard to take someone else’s analysis or wording on trust; I have to check the references, and read everything. And once a lawyer, always a lawyer – my proudest moment was when the then Lord Chancellor, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, in response to one of my amendments, said – inaccurately – “the Noble Lady’s drafting is better than mine”.