In Your Defence: Stories of
Life and Law
Published in hardback June 2018 and paperback January 2019.
A Sunday Times Bestseller.
Chosen as a Book of the Year 2018 by The Times' Critic's Choice, The Sunday Times, The Spectator and The New Statesman.
Longlisted by the Crime Writers Association for a Golden Dagger Award for non-fiction.
It is Sarah Langford's job to stand in court, representing the mad and the bad, the vulnerable, the heartbroken and the hopeful. Each of the eleven real-life stories she tells here draws us into the heart of her life as a criminal and family barrister. Following each case we learn not only something of the law and our legal system, but also what it feels like to work within it. Some have a twist, some a shock, and some are joyously life-affirming. Each asks the reader to consider, in our increasingly polarized world, what is truth, and what is justice, and reminds us that, in our frailty, we are not so different from one another after all.
Praise for In Your Defence
Helena Kennedy QC
"I loved this book. It made my heart sing. Written by a woman in the law with compassion, wit and legal know-how, these true life courtroom stories tell it like it is. All life is there, showing the importance to justice of lawyers who understand the human condition. Brava, Sarah Langford."
Susan Hill, author of The Woman in Black
'It is riveting - and quite alarming'
Miriam González Durántez
"A great insight into the human side of law"
Ella Risbridger - writer, blogger and journalist
"A thorough, gentle, beautiful interrogation of what the justice system is and should be. Compelling and profound".
The Secret Barrister author of Stories of the Law and How It's Broken
"In Your Defence is an anthology of beautifully rendered stories of legal practice, each striking at the beating heart of our justice system. The storytelling is compelling, reading like page-turning fiction, but speaking in every chapter to fundamental truths about the meaning of justice for those trapped in the wheels of our criminal and family courts. Sarah Langford breathes vibrancy and compassion into the dusty tomes of the law, capturing and exposing the raw humanity lying beneath the system, and offering a necessary reminder of the impact of the law on those whose lives are chartered by its whims."
Matthew Parris - columnist and author of Scorn
"The wig comes off. More than just a cracking collection of courtroom short-stories -Langford bares her soul."
Tim Shipman - political editor of the Sunday Times and author of Fall Out
"A wonderful book from a vivid new talent. Revealing, moving, funny, sad, uplifting and beautifully written, with the observational skills of Alan Bennett and the heart of Charles Dickens. Every chapter is an elegantly constructed short story complete with plot twists that alternately deliver a knife to the guts or a glimmer of hope that makes you think humanity has a chance."
Elizabeth Day author of The Party
"Thought-provoking, moving and wise. In Your Defence reminds us that whatever side of the dock we're on, we are bound together by more than what sets us apart."
Henry Hemming author of M: Maxwell Knight, M15's Greatest Spymaster
"Riveting, powerful and deeply moving, an insider's account of a little-known world that is well observed, beautifully written and full of heart."
Robert Buckland QC MP - Solicitor General for England and Wales
"I loved it. Sarah’s focus on her own thoughts and observations made it a refreshing take on life at the Bar and made it distinct from other case memoirs I have read. It was all the better for it."
Helen Ward, Lady Ward – Partner of Stewarts LLP
"With masterly insight into the pressures and strains experienced by the family and criminal courts, as well an account of their humanity, Sarah Langford describes with modesty and elegance why she is proud to be a barrister. She should also be very proud of this book."
Ed Smith author of Luck: A Fresh Look at Fortune
"A book about the law that is really about human nature, written with a novelist’s psychological depth and gift for language. Superficially, we are taken inside an alien professional world - into a barrister’s life. In fact, we are being walked around the world we live in”
Davina Langdale author of Brittle Star
"Compelling, humane and insightful. This book is that rare combination of both gripping and wise, and has something to teach us, not only about the law, but about our relationship with the truth and the meaning of the word justice"
Hermione Eyre author of Viper Wine
"Full of vividly drawn characters and subtle twists, this hugely enjoyable and empathetic tour of life as a barrister left me both astonished and moved."
Penelope Gibbs - Director, Transform Justice
"Sarah Langford shines a light on the hidden world of the criminal and family courts, on the many layers of grey in those who appear, be they defendant, victim, teenage mother or divorcee. She shows how difficult it is to navigate truth and justice, and how the blameless often get the blame. Essential reading for an insiders' insight behind the wigs and gowns"
I am not most people’s idea of a stereotypical barrister. I am not a man, I did not go to a top university, and I do not come from a family of lawyers. As an undergraduate, I studied English because I loved the way words transported me into someone else’s life and allowed me to better understand them. And this, I later discovered, is exactly what barristers do, too. Behind the clever arguments spun from the pages of a legal textbook, there is always a human tale. It is my job to help my clients fit their lives, with all their shades of grey, within the black and white of the law by telling their story, and telling it well.
Very often when I tell someone what I do, a wistful look settles over them, and they declare that they always wanted to be a barrister. I sense them imagining stone steps to ancient buildings, leather-backed chairs, wigs and gowns and gilded crests. I try to tell them about the 5am starts, the trains to towns they would never otherwise have cause to visit, the vending-machine lunches in windowless brick rooms, the interminable waiting, the clients who leave without an utterance of thanks, and the ever-decreasing rates of publicly funded pay. But often I do not press this, because I know that that is not what they want to imagine, even if the truth lies far from their fiction.
In my first few years as a barrister, I realised that representing those charged with a criminal offence meant that I was more than just a mouthpiece for my client’s case. I needed to be a psychiatrist, a counsellor, a social worker, a mother, and many other things besides, none of which had appeared on the pages of my law books. I had to learn how to identify mental health problems, signs of domestic abuse, alcohol and drug addictions. I grew to know who might, after court had finished, go home and try to end their life."
Extract from In your Defence
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In Your Defence: Stories of Life and Law
by Sarah Langford
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