Shifting Perceptions

Mark Robinson, Criminal Barrister at Great James Street Chambers, graduated from LLB Law at Birkbeck in 2018. He hopes to inspire young people with his unconventional journey to the Bar by proving that a career in law is accessible to people from all walks of life.

At the height of Mark’s almost 20-year music career, in which he worked as a DJ for BBC Radio 1Xtra and produced music for Akon, David Guetta and Ministry of Sound, he was targeted by a malicious allegation of assault. Mark decided to represent himself at Woolwich Crown Court and without any legal experience or training at the time, successfully secured his own acquittal after a re-trial.

“From there, I realised that law was what I was meant to do,” says Mark, and this belief has been reaffirmed by the success he has gone on to achieve. Having obtained no GCSEs or A-Levels prior to joining Birkbeck, as well as being recently diagnosed with dyspraxia, Mark recalls the importance of the support he received from his lecturers: “I was confident in myself and my ability, but I’d been out of education for a long time and there were definitely areas I needed to work on. But everyone at Birkbeck seemed to know exactly what I needed.”

Where it takes most graduates three or more years, Mark was called to the Bar less than 18 months after graduating, having received a total exemption from pupillage and the Bar Transfer Test. The advice he received and connections he made at Birkbeck, in tandem with having already represented himself in court, enabled him to leapfrog these steps to qualify as a barrister. Speaking about his rapid career trajectory, Mark credits the power of self-belief and persistently advocating for himself throughout his journey. Now a Criminal Barrister for Great James Street Chambers, specialising in criminal defence, prison law and extradition, he is well placed to support those facing the same challenges he once did: “There is no better feeling than leaving a courtroom with a client who rightly maintains their freedom.”

After being physically abused as a baby, Mark was raised in local authority care from three months old until he was adopted aged six. He was excluded from secondary school, got in trouble with the police and became involved on the fringes of different gangs around Forest Gate, London. “I think my background gives me quite a unique perspective in my profession,” says Mark. “Remaining loyal to my roots is an important part of what I do.”

Mark acknowledges his East London accent and DJ background as something that can often connect him on a more personal level with his clients, attributing good rapport as a key element to his success. He also works with more vulnerable members of society outside of his role, advising for leading youth justice charities and working with gang prevention programmes in London. Mark regularly comes back to Birkbeck to speak to new students, inspiring them about all they can achieve as they embark on their studies.


When not in court, Mark explains that he continues to don his beloved Adidas tracksuits and custom Air Force 1’s, laughing when people mistake him for a drill artist, and occasionally having to draw up his Great James Street Chambers profile so people believe that he is, in fact, a criminal barrister. But that’s all part of Mark’s identity and advocacy: “It is important for people who may aspire to be lawyers to see that we come from all walks of life… this is what a lawyer looks like.”

Alumni like Mark show that education has the power to be transformative at all stages of life. He and so many others in the Birkbeck community are inspiring those around them by demonstrating that there is no one path to success.