We recently caught up with Ita Farrelly who graduated from Essex in 2006 with an LLB in Law. Ita is now the country's youngest full-time female judge.


Tell us about your time at Essex

My time at Essex was brilliant. I lived in the University Quays accommodation and studied LLB Law. I involved myself in the pro bono legal project, the legal newspaper and law extra-curricular activities. I wish I had involved myself in sports clubs but I was so focussed on my studies and bolstering my legal CV that I missed these opportunities. My favourite subjects were criminal law, administrative law and jurisprudence. I made some brilliant friends and memories like the Law Ball and Graduation.

Essex taught me hard work. It taught me to be independent and responsible for myself and my choices. I didn't do as well as I expected in my first year and it was then I realised I had to work harder - it became a whole new level of focus. I realised I had been coasting, but that was not going to elevate my grades. It was a steep learning curve and required me to up my skills and attitude.

The legal extracurricular activities helped to enhance my CV in my third year. Throughout my time, the lecturers were realistic about careers advice and legal employment opportunities. This helped me to adapt to change and be far more resilient moving forward. 

How did you find moving from the world of academia to work?

The world of law was incredibly challenging to break into, but my degree prepared me for the hard work required for all aspects of my career. Essex was the foundation of my career - and in many ways my game changer. 

After graduation, I successfully applied for the Bar Vocational Course and went on to study in London at BPP Law School for 12 months. I then started working at a firm of solicitors in Middle Temple Inn after I was admitted to the Bar.

Then where did your career take you?

I completed my qualifying legal transfer test and training contract to be a solicitor and gradually climbed the ranks in my firm before making Partner aged 29. I was also appointed to the standing committee for youth justice and was the Director of Youth Services in my partnership role. I travelled the world dealing with police policy and conduct cases. I assisted the Bar Standards Board, Law Society and SRA to implement guidance to improve children's access to justice and quality representation.  

I then applied for a judicial role and got it, becoming the youngest full-time female judge aged 32. My main responsibility as a judge is to trial social security cases, but I also rule cases on Special Educations Needs and Criminal Injuries Compensation.

I’m involved in lots of other areas too – I’m on the Social Entitlement Chamber Committee for Diversity and Inclusion and I assist the Judicial Appointments Commission with judicial selection competitions. 

Your role sounds so varied – what does a typical day look like for you?

I have no typical day as a judge. At the moment, I can hear any benefits-related appeal cases and see the most vulnerable people in society on a daily basis but the consistent part of my day involves making decisions and giving reasons for them in accordance with the legal principles, the legislation and the facts I have found. 

I sit on the UK Association of Women Judges and we are always working to improve equality for women in law and the judiciary so I also undertake lots of diversity and inclusion work to try and inform people and children about what judges actually do, and why people should consider this for their future. This can mean attending schools, colleges, universities, legal institutions and Women in Law events. I also mentor law students and part-time judges.  

What is your proudest moment?

I have had so many moments where I cannot believe the things I have been part of. For that reason, I do not have a proudest moment. I think it is always hard to be proud of yourself. I am proud of my family, my friends and the people who make my life great.

And finally, have you been back to Essex since graduating?

I have come back for careers fairs to support students thinking about their future options. I also assisted with the Street Law Project in 2007-2008 and gave short talks about the Bar Vocational Course. I am a local girl, hailing from Clacton and have always been so proud of my time at Essex and incredibly grateful for all that it gave me. 

Ita smiling.