Spotlight on: Gabrielle Turnquest

Gabrielle Turnquest is used to breaking records. She is the youngest person to be called to the Bar in over 600 years, passing the exam at the age of 18—almost a decade earlier than the average BPTC graduate. Even with her additional undergraduate and postgraduate degrees, there’s no sign of Turnquest stopping just yet…

  • Last updated 14-Feb-2019 14:40:38
  • By Elizabeth Hurst
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Name: Gabrielle Turnquest 

Notable for: Being the youngest person ever to be called to the Bar of England and Wales, at the tender age of just 18.

Early life 

Turnquest is the third of six children. Her mother, who is a lawyer, moved her family from the US to her native Nassau in the Bahamas. After deciding that the local school system wasn’t challenging enough for her highly intelligent children, she researched what countries were best for particular subjects. Taking inspiration from an amalgamation of curriculums, she custom-built an educational programme for her children and called it Excelsior Academy. She hired teachers, made a school uniform and found a space for the programme in her office building. 

The programme was a success, and the Turnquest children greatly benefited from their accelerated studies. The family moved back to the US and settled in Florida. Turnquest was 12 when she rejoined regular school, leaps and bounds ahead of her classmates.

Ahead of the game

After a couple of years at traditional high school—where Turnquest was two years ahead of her peers—she enrolled at a local community college before transferring to Liberty University in Virginia. She completed her courses online and received a Bachelor’s Degree of Science in Psychology at the age of 16—the youngest person to have received an undergraduate degree at the institution. 

That was the first record broken by Turnquest, but certainly not the last. After graduating, she started a postgraduate degree at the University of Law in London while she was still 16. Though much younger than most of her fellow postgraduates, she wasn’t fazed thanks to her previous experiences being the youngest in her class: “Because I was still in high school when I started my undergraduate studies, I hung out with people my age who were also following the same programme of advanced studies. I still had that connection with friends and I didn’t feel isolated or lonely.”

It was only while studying in London that Turnquest finally had a taste of a “normal” student experience, even if it was at the tail-end of her academic career. She told The Guardian that she felt she hadn’t missed out: “I had my fair share of wild nights out while in London in the last few months. I turned 18 in the December before passing my Bar exam, so I had six or seven months of being legal in a foreign country.

“I’m still young and have time now to catch up on those experiences. I don’t think I’ve missed out on anything, I’ve just decided to do it at a different time in my life. I’ll be able to get a lot more of the partying in once I don’t have the worries of waking up and going to class.” 

Passing the Bar

Turnquest passed the Bar of England and Wales at the age of 18; the youngest person ever to do so. She is not only the youngest person, but also the youngest female to be called to be Bar, and the youngest black female too. According to law.ac.uk, the average age of students graduating from the BPTC course is 27, making Turnquest an unbelievable near-decade ahead. 

Historically, trainee lawyers had to be 21 years old in order to be eligible to be called to the Bar. However, this was overturned in 2009 when the Consolidated Regulations of the Four Inns of Court were replaced by the Bar Training Regulations. At the time, Turnquest told Praised that she felt honoured to be the youngest person to pass the Bar, but that she “was not aware at the time what the average age was” and “didn’t fully realise the impact of it”. 

Post-law-school practical experience

Even after her postgraduate course and passing the Bar, Turnquest wasn’t yet done with school so decided to continue with academia, albeit in a slightly different direction. She enrolled at the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising in Los Angeles to study Professional Designation and Apparel Industry Management. “I hoped to explore my interest at the time in fashion law,” she says. “I learned a lot about the business and made connections with designers and artists I hope to have as clients in the future. Unfortunately, before completing that course a change in family circumstances required me to go back to Florida.” 

In the state of Florida, English legal qualifications aren’t as easily transferable as elsewhere. Being called to the Bar there requires additional schooling, so instead of going back to study, Turnquest decided to get involved in the law in a more practical way. Her dual citizenship allowed her to undertake pupillage in The Bahamas and learn from some of the country’s renowned practitioners. She’s now involved with US law as a paralegal, drafting documents without independently handling any cases. 

Turnquest seems to enjoy getting hands on with a diverse range of cases and specialities: “The case load varies from criminal to land and everything in between, including some English law matters. One day I could be focused on a cross-jurisdictional drugs case, and the other an insurance claim involving a fire onboard a vessel. It’s not what I had in mind a few years ago, but it’s been a fantastic learning experience.” 

Fashion law

combining her legal prowess and time at the Fashion Institute, Turnquest is now seriously exploring fashion law, so far in an academic capacity. She admits that geography hasn’t yet been on her side: “Neither The Bahamas nor Florida have booming fashion industries.” 

Yet she has worked with a fashion lawyer in Atlanta, Georgia. “Due to practising restrictions, I aided in drafting for professional pieces and blog posts targeting artists. I’ve also done a series with The Fashion Law and I’ve received offers for other more academic pieces that I hope to find time to work on in the coming months. The area is fascinating and growing, especially in Britain with Brexit looming.”

What’s next

Though she passed the bar over five years ago, Turnquest is still very much at the beginning of her legal career. The irony of her history-making past is not forgotten—her Twitter handle is @BabyLitigator, complete with a disclaimer in her bio: “I did pass the Bar at 18. No, I’m not still a teenager.” She’s part of the next generation of barristers, commenting via Twitter on issues from both sides of the Atlantic: everything from Brexit to Brett Kavanaugh.

She’s happy to chat over about her future plans—they are big ones, but no one would ever doubt she couldn’t manage it. “At the moment, I’m having paperwork finalised regarding my eligibility for the California Bar exam. I’m doubtful it’ll be finalised in time for February’s exam, so I’m expecting to sit the next available one: July 2019. For a true full-circle moment, I’m considering returning to London for pupillage, though as a foreign applicant I’m unsure of my chances. Not that unspeakable odds have stopped me before.”

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