Sunday, 12 November 2006

One week in

I am one week into my 'pupillage'. This arcane term is that used by barristers to describe the vocational training stage of becoming a full barrister. It's basically a fancy apprencticeship.

The journeymen and masters are a tad plumbier than the average workshop and the manual labour element mainly seems to involve carrying large piles of papers, legal text books and files, but otherwise the analogy seems to hold quite well. In common with the vast majority of other pupils, I get paid bugger all, I make a lot of tea and I follow proper barristers around at a respectable distance, often carrying their wigs and gowns.

For those unacquainted with this quaint terminology and the odd legal subculture to which I'm referring, I'll post something and a few links in a few days.

This blog has several explicit purposes at its inception:

(a) Catharsis. After my first week, I suspect this is quite important.
(b) Education for others. So that any other potential barristers out there get an idea of what they might be letting themselves in for.
(c) Fun and (accurate or inaccurate) self reflection. These kind of go together for me, although I'd generally have more actual fun if they didn't.

I suspect that mission creep may lead to some or none of these purposes being fulfilled, or other purposes wending their way in somehow. We shall see. My intention is to keep the blog anonymous, for various reasons. I certainly do not plan to say anything excessively indiscreet or rude about anyone, but on balance I think anonymity is in my interests and those who might end up featuring in the blog. How easy that is to maintain in practice while also seeking to make it interesting remains to be seen, as I haven't tried anything like this before.

Now, my first week...

As I suspected, when I turned up at 9am on Monday and introduced myself to the clerks (not me being patronising, that's what they are called - more on this in a future post), no-one was expecting me. The clerks seemed to think that I was a mini-pupil. Disappointingly, a mini-pupil is usually a university student who comes into chambers (the office where barristers collect together to 'work' - more on the number of times I've seen people playing Patience in another post) for a week or so to work shadow. It does not involve some sort of Austin Powers style Mini-Me cloning experiment gone wrong. Although I would not be remotely surprised to find a fusty old room somewhere in chambers where cloning experiments are taking place.

I can see that some sort of terminology exposition would be useful and would save on the clumsy use of parentheses. I'll get started on something in the highly likely event that I have some quiet time in the next few days.

Anyway, I ended up sitting around in the waiting area for an hour. In anticipation I'd brought a newspaper with me. The Guardian, of course, the newspaper of choice for all muesli-munching, sandal-flapping, tree-hugging, pinko-leftie human rights barristers. Hum, that's induced a quick personal crisis: perhaps the proper muesli-munchers read The Indie these days? Perhaps my sandals aren't as flappy as I thought?

Eventually the head of the pupillage committee turned up, apologised for not getting in touch over the weekend to let me know what was going on and started to show me around. The most important introduction was definitely to the coffee machine, who has proved sympathetic so far and with whom I have started to establish a meaningful relationship. I also met a rapid succession of barristers, whose names I forgot probably almost as quickly as they will have forgotten mine.

The barristers I encountered on my first few days divided into the friendly-smiley ones and the look-straight-through-me ones. It was a pretty even divide to start with. However, there was some sort of chambers meeting towards the middle of the week, and several of them actually said 'hello' the next day and introduced themselves, presumably meaning that someone had slightly belatedly mentioned that there was a new pupil starting who would be hanging around chambers looking like a lost soul. Although they may not have put it quite like that at the meeting.

The fundamental problem with the week was that I wasn't allocated a pupilmaster. This faintly alarming sounding role is central to the whole appenticeship experience. It is the person from whom the pupil learns, who allocated him or her work and generally acts as his or her supervisor. Without one, I really was a bit of a lost soul, floating aimlessly around chambers caught between my desire to do something useful and appear keen and my need to crack on with some privately paid moonlighting work I'd acquired.

I tagged along to court with a few of the above mentioned friendly-smiley barristers who took pity on me and invited me to come along and observe them. It was nice of them, but I didn't see anything with which I wasn't already familiar, already having acquired a bit of legal experience in the past - one of the reasons that I assume I was awarded the pupillage in the first place. I was also asked to do a few little bits of research, all of which were interesting little problems.

Eventually, on Friday, I was given a pupilmaster, although I haven't actually met him yet. This at least enabled me to contact the Bar Council to register my pupillage, which I am hoping they will backdate to the start of the week. If they don't, I might as well have gone and done something useful for the week, like go on holiday.

After a week of hanging around with no purpose, no real work to do and no-one taking any interest in me, my ego is pretty much on life support and any sense of anticipation, excitement or enthusiasm was well and truly gone. This was what I had expected, in fact, so I would be lying if I claimed that I had been feeling properly excited or enthusastic, but the realisation of these fears was certainly disappointing. Now that I actually have a pupilmaster at whose feet I can learn, though, I'm hopeful that the experience will be more positive.

1 comment:

Mr Pineapples said...

Great blog...I hope you keep it going. I am due to start a pupilage next year in provincial chambers. I will read your blog with interest.