Friday, 22 December 2006

Balls achingly boring

'Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.

Tis very quiet round here. I just overheard one of the few non-Maldive bound barristers (many of whom have been quite panicky about the Heathrow fog situation) commenting that the clerks could have waited until the day was done, at least. They have in fact done the sensible thing and cleared out at about 1pm, leaving the barristers helpless and unable to locate basic necessities like photocopier paper or treasury tags. The poor dears are wandering round in a bit of a daze.

Crispin is almost inevitably still here, playing Patience and waiting for some ex-chambers deputy district judge to drop by for a drink.

The title phrase of this post is The Master's, not mine. As yet another warning of the horrors that await potential pupils out there, he had me counting the number of pages in a bundle yesterday. In graduated fee family law cases, the fee depends on the size of the bundle. If it exceeds 176 pages (why on earth 176?), the fee is higher, and if it exceeds 350 pages it is yet higher still.

Today has been much more interesting, however. I've been sifting through the fairly extensive papers for an eight day trial in the New Year picking out various problems, issues and cross examination ideas. Lots of unpleasant allegations of sexual abuse by quite a young child. But I'm done now, and won't be back for two weeks.


Merry Christmas and all that.

Thursday, 21 December 2006

In trouble, my Pupil, you are

The Master did actually utter this Yoda-ism yesterday. We'd been off to do a mental health case at a county court in the morning. Chambers have gone very quiet in the run up to Christmas, with everyone migrating to The Maldives. Sounds like they're the Yuletide equivalent of summer Tuscany, which I understand to be populated entirely by barristers between late June and late August. As a result, the clerks are going frantic trying to cover all the work. I swear I heard one of the senior clerks start maniacally to giggle just before managing to put down the tannoy thing yesterday. Even The Master has been required to go to court a lot.

This was his first mental health case and he knew as much about the law as I do. Not a lot, need I say. It was mainly a factual issue anyway, but I did get a ticking off for asking a difficult question ('why are we actually making this application?') in front of the social worker at one point. A severely mentally ill woman had stopped taking her medication despite her family's best efforts but her very clearly devoted husband and eldest son were very reluctant for her to be sectioned (i.e. compulsorily admitted to and detained at hospital). They also objected to the local social services doing it for them, understandably. This objection legally prevents anything from happening, so social services had applied to displace the husband as 'nearest relative' for the purpose of making such objections. All a bit grim, but the husband's loyalty through several years of what must have been hell was uplifting.

We got back to chambers at about lunchtime. I was sent out for sandwiches and told to get one for myself, which has happened a few times now, and then wrote up a draft note of hearing for the local authority instructing solicitor. I mentioned that I'd like to pop out after lunch to try and do some quick holiday shopping, and The Master said words to the effect of 'take your time'.

I did. Two hours, nearly, as I struggled to find what I needed. Big mistake.

'In trouble, my Pupil, you are. Big trouble!' The Master said when I returned, in a slightly Yoda-ish voice as well as sentence construction. He was smiling, but it was clear that I was indeed in trouble. I then spent the afternoon and early evening making amends by helping him organise his papers. His room, which is tiny and shared by two other barristers, has been refurbished and all of his papers were in boxes. We sorted through them, throwing out junk, of which there was much, and sorting the rest into piles.

I say 'we', but I was unable to make any judgment calls on what constitutes junk. My role was primarily to provide moral support by reaching down and fetching boxes then throwing papers out of the door into a large box in the corridor - no space for it inside the room. I nearly hit several passers-by with old textbooks and empty lever arch files during the course of the afternoon. Crispin was sitting playing Patience at the computers just outside and I think we threw his game slightly, as he disappeared after about twenty minutes, only to reappear later to mutter to The Master that he seemed to be teaching me everything there is to know about moving boxes around.

Every time I wandered off to get yet another coffee or go to the loo, The Master would grind to a halt or disappear off somewhere himself. He seemed unable to continue without me literally standing over him. Doing basically nothing. It really does seem to be quite an odd relationship, this.

The room has less boxes in now, but just looks like a more organised mess. I was particularly amused by the enormous pile of potentially unpaid bills that The Master has insisted on keeping. Many of these date back to the early 1990s and his previous sets of chambers, and many of the solicitors firms have probably folded. There's clearly no chance he's ever going to get paid for any of these now, but he insisted that he will have a look through them one day. There was also a large pile of old notebooks he was unwilling to throw out, and a substantial stack of old papers that were to be returned to various solicitors firms. Some of these also dated to the early 1990s, so I think some of the firms may be quite surprised to get them. Get them they will, though, I took them up to the clerks room for posting.

Every time he walks into the room he now says 'how tidy this room is!' to anyone who can hear. The Yoda thing hadn't occurred to me until yesterday's utterance, but now that I write that last sentence I'm a bit worried. He's quite short as well...

Anyway, my assistance was clearly appreciated (it is the most useful I've managed to make myself in my time here, I realised), and The Master's words of thanks suggest that I could explore alternative careers as a life launderer or removal man should pupillage not work out.

Tuesday, 19 December 2006

Busy busy busy and travel expenses

Suddenly, The Master is busy. We were in the Royal Courts of Justice again this morning for a committal case. This would have involved a half day hearing about whether a guy got sent down for contempt of court for breaching a non-molestation order. Would have, except it was adjourned.

Back at chambers, he has been given an eight day trial at the beginning of January by a local authority solicitor I watched him work very effectively with a few weeks ago. Apparently Mum and Dad (as all the lawyers in care cases refer to the parents) are both represented by QCs, which should be interesting. I'll be away for the start of it but will see the last few days. He also has some sort of mental health case tomorrow that he wants me to do some research on, but as he's just vanished somewhere it's a bit hard to get started.

He's been bouncing around the last couple of hours saying how much work there is to do, but I'm having difficulty extracting some solid work from him that I can get on with to assist. Once he calms down a bit I should be able to get a task list, but then I'm away for two weeks.

An interesting dilemma arose right at the start of the day. I emailed the chambers administrator bloke last week about what I should do about travel expenses to various courts. I bumped into him on the stairs this morning and asked him in person. It transpires that The Master is supposed to be paying my travel expenses personally. We did actually have a conversation about this some time ago when he said he wasn't going to pay for my travel costs, and I assumed at the time that this was because there is some sort of central chambers fund.

I'm not desperately keen to raise the subject again, I have to say. On the other hand, I've probably spent not far off £100 in the last few weeks on travel to various courts and my grant is £1000 a month.

Monday, 18 December 2006

Noting brief II

The barrister I was following dropped by once he was back from court to talk me through what had happened. I left a bit of a confused note for him with the files and the transcript I'd done.

It turns out that a noting brief is actually a brief, in the sense of being instructions to attend court from a solicitor. Apparently solicitors are supposed to attend court with a barrister, but this convention or rule is regularly flouted, presumably as it ramps up the costs of a case considerably, often at the expense of the public purse. However, the local authority that gave me the noting brief takes its obligations very seriously and makes sure that someone is in attendance at court to sit behind the barrister that is fully instructed. Even though in this case, it actually meant instructing another barrister to attend to sit behind the first barrister to take a second note of the hearing. Well, I say 'barrister' but of course I am not technically yet a barrister yet and cannot hold myself out as one.

From the little I heard, it's a shame they don't take what some might think to be slightly more important obligations seriously, such as those under the Children Act. The judge was very critical of the local authority's inactivity in this case.

I've left a voicemail message for my instructing solicitor (feels a bit weird typing that, I've never been instructed before, even if it was basically by accident) saying that I can do a transcript of my note for her, but it is apparently very unlikely that she'll want one. She already has a transcript of the Order from the main guy she instructed.

I had a word with the third six pupil and apparently I'll end up being paid £100 for this, which is utterly absurd. However, there will be other days when I end up doing tonnes of work for very little money. Hopefully it reaches some sort of equilibrium in the longer term.

Noting brief

I'm just back from my first 'noting brief'. I've read about these in the pupillage folder the Bar Council sent me on registering my pupillage. It's where someone gets sent along to court to take a note of proceedings where the client is not otherwise represented but is interested in the outcome. An example might be the outcome of a criminal case which will affect some civil proceedings, or vice versa. It's the one kind of paying work that first six pupils are allowed to take on.

It was all a bit confusing, though. The third six pupil was supposed to be doing it but was allocated a case in Redbridge at the last minute. Apparently the solicitors had forgotten to mention the case until this morning. The clerks gave me a call, told me who I was supposed to be with and which court room (at the Royal Courts of Justice again) and also told me that I should just write everything down. They also said just to wait around at Chambers.

I managed to get hold of the third six pupil before she left and she said I should just be writing everything down, including anything said in conference before the hearing. I would be paid for attending but I would also be paid for typing up the transcript.

I hung around until 10.15am waiting for someone to call me then decided to head down to court and try and find out what was going on. I found my barrister, and it quickly emerged that the hearing was for the dischanrge of a fairly long standing care order, and that all the parties (the mother, the guardian and the local authority) were agreed.

The hearing lasted twenty minutes. I really struggled to make a note of everything and resorted to some quite creative acronyms and abbreviations. My handwriting is truly terrible at the best of times, but my note of this hearing is quite special even by my own low standards. I could easily go into cryptography for the government if this pupillage thing doesn't work out.

I had a quick word with my barrister afterwards, and he doesn't want me to write it up as he was there himself and got it down himself. So I carried his stuff back to chambers, getting hopelessly lost around the RCJ yet again in the process.

So what on earth was all that about? Were they trying to create work for the third six pupil? Or perhaps the hearing was expected to be contested but in the event was not? The latter seems pretty unlikely from the little I gleaned about the case.

Friday, 15 December 2006

Battered and deeply fried ego

Chelmsford wasn't as bad as all that, although I did nearly disgrace myself by falling asleep at the back of the court during the hearing. I find shadowing other people incredibly soporific. It is mainly the consequence of a lack of engagement - I'm observing, not participating, and there's no adhrenaline rush, as there always is when one is doing these things for real. That, combined with the interminable talking. Background talking is supposed to help babies sleep, I think, and it seems to be working wonders on me too. I had to start taking notes just to keep myself awake.

The Master has headed home, so I was just settling down back at Chambers to some guidebook reading for my Christmas sandfest holiday, when the clerks called for me on the telephone tannoy thing we have here. I think that might be the first time I've used the word 'we' in the context of chambers, although I'm not going to go back and check. Could be a turning point. Probably a good thing, I suppose.

Anyway, I managed to remember how to put myself through on the 'phone and it turns out that the QC who had me updating her Hershman a week or so ago wanted a trial bundle paginating. I dropped by and have spent the last hour or so hour writing numbers in the corner of pages in a big, fat trial bundle. The third six pupil was supposed to have been doing it but got detained in court with a case she was doing this morning.

It's a bit demeaning, but I suppose someone has to do it, and I'm pathetically grateful for the small cash injection involved. I did actually find this particular task strangely satisfying, unlike the loose leaf filing I've done, which I'm finding properly infuriating. This slow building sense of anger has been somewhat accelerated by a well-meaning, passing comment by someone at the chambers drinks the other night. The comment has been going through my head since. They asked me what I'd been up to that day and I told them I'd been doing some updating. They gave me a pitying look, which is fine and entirely appropriate in the circumstances, but then said, "It does get noticed, you know."

I hope not. Does this mean that tenancy decisions are based on who does the most updating, measured by the inch, perhaps? Would the possession of an uncanny, supernatural ability to loose leaf file at the speed of a, er, speeding librarian make one a good barrister? Does anyone REALLY notice anyway? No, no and no, I very strongly suspect. And did they really think that this would make me feel better in some way, or motivate me to do more updating?

Ah well, one more week to Christmas.

Thursday, 14 December 2006

Chelmsford 123

I'm feeling markedly downbeat. I'd like to be able to attribute this to just having finished updating all seven folders of Harvey on Industrial Relations and Employment Law. I've already mentioned loose leaf filing, without describing it. For those of you uninitiated in this form of torture, it involves a loose leaf textbook made up of a sort of lever arch file type arrangement containing hole-punched, Bible-thin pages. The main six folders of Harvey contain about three to four inches of material each.

Every couple of months the publisher sends out an update. These vary in size but that last one was probably about two inches thick. Of very thin paper, remember. The update package also includes a set of instructions. The updater then has to insert each page into the loose leaf folder in the relevant place and remove the old page that is being substituted.

Sometimes several pages need substituting or inserting together, but quite often it is one or just two or three pages at a time. Annoyingly, I find I have to concentrate quite a lot to make sure I don't discard the wrong pages.

This is all bad enough at the best of times but the contrast with being in Jordan doesn't exactly help.

I'm being sent to Chelmsford tomorrow with The Master, which is another contributing factor. I've never been to Chelmsford and I find that I had subconsciously marked it as somewhere that I really never wanted to go to. This could be Rory McGrath's fault. Another early start and another dull journey.

It's all a bit of a rollercoaster, as I got some very good feedback from The Master yesterday about some mock grounds of appeal to the Court of Appeal I'd drafted for him. I cooked up a statutory construction argument he'll use in the hearing. The intellectual satisfaction I gained from the exercise, however, which involved some really badly drafted regulations (even by routinely abysmal Home Office standards), has to be balanced against my concern that if The Master wins his case, destitute and infirm, ill or pregnant failed asylum seekers will be entitled to less generous welfare support than is currently the case.

I now have bugger all to do today, so I've been doing a bit of internet trawling around 'pupillage'. Couple of links for anyone reading this who's thinking of applying for the Bar Vocational Course (BVC) and/or pupillage:

I certainly struggled to get pupillage when I applied the first time around, several years ago. I applied to a bunch of top public law chambers but, unsurprisingly, got nowhere. Since then, I've been working in civil publicly funded cases, which I've found very rewarding and enjoyable, despite the frustrations of the work itself and all the funding constraints imposed by the Legal Services Commission. When I applied again, perhaps 18 months ago, I got interviews at all the chambers in which I was interested, including some really good sets. The interviews were quite a humbling experience, though. I messed up a couple quite badly, in one the chambers and I really didn't match up -- I was actually asked whether it bothered me that they worked for the forces of darkness, and thankfully they saw through my unconvincing lie -- and at another I really wasn't clever enough for them. They were scary-clever. It was fun being interviewed by the Prime Minister's wife, though, who seemed lovely.

I got on very well with the panel for these chambers, but I still had to wait for several very nervous days after the pupillage invitations were sent out before I heard from them, presumably because I wasn't first choice and was somewhere down their hit list. Other preferred candidates had to reject their offers first.

The other pupil... currently in Jordan taking a witness statement in a child abduction case. Funded by the Legal Services Commission, too. To say I'm jealous does not begin to describe it.

Her Master specialises in child abduction cases and she's been doing quite a bit of work and research on the subject for him. She also has prior experience with the Department for Constitutional Affairs and Legal Services Commission, so she isn't straight out of law school and comes across as very confident, competent and efficient.

I didn't get a chance to speak to her before she went as it was all very short notice (I think I may have been living it up in Horsham at the time), but I bumped into her Master at Chambers drinks last night and he gave me some of the low down. Sounds like quite an unpleasant case, even by the standards to which I am becoming accustomed, and there seems to be some sort of sexual exploitation angle. I think I'll come back to the subject of the other pupil once she's back and we've had another chat. Suffice it to say for now that we get on well and there doesn't seem to be any jockeying for position or other tenancy competition related unpleasantness.

Unless she's just bluffing...

And, anyway, being as she managed to get sent to Jordan as an instrumental part of a major and difficult case by a leading solicitor in a niche area of law I think I can see who would come out on top in any straight fight. Not me.

Chambers drinks was a bit awkward. I was tired from getting up at 6am (that's very early by my standards) but managed to stick it out for an hour or so to put in some face time. I wasn't feeling on great form, so I chatted to someone I know well from before pupillage and also to last years' pupils. Interestingly, I also managed to talk to one of the two more senior clerks.

I have been getting a bit concerned about my apparently limitless ability to breach various unwritten protocols and the whole Mr Bean persona that I have somehow come to adopt in the presence of the clerks.

There are two senior-ish clerks (I'm not sure whether one is more senior than the other) and two quite junior clerks, plus a very impressive chambers administrator with a very interesting back story on whom I might do a post at some point. Every couple of days or so I've been venturing into their open plan room to try and find someone to tag along with to court. This involves me hovering awkwardly near the door trying to catch someone's eye while they talk about important things on the telephone to important people. Eventually (quite quickly, usually, to be fair, but it always feels like an eternity) someone takes pity and makes eye contact. I then seek to adopt a nonchalant air and pretend that I've just arrived or that I just happened to be passing by, meanwhile dithering about whether to stay in relative safety near the door or venture further into their domain. Unless feeling particularly cowardly or foolhardy, I do neither and hover just a little bit further inside the door, meaning I can't hear what they are saying to me and have to shout above the important telephone calls, thereby annoying everyone else in the room.

Why I behave like this entirely escapes me.

As soon as I have managed to get them to repeat a name and time often enough for me to decipher it, I thank them profusely and leg it.

The clerk reassured me last night that I've been doing fine and to carry on as I have been.


Wednesday, 13 December 2006

Judicious edit

I've decided on a judicious edit of the blog. Nothing too major, I hope. Having read through it, I think a bit too much personal information has crept in. ICD beckons.

Paranoia: "...delusions of persecution and self-importance".

I'm not familiar with the etiquette of blogging, so I thought I better signpost that an edit has taken place.

If you don't like it, sir, you can fuck off, sir.

The Master has told me the apocryphal tale linked to the above title at least twice now. In Times of Yore (and probably still today at some chambers), the senior clerk used to take 10% of chambers' income. Out of this 10% he (always a he) would run the whole operation, including paying the junior clerks, the rent and so on. Even after expenses, The Master reckons that at one of his first chambers, 20 years ago, the senior clerk was probably taking home £250,000 to £300,000. In today's money, that would be quite an income.

With the senior clerk on commission and the junior clerks as his loyal enforcers, the senior clerk had every reason to maximise income and tout his barristers. It was a symbiotic relationship from which both clerks and barristers benefitted. As long as they got on well, anyway. I can't remember when it ran but there was a brief-lived but excellent TV series called North Square a few years ago in which Phil Davies brilliantly played an old-school senior clerk. I remember the series opening with the two pupils arriving at chambers -- one boy, one girl -- and the clerk immediately giving the girl several hundred quid to go and get a haircut and some decent clothes and lose her student look. It was neither kindly nor generous, but rather a self interested commercial calculation.

Many clerks these days are salaried, although I would assume (I certainly can't ask them!) that they are on some sort of commission arrangement. Nevertheless, a barrister's relationship with the clerks will make or break his or her career. I had a depressing conversation over the weekend with a friend I used to work with a few years ago. She had gotten pupillage at a very good left-leaning chambers but had not managed to get tenancy. She ended up with a third six, then 'squatting'. This inelegant term describes a situation where the chambers allows a barrister to remain in chambers on a temporary basis but without tenancy. Last week she was called in and told to clear out, as she had overstayed her welcome and their squatting policy. This is despite getting direct, personal instructions from very good solicitors' firms. The clerks had apparently been trying to divert her instructions to other members of chambers who were tenants.

Or this was how she perceived it, anyway.

Anyway, the apocraphal tale to which I referred is about being sent to far flung courts to do very minor hearings. Apparently, the resistance of one insufficiently profitable barrister led the senior clerk to utter the above memorably respectfully-phrased encouragement to take on the job in question.

The reason this comes to mind right now is that I am just back from a trip to Horsham County Court. Yesterday, I got a call from The Master at about lunchtime. He sounded quite pleased with himself and told me that he thought he'd just managed to avoid being sent to Horsham. I then got another call from him at about 5pm, when, slightly more subdued, he asked me to pop to the clerks room, get a copy of the court guide, copy the page for Horsham and fax it to him at home.

Monday, 11 December 2006

Bleak House

In many ways, Chancery Lane and its environs no longer resemble the foggy picture painted by Dickens' in Bleak House. Much has changed, although by no means everything. Legal proceedings still take far longer than they ought, lawyers and judges still seem to collaborate in adjournments that are considered necessary to avoid unpleasantness like missing a jolly good lunch or working late at court and many members of the public still seem to entertain the quaint notion that legal proceedings are a good way of sorting out disputes.

One other continuity that strikes me every time I enter chambers in the morning is the smoky fog that pervades this place. There's a lot that has surprised me, but I really still cannot get to grips with the fact that these chambers do not have a non-smoking policy. There is one room of smokers at one extreme end of the corridor next to the entrance, and the smoke continually wafts out around the rest of the floor.

It just further reinforces my feeling that the Inns of Court are like some sort of Lost World, where traditions and attitudes have somehow persisted and thrived that elsewhere succumbed to Darwinian selection quite some time ago.

The library is right at the other end of the corridor and the smoke is very slowly driving me nuts. The situation is made worse by the fact that I've had to prop the door open with Stone's Justice's Manual (the 2003 edition, in case you are interested) to let in precious heat as the heater in here is broken and the skylights are broadcasting heat to the heavens very effectively. I've been considering getting myself some fingerless gloves and a candle for the full Dickens effect.

Crispin is one of the smokers and is, as usual, playing Patience this morning on the shared computers in the corridor. I overheard a brief conversational exchange earlier that I found quite entertaining for reasons I can't quite pin down. It's a bit of a paraphrase but this was the gist (all in very plummy, far back accents):

Unknown: 'Well, he certainly picked his place well. Crucifix Lane!'

Crispin: 'Well, I remember ...four... bishops of Southwark. Whatever else you could say about Mervyn, he ALWAYS had a driver. He'd stagger out and his car would be there for him. He had a proper sense of occasion. I really don't believe bishops should be allowed out by themselves.'

Unknown: 'In the degraded age in which we live, I don't think they can afford drivers, I'm afraid.'

Crispin: 'I'm sure they have the money, it's just that they unwisely choose to spend it on other things. It's most unseemly. I mean, throwing cuddly toys to the pavement. It doesn't reflect well on the office for a bishop to be seen in that state. In public.'

I checked and Arthur Mervyn Stockwood was Bishop of Southwark between 1959 and 1980. This conversation presumably relates to an unfortunate incident involving the current incarnation of this office. Charon QC has already commented on this extensively. This apparent level of interest amongst barristers has me wondering whether this story is of the same level of general interest or is particularly interesting to barristers for some reason, possibly relating to social status. A more likely explanation is that barristers do seem to suffer more than most from a form of prurience and many gossip continuously. They love to talk about slightly unusual and unpleasant crimes or misdemeanours, presumably because they deal with more mundane and moderate crimes and misdemeanours all the time. It's a way of letting of a bit of steam and keeping one's distance. It comes across as catty and unsympathetic but it's probably more of a self defence mechanism.

Friday, 8 December 2006

Master and Pupil

I ended up calling The Master at home last night about my holiday, having left a couple of messages and received no reply. He immediately started to tell me at some length and in some detail about what a terrible day he'd had, sandwiched between a very awkward social worker, who he was representing, and some fairly reasonable sounding requests by the other parties. There had also been a terrible traffic jam on the way home, which had taken him two hours, and his back had been playing up all day. I sympathised a lot, said 'that's terrible' repeatedly and eventually had to raise the holiday subject myself after several minutes, conscious that I was calling on my pay as you go mobile.

He was absolutely fine about it but wanted me to double check with the head of the pupillage committee. I told him I had a feeling that he was still in Siberia (for reasons that it would take time to explain), but said I would if I could.

We then spent a few minutes talking about my Prospects generally and the need for me to put in face time. I ended up having to give him a short explanation of the fact I have a new girlfriend, as one of the first things he did when we met was ask about my home circumstances and background. Eventually, my credit ran out and The Master was cut off mid exposition. I think this cost me about £10 in the end, but it was money well spent.

The Master-Pupil relationship is a curious one. I'm very fond of him even though I've seen so little of him and find the lack of contact time very frustrating. I have no idea what he makes of me.

I managed to get hold of the head of the pupillage committee today, who is in fact back from Siberia, and all is well. Although he muttered about it being important not to damage my Prospects. This being the second time I've heard the word in two days, it sounded a bit ominous. Although it could be interpreted as a positive development to have acquired Prospects that one is in danger of damaging. Also rather Jane Austen. Given that I don't walk past the clerks to get to my corner of the library (in fact I have no excuse at all to even go to the floor on which the clerks are based) and virtually no-one uses the library, I am really quite confident that no-one would notice if I wasn't here at all. And with everyone away for at least a few days over Christmas, I'm hoping there isn't too much to worry about.

Mid-draft, the other pupil dropped by the library. I'll write a post about her next week, but we did manage to talk and go for a coffee this week. She's very nice and very down to earth. I ran the situation past her and it turns out she's going away on 22nd December. As her Master is himself away and probably not back until 11th January, she'll probably take this time off as well. She has had no problems whatsoever about this and no-one has muttered anything about Prospects to her. She figures we won't be able to take time off in our 'second sixes' (the second six months of pupillage, where we are allowed to do our own work) and that there isn't much point in being in chambers without one's Master.

Quite, I thought.

Thursday, 7 December 2006

What DO my friends think of me?

I've just checked my email and a friend who I needed to let know about Scotland not happening has also asked whether the new girlfriend is a client, this time at least asking whether I saved her from certain death etc etc. I wish I'd thought of this myself. Although it certainly got poor Ilyas Khan into trouble. An unusually pleasant, personable immigration judge, although perhaps too much of a deliberately self-styled maverick. Some of his decisions used to be a bit bonkers.

Time off and good behaviour

Time off is a delicate subject. The pupillage handbook the Bar Council sends out to pupils on registration states, or at least strongly implies, that most chambers will stick to the legal minimum of annual leave. This is 20 days, including Bank Holidays. Not much.

In addition, take any more than five days of sick leave and they'll extend your pupillage.

It is not, therefore, a very holiday friendly environment. And I haven't even heard anyone talk any of this touchy feely modern nonsense about work-life balance, which is unusual. At least most firms go out of their way to pay lip service to such things before then handcuffing employees to their terminals.

Of course, chambers are not firms, a subject that recurs throughout this blog in one form or another. They are a place where self employed individuals occasionally congregate. Like a savannah watering hole, complete with the weirdly shaped and behaved beasts.

Already, I have taken two days off for a pre-booked long weekend holiday and I also took three days off to deliver legal training, which generated some precious, precious income. In four weeks, some might think that's perhaps stretching things just a little. I have been trying to negotiate very slowly and painfully with The Master about the amount of training I can deliver such that it will not interfere with my pupillage, which is now settled at two days per month. There are after all benefits other than income: mainly experience, profile and networking. This negotiating took an inordinate amount of time as I was perhaps over-aware that I wasn't starting from a position of strength, it needed to be done very carefully in person and I've only actually met The Master on something like three or four occasions even now.

I have been thinking a lot about taking time off over Christmas, originally to spend some quality cold time up in Scotland in the snow. The early season conditions look promising, although with the sad consequence of two deaths already this year in the Northern Corries of the Cairngorms. There's been a bit of a radical change of direction on that front, however, as my new girlfriend has suggested we go to a very sandy country in the Middle East for nearly two weeks. Not so much snow there, I gather, but I'm sold anyway. Incidentally, she is not an immigration client, as one friend immediately asked before threatening to report me to the Bar Council.

The pupil from last year who is doing a third six is still around the library, in between very short Interim Care Order renewals and asylum Case Management Review hearings, so I asked her about what the deal is for Christmas. The short answer was that it is entirely up to one's Master. These chambers are fairly relaxed about taking time off, but taking two weeks in one go is Not A Good Idea. She has a friend at another set of chambers where they told her that she COULD take time off if she wanted to, but in the kind of tone that suggested that it would be Instant Career Death.

I like the accronym 'ICD', it is useful for the subject matter of this blog and is constantly at the back of the mind of any pupil. It may well recur. Anyway, this friend had two days off in 12 months, apparently.

I was going to wait a few more days to allow The Master to forget about the training negotiations palaver (it probably took him milliseconds, in fact, I rather think I'm not exactly at the centre of his universe), but flights need booking and visas acquiring and so on and so forth. Unfortunately he is on a covert mission in glamorous Milton Keynes for a three day hearing for -- shock, horror -- another set of chambers. He asked me in a slightly embarrassed way not to mention this around these chambers, particularly in front of the clerks. Apparently he took this case on as his diary was a bit quiet, then he was offered something more juicey (for which read 'profitable', I suspect) by this chambers, which he had to turn down, thereby incurring disfavour with the clerks.

Doing work for another set of chambers isn't that unusual, though, I don't think. I've noticed there are some names at the bottom of our chambers board who are referred to as 'door tenants' and I assume this is what one is: a sort of part time member of chambers who only occasionally takes on work or is mainly based elsewhere.

So, I can't afford to wait to see him in person and have left a message on his mobile. I did this in the morning and, rather ominously, haven't heard back yet. It's probably because he's forgotten (I know my place, after all) but it wouldn't half be handy to hear from him.

Wednesday, 6 December 2006

Bundle? What bundle?

Interesting morning. I tagged along to the Royal Courts of Justice with someone new, quite a senior member of chambers, for an ex parte application for ancilliary relief under section 13 of the Matrimonial and Family Proceedings Act 1984. I'm going to look up what all this means shortly. The ex parte bit I do know. It means that the other party isn't present and doesn't even know about the proceedings. This might sound a bit unfair but if the application is granted it enables to the applicant to take protective steps over the respondent's assets before the respondent can take pre-emptive measures. This makes a lot of sense when the context is registering a formal interest in the former matrimonial home before it gets flogged.

The case was listed before a QC sitting as a deputy High Court Judge. The instructing solicitors had sent along Bubble from Ab Fab, who met us outside the allocated court room. I have already come across this solicitors firm three times in the last three weeks and have heard nothing good about them. One member of chambers explained to me that she had sorted out one of her clients with an alternative representative they are so poor. This is extremely unusual as the barrister is employed by the solicitor not the client directly, and it had not exactly gone down well with the firm. They will no longer instruct her. It reflects really well on the barrister concerned, in my view.

Anyway, my barrister was discussing the case with Bubble beforehand and referred to the bundle. His copy of the bundle had only arrived the previous night and he had already told me it was rubbish on the way to court. Bubble, who is a trainee, looked a bit confused and asked 'what bundle?' 'The bundle for the judge,' the barrister replied, with more than a hint of anxiety in his voice. Bubble explained that she didn't think there was a bundle for the judge, as Doreen had told her it was an application. As if this somehow explained anything. The barrister started to get quite sharp at this point, seeing into the future as he could: it was going to be rather difficult to refer the judge to any papers or materials if there weren't two copies in the court room. The layout and formalities of the RCJ do not exactly encourage side by side discussion of the issues and the sharing of one set of papers. The judge would hit the roof and there would likely be a wasted costs order.

'I don't believe anyone would have said that,' he repeated twice from a standing position, leaning forward with both his hands on the table at which Bubble was sitting. Meanwhile, oblivious to the rather threatening posture and tone of the barrister, Bubble was looking through her file and managed to find a copy of the covering letter that had accompanied the bundle dispatched to the judge the previous day. All was well.

The hearing went very smoothly, with the judge giving clear indications of what issues the barrister did not need to concern himself over ('you don't need to worry about section 15, the main issue is really the hurdle in section 13 in this case' etc). This is quite a contrast to most cases I've seen in the lower courts and tribunals, where the judge might as well be carved in stone - usually to resemble a particularly grim gothic gargoyle sitting on a particularly sharp stone spike. The only hiccup came when it turned out that the expert report on the validity of the overseas Talaq divorce was not in the bundle and a spare copy had to be rapidly produced, without much assistance from Bubble.

Rubbish solicitors appear to be an occupational hazard. I am accustomed to preparing and presenting my own cases, which has the advantage that I was able to prepare them as I wanted and knew the case and the client thoroughly before the hearing. The disadvantages are over-attachment to the client, which becomes a problem if you lose and leads to a high attrition rate for staff, and not having anywhere to hide in court if you have screwed up. As a last resort a barrister can always blame the solicitor, although if the firm finds out instructions will dry up very rapidly.

Being entirely dependent on a solicitor to prepare the case and serve the right papers looks pretty dicey to me. I've shadowed two cases where the bundle was delivered to the barrister's home address the night before, both in the RCJ, one of which was before the formidable and highly intelligent Mr Justice Collins. I'd be having kittens.

Monday, 4 December 2006


I had an interesting day of lurking today, this time out at Reading County Court. I have done a lot of lurking in the last three weeks, and I am constantly working to improve my lurk skills.

This is because when I'm not hanging around in the chambers library with not a great deal to do (sorting photos or composing blog entries, perhaps) I'm out and about lurking at the shoulder of The Master or one of his comrades. I have adopted a few policies to help me achieve best practice:

1. Walk three steps behind while carrying bags, unless actually being talked to. Three steps is sufficiently close to be summoned easily to be talked at and also to scoot round and open any doors (see (7) below) even when holding all the bags, yet far enough away to be properly junior. This is particularly important if The Master (I'll use him as an example for now as, even though I haven't seen much of him, he's still the single barrister with whom I have lurked the most) is with a client or someone more important than me. Which means anyone, obviously. The three step rule is engaged through necessity even whilst talking to The Master when walking south down that insanely narrow right hand side pavement of Chancery Lane towards the Royal Courts of Justice. I really feel Lincoln's Inn should be moved a couple of metres to the west.

2. Carry a notebook. I haven't been so far as no-one has mentioned it, but the vexed, pained look that The Master gave me today when the judge started giving an interim judgment at 5.30pm (the hearing started at 9.30am - it was an unually long legal day, i.e. an ordinary day for mere mortals) strongly suggested that he'd have quite liked me to write it down instead of him. He did buy me an egg sandwich for lunch, after all, his look also managed to convey. My suspicion was confirmed when he muttered something when leaving the judge's chambers about having to find me a notebook. It occurs to me that this might also help out with (4) and (5) below.

3. Nod a lot. Doesn't matter who's talking, it works for everyone. Apart from opposing counsel, where a few judicious, well-timed shakes of the head seem to have coaxed that egg sandwich out of The Master today.

4. Don't make eye contact with clients. While The Master is busy writing down what the client says during conferences (barrister-talk for meetings with clients, as opposed to fancy jaunts to L.A.) and looking at his pen and then what he has just written and then the hairs on the back of his hand and then his watch, the client seems to have nowhere to look except at me. If I return eye contact, the client will then invariably start to talk and ask questions at me rather than at The Master, which was getting a bit awkward. The worst moment was with in the cells at the RCJ with a client who really did start to ask me questions, despite my being introduced, as ever, as a pupil. I'm quite confident that neither she nor any client to whom I have been introduced knows what one is and it certainly hasn't been explained to them, but it must at least be obvious from the natural meaning of the word that it is a very junior role.

5. Do make eye contact with clients. The poor souls are usually having one of the worst days of their lives and The Master is a bit preoccupied with the outcome of the hearing to expend energy on empathy. It also eventually gets a bit rude staring fixedly at the table or, today, the front covers of an old Reader's Digest and an even older Saga someone had left on the interview room table.

6. Like a Victorian child, don't speak unless spoken to. And even then a nod and/or general, uncommital expression of vague agreement is usually all that is required of one by the speaker. I butted in with a couple of questions during a client conference today. I immediately realised it was a stupid thing to do, but then amazingly somehow couldn't avoid doing it again a few minutes later. If I'd had a tranquiliser gun with me, I'd have shot myself. Or possibly an actual gun. It was to do with something The Master seemed to have missed and although he quickly skated over the client's answer to me, it was a point he returned to at length later. The first one was, anyway. The second was a genuinely stupid question.

7. Hold doors open. As with nodding, above at (3), this applies to everyone except opposing counsel, for whom doors should be allowed inconveniently to close at inopportune moments, or even be gently and discretely tapped shut with the side of the foot. Or held shut where necessary. Extra egg sandwich points are accrued for resulting spillage of books and papers. 'Counsel' is a term I think I've used several times before without explaining. It's lawyer talk for barristers, as in 'Counsel bought me an egg sandwich for lunch today'. A capital 'C' is used to refer to a particular barrister. The word used to really annoy me on the few occasions I used to buy in counsel for hearings.

8. Make maximum use of the of the opportunity to observe participants who are unaware that you are observing them. My lurk skills would appear to have developed to the point where I can vanish at will. Inevitably, having just written that, I'm now worried that, like H.G. Wells' invisible man, I might one day never reappear. I could be doomed to haunt the RCJ as pupilghost. Anyway, I've found that the most educational thing to observe is probably the reaction of clients to what they hear from other witnesses and the barristers. The barristers presumably have no idea what is going on because (a) they all seem remarkably unsolicitous of clients (as opposed to solicitors, whom they solicit at any opportunity) and (b) to be fair, they are all in a row at the front of the court seating with the clients behind them out of sight. Watching the relationships between different parties in complex family cases is fascinating. Watching the responses to what barristers say and do is chastening.

I've run out of ideas and imagination right now but might try and cook up another couple of rules to make a nice round number. I'm open to suggestions on other rules.

Friday, 1 December 2006

Rice pudding

Not much doing today. No sign of The Master again, but he has called a few times to give me a couple of things to look up and to require my presence at Reading County Court at 8.30am on Monday morning. Cripes. The whole of this morning was spent doing one single update to one single practitioner text. This was only a medium-sized update, apparently. I'm sitting in the chambers library now and in the corner, right next to the door where it is hard to ignore, is a stack of updating that needs doing. It is as tall as I am, and I'm over six foot. It is in cardboard boxes, which hopefully take up quite a lot of space, but nevertheless it is a sinister and alarming presence.

Last year's pupils may have something to answer for. If I end up having to work my way through that lot I'll have plenty of time to think of imaginative ways to kill them both.

My heart goes out to legal librarians everywhere.

I did notice that the QC's personal copy of Hershman I was updating had been signed off for the last four updates by the pupil from last year who did get tenancy (his name appeared on the board outside chambers the morning after the decision, incidentally, which is nothing short of miraculous given how long everything else takes around here). 'Bloody goody two shoes', I found myself thinking, a split second before realising that I was about to sign my own name under his.

Batgirl (, based at one of the Inn libraries, expressed an interest in how I would describe the Inns. There are four of them: Inner and Middle Temple and Lincoln's and Gray's Inns. I'm a member of Middle Temple, but I honestly now have no idea why on earth I joined that one. It was while I was still at uni, which is an alarmingly long time ago now. It's the opposite end of Chancery Lane to me now, and therefore rather inconvenient for lunch and library. I believe it is possible to secure transfers but why one would bother eludes me.

Essentially, each is a place where a boy (these seem to be peculiarly male institutions) who was traumatised by the rejection of early separation from his mother through being exiled to a 'house' (pronounced 'hice') at some boarding school, was brought up on overcooked roast meats, boiled potatoes and rice and bread pudding (consumed always at long mock-medieval tressle benches and tables) who wangled his way into a home-from-home Oxbridge college where these facilities were again available and who then made his way to the Bar will feel perfectly at home, protected from the ravages of the wider world, growing plumper with every passing lunchtime.

The Inns do dinners as well, a certain number of which have to be consumed before one can call oneself a barrister (or whatever it is the regulations say it is you are allowed to call yourself after Call, which is basically like a graduation ceremony, but with more wigs). I personally ended up being Called to the Bar two years after I'd finished my BVC, as I made a silent one-man stand against this arcane ritual. I didn't actually tell anyone I was making a stand, so it wasn't a particuarly worthwhile protest. I wouldn't particularly recommend it.

As far as most barristers seem to be concerned, the only other real feature of the Inns, the libraries, are very much secondary to the lunches. Virtually no-one seems to go to the dinners except the students, who are forced to, and a bunch of leery old guys incapable of cooking for themselves.

Loose leaf filing

Loose leaf filing sucks. I hoped I might find it strangely satisfying. I was wrong.

I vividly remember the last time I did this. It was when I was 17 and it was a temping job at some insurance company in Manchester.

That's personal progress for you.