Thursday, 7 December 2006

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.

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