Thursday, 29 November 2007

Postscript

I was chatting to The Master (this one) yesterday about a high profile case he has been working on. As I was leaving his room, he said, as if as an afterthought, 'You must show me the blog some time.'

'Which?' I said, wearing what I suspect was an expression resembling that of a myxomatosis-riddled bunny in headlights. One that was quite dopey to start with. Even by rabbit standards.

Whoops.

Tuesday, 30 October 2007

OK, OK...

Geeklawyer persuaded me at the 'small but perfectly formed' bloggers drinks last week that to keep readers hanging on was one thing but actually not letting them know was just cruel. I have been meaning to post since then and have finally been goaded into it by the most recent comment.

I was offered (and have accepted) tenancy, I did open the bottle of champagne and I have tried to be nice to the pupils, although this is rendered difficult by being out at court rather a lot.

Chambers hit me with a rent bill immediately, so I've gone overnight from receiving a pupillage award to paying chambers to work here. I've also sorted out my insurance with Bar Mutual, which is actually free until March for those starting after 1 October and taking the minimum level of insurance.

I'm far more relaxed now I have some security, the early signs for my practice look good and all is essentially well in the world of the ex-blogger formerly known as Pupilblogger.

Thanks for reading!

Monday, 8 October 2007

Last Post

As I sit here at home an hour, now, after the tenancy decision meeting was due to start, I feel nauseous. I have felt this way all afternoon. As I drifted around chambers during the day, no-one would meet my eyes. I sit here and wonder whether this was an early sign of my impending rejection, or just simple paranoia. Perhaps no-one used to meet my eyes, but I wasn't looking.

I am also thinking about the alternative endings to this blog, this record of the prolonged hazing process that has been my pupillage.

In one of these endings, I am rejected. I feel bitter. Unavoidably, I think about all of the things, both big and little, that I could have done differently. Top of this list is not wasting my time and energy writing this blog. I wonder what on earth I am going to do now. I think about my old workplace and whether they will take me back. Would I be a failed wannabe barrister who couldn't make it, or would I be seen as courageous for having tried? Perhaps, I think, one of my other tenancy applications will succeed, although I imagine that to be a hopeless prospect at this point in time. Perhaps I grit my teeth and apply for third sixes, looking to endure more of this ridiculousness. My mind then focusses on the immediate issues. Should I go into chambers tomorrow? What, if anything, will people say to me in the morning? How will I bear their sympathy, knowing they probably voted against me? And what happened to The Other Pupil?

In the other ending, I am accepted. I am delighted, of course. I open the bottle of champagne in the fridge and I consider my potentially glorious future at the bar, as a barrister. After my conversation with The Master last week, I simply cannot see both The Other Pupil and I being taken on, and I will have to embarrass us both with the expected platitudes. Looking slightly further ahead, I will have to start paying rent immediately, and my pupillage grant will come to an end. It is time to get to work.

In this second scenario, would I come to think of pupillage as a tough but effective selection process, being as it managed to select me? Like the Whig view of history, everything will have led to this current, blissful state of affairs. Even if some of the contributing events may have seemed nonsensical or even unpleasant at the time, with hindsight I might see them in 'proper' context, as part of the tough but fair process that all us barristers had to endure, the process which fashioned us into the brilliant, ingenious advocates we are today.

Perhaps most poignantly, from the point of view of Pupilblogger, the persona I now cast aside, how will I treat the new pupils? Will I myself become a pupilmaster in the years to come? Watch out for MasterBlog, should this strange turn of events ever come to pass. In the meantime, only occasionally in and around chambers myself to pick up briefs (and occasional cheques), with my own living to make and no responsibility for their welfare, will I simply fail to see them as others failed to see me?

I hope not. I hope that if I do become a tenant, I will remember.

Tuesday, 2 October 2007

Pangloss

The Master called me last night. My first and original Master, so this was a surprise. It was about ten o'clock, but he always did have a tendency to call out of hours.

I bumped into him last week at the RCJ when we were both appearing before the applications judge in the Family Division on urgent ex parte cases. Mine was a simple matter, but his was a suspected child abduction. I picked up quite a lot of knowledge about this with the next Master I went to (I always suspected this conceit might eventually unravel! - the Austin Powers guy) and was able to make some useful suggestions about disclosure orders.

He suggested on the way back to chambers that I write up something straightforward for general child care family practitioners and include some precedents, so that in urgent situations like his they would have some useful pointers. I'd been thinking of sorting out some precedents for myself anyway, so I was happy to agree. He then suggested, schemer that he is, that he could circulate it around chambers and it might help my chances at the tenancy vote.

I was sceptical about the wisdom of this. Apparently a couple of pupils were rejected three years ago because they were perceived to be too pushy (they were women - I bet men would have been perceived as ambitious and go-get-em). I thought it was all a bit obvious, so I dragged my feet. I bumped into him yesterday and agreed to finish it off, but told him I'd rather he sat on it until after the meeting.

He called to say that he thought it was a really good piece of work and very useful, but that on reflection he agreed with me and that it was not wise to circulate it this close to the meeting. Rather dispiritingly, he then went on in Panglossian style to say that whatever the outcome it would probably be for the best and that he really didn't know what the outcome would be. To cap it, he then said that he would definitely try to be at the meeting and didn't think he had anything else on.

"!" said I.

Then I managed to say, fairly calmly, 'I'd appreciate your vote, Master.'

He's thinking of voting by proxy, he says. He very much supports my application, but if asked during the meeting he would say that he doesn't think that chambers needs another junior at the moment, as we are quite quiet work-wise. Apparently this is very much the view of some of the juniors and he would have to agree with them if asked. So he'd rather not be there, so they can't ask him.

In some ways this is probably worse news for The Other Pupil than for me as I have a bit of my own work, but it still isn't exactly good news, whichever way one looks at it. How strange is it going to look, I wonder, that one of my own pupilmasters hasn't turned up to the meeting?

The Next Generation

A new generation of pupils started in chambers yesterday. There was no fanfare or announcement, nor even an email. I did not know their names, and only came to know of their existence because I heard one's Master introducing her to a passer-by in the corridor. Pretty much everyone in chambers will be in the same state of ignorance as myself.

I arranged for myself, The Other Pupil and one of last year's pupils to take them both out for a quick drink after work. In the event the other pupil from last year and one of the other junior tenants came along as well, which was good. I thought it would at least give them an opportunity to talk to each other, and a useful platform for talking to others as well. Although how much longer I'll be here is still an open question. I feel like I'm on a less terminal version of Death Row, with a Supreme Court reprieve vaguely pending.

When I started I certainly had no welcome to chambers and had no idea what to make of the whole thing. It was why I started this blog. Although I suspect that my reasons for starting this blog are proliferating faster than the main weapons used by the Spanish Inquisition, or a politician's top priorities. See my first post for what I then thought my reasons were. Anyway, I didn't want their first days to be as spectacularly anti-climatic as my own, after all those years of waiting and wanting.

I was positive and upbeat at the pub. There seemed little purpose in deflating any remaining enthusiasm after their first day. I hate the sound of a crest falling.

At the moment I am trying to think of useful advice. So far, it amounts to:

1. Be outgoing and friendly. Make lots of tea for other people. Do not hide away in your Master's room, as I persistently have.

2. Offer to do paperwork for other barristers. They won't see it as a hamfisted bid for their vote, they'll just appreciate it. As long as you don't screw it up, anyway.

3. Try to get on well with the other pupil or pupils. It'll look good for neither of you if there are obvious problems, as well as no doubt being bloody stressful.

4. Get a laptop. It's hard to get much serious work done without one. And don't leave it in sight where some little con can grab it after a con. I doubt you're reading this you little bastard.

5. Don't keep a blog.

Friday, 28 September 2007

Interview

I find myself thinking that it must be over two years ago now since I first sat in these chairs in the reception area of these chambers. About nine months ago I sat in them again, just before I started this blog, waiting for several hours for someone to come and do something about this bloke who had arrived claiming to be the new pupil.

One of the junior clerks walks past and, surprised to see me sitting in the waiting area reading a book, nods and smiles in my direction. The faces of the more seasoned passers-by morph with impressive speed from the same expression of puzzlement to one of affected disinterest. Eye contact is avoided.

The interivew goes well. At least, I think it does. I have prepared some thoughts on why I want to be a barrister, why I want to specialise in this particular area of law, what I have to offer these chambers and why I want to practice from these chambers. This last point has provoked some soul searching, and I find myself wondering who I am trying to convince. This preparation turns out to be redundant, and I am pleasantly surprised not to be patronised by such questions. The three relatively junior members of chambers conducting the interview seem to be willing to assume that I know what I am doing in making this application for tenancy, which is a relief.

I am asked instead about high points and low points. I have to think quickly. There are plenty of low points, but most of these are best avoided. I talk about a case that I felt should have succeeded that has been gnawing away at me since. This was hardly the most heart-rending case with which I've dealt, but for some reason it has become one of several cases that I think about in quiet moments.

The high point that jumps to mind is not a moment in court, in fact. It is the conference I attended with The Master, the head of chambers and a prominent solicitor for the House of Lords case. It was not something I had dwelt on, and I'm not sure what suddenly brought it to the front of my mind at that moment. I said it was the fast flow of ideas and the fact that I was able to contribute something useful, but I suspect it was also the excitement and the warm sense of welcome inferiority that enveloped me as the conference progressed.

At one point at the very end I mention that I have not applied for tenancy elsewhere. As soon as I say it, I realise that this is not a sensible strategy. I don't mean the answer, I mean that I really should have applied elsewhere. I am genuinely ambivalent about whether I want to practice here and now is the time to be applying to other sets.

I can't really remember the rest of it. I've always found that to be the case with my big interviews. The moment I stepped out of my future tutor's room at Oxford I could remember nothing at all about what had just happened.

They called me the next morning to say that I would be recommended 'as someone suitable for Chambers to consider' for tenancy. I get the impression that getting through this screening process is not much of a first step.

Later that day, I fax two tenancy applications to other sets, hoping it isn't too late.

Thursday, 13 September 2007

This is it...

...except it isn't, really. I'd be very surprised if The Other Pupil and I don't both get recommended to chambers. And if we do, well, we're both good and we're not really directly in competition as we work in different areas of law. We could both be taken on. With the way the work looks at the moment, I'm probably in a slightly better position, but that's no reflection on her (or me) at all, it's just luck. The most recent tenant did eighteen months of pupillage here and was taken on only six months ago. There is undoubtedly a question about how much junior family work there is in chambers. But I don't do much family work at all, I specialise in other areas, and I've been fairly busy.

I've heard that many family sets are simply not recruiting at the moment. Apparently Coram Chambers, for example, have turned around to their three pupils (paid £20,000 each) and said to them that they are not recruiting this year. I've heard that our chambers are interviewing twelve candidates for third sixes, which suggests there are a lot of 'floaters' out there.

There are a lot of nervous junior family law barristers out there, waiting to see how the legal aid reforms work out.

Am I kidding myself? Trying to convince myself that there's no race here? Ask me again in a month.

If one or both of us are recommended, it goes to a vote. It is a simply majority vote here, but in many chambers there is a two-thirds requirement.

Tuesday, 11 September 2007

Battlestations!

Late last week The Other Pupil and I were emailed in (more or less) the following terms:

'If you want to apply for tenancy or a third six, send us a CV, covering letter and any references by yesterday. Interviews next week.'

We were both rather taken by surprise. So, I've cobbled together a covering letter over the weekend, re-written it a million times in various styles, ranging from cowering and unworthy to arrogant and overbearing. I finally settled on an unendearing and rather schitzophrenic combination of both these qualities.

I also spent quite a lot of time getting together some solicitor references saying (a) Pupilblogger is the best thing to hit the Bar since alco-pops, (b) I have instructed Pupilblogger a LOT since the Bar was graced with his presence and (c) you would be lucky to have him, and if you do I'll send both you and he LOADS of work.

I now owe a lot of solicitors a lot of beer, and could teach a thing or two to Colin 'The Forger' Blythe from The Great Escape.

I have also very belatedly decided, after a conversation with The Other Pupil's first pupilmaster and the annoyance of the stupidly short notice for making the application here, that it is time to apply for tenancy elsewhere. I'm setting up a meeting with someone at one set and will fax a couple of applications off tomorrow.

The interview is Friday. If I were to get through this, I would be recommended by the tenancy committee to a full AGM of chambers, where a vote would be taken.

Tuesday, 4 September 2007

Scraps

August and even this first week of September are a VERY quiet time in the legal world, it seems. I am suspicious that there are no fewer problems occurring in the real world. Indeed, with children making nuisances of themselves at home and down at the local shopping mall, rather than being tucked away safely at school, I would have thought we lawyers might be busier than normal.

Not so. The judges and barristers have migrated to warmer climes. I'm not so sure about the solicitors. I think they might all be in Skegness, Blackpool or somewhere similar.

Yet the world has not ended and, despite the efforts of the screws' union, normal folk are going about... normally. Lawyers are leeches and parasites, create work for themselves and are unnecessary? No, surely not!

It's been a good time for The Other Pupil and I, though. While we have on the whole been kicking around chambers an awful lot, we've also picked up all sorts of interesting scraps from other barristers both in chambers and out. I had my first contested non-molestation order in front of magistrates, for example, which was useful experience.

Pupils are recommended not to go away in August and I can see why. There are benefits to being here when others are not.

Tuesday, 14 August 2007

The diary watchers

In the quiet hours in chambers, particularly around mid-morning when only pupils, clerks and un-instructed barristers pace the corridors, one can sometimes hear the eerie clicking of the Diarywatch Beetle. The sound is similar to that of a computer mouse button being pressed repeatedly, but with added almost inaudible winces and dark mutterings.


‘So-and-so instructed by That Firm? They used to send me their best cases…’


‘How did she get briefed in a juicy case like that?’

And so forth. The clicking often marks the passing of another perhaps once promising legal career.

I recently covered a very juicy case for The Master. It was a high court inter partes (meaning both parties are supposed to show up) application for some disclosure orders, but with the other side very unlikely to show as they had bunked off to another country with the kids. The Master has been very busy of late, and was trying to combine a Court of Appeal hearing with another case he’d been working on for a long time. Nine years, in fact. I read the transcript of his cross examination of the witnesses in that case as preparation for the hearing he wanted me to handle.

He returned another couple of briefs, some of which probably then left chambers. He cleared my one with the solicitors and then went to speak to the clerks.


‘Ooo, the diary watchers aren’t going to like that, sir.’

He put it down in my diary as a legal aid risk, which was true as I had knocked out an advice for public funding the solicitors wanted in case public funding was refused. The Legal Services Commission had been flooded, apparently, and weren’t answering calls. Although how this differs from their normal ‘service’, I’m not sure.

He returned to his room, told me about the exchange and warned me against diary watching myself. Our computer system allows everyone to look at one another’s diaries, although thankfully not the fees attached to cases. There are some in chambers, he told me, who take an unhealthy interest in the diaries of others.

Of course, the first thing I did as soon as he was out of the room was have a look at the Other Pupil’s diary, then those of last year’s pupils. I’ve had idle looks before, but not for some time. I’ve been busy, it hasn’t crossed my mind for a while.

I bumped into one of last years’ pupils half an hour later in a moment of serendipity. ‘How’s things? From you’re diary you’ve been busy,’ she said. Her tone was pleasant, though. Her diary has quietened down over the summer, as have most people’s, but she seems to be getting enough work, as do the others.

Saturday, 21 July 2007

Tenancy II

I went for a couple of pints with The Master last night. There is some sort of infestation of mini and micro pupils around chambers at the moment, and I suggested we go for a mid-afternoon coffee so we could catch up. A couple of hours later, we headed to the pub for something non alcoholic. An hour later, we left after a couple of pints and a useful, very pleasant, occasionally hilarious chat.

He thinks I stand a very good chance of getting tenancy as I’m a strong candidate, but need to show my face more around chambers. This is pretty much my own analysis of my situation as well, but it was very helpful to hear it from someone else. One member of chambers I know only in passing and with whom The Master was out for a drink with the other night doesn’t know much about me, and this is apparently a common complaint at tenancy votes. I’m not naturally gregarious, so The Master has decided to start touting me around based on his very specialist practice: ‘Do you mind if Pupilblogger sits in your room for a week to get some public/private/ancillary relief experience?’ type thing. I don’t like this idea one little bit, but I can see it is nevertheless a Good Idea.

Factors in my favour now include:

  • I think I get on pretty well with the people with whom I do naturally have contact in chambers through rooms and work, and I think both editions of The Master will be recommending me very strongly. I imagine most pupilmasters put in a good word for their pupils out of loyalty, but I know this hasn’t always been the case in these chambers.
  • The Master reports that the clerks are pleased with my willingness to take on work. This surprises me as I haven’t been going out of my way to do so and am still nervously holding off on offering myself for family work, the main work of chambers.
  • The inscrutable head of chambers is (probably) pleased with me as I’ve done quite a bit of work on a House of Lords case in which he and The Master are instructed, and a lot of my first draft of the Petition has made its way into the final version.
  • I’m doing fairly well at attracting half-decent work. With The Master’s help I worked out how to interrogate the chambers computer system. He held the server down while I administered a good kicking, then we broke it (morally) by getting a mop bucket and threatening water-boarding. Luckily, the fees clerk walked in at this point and seemed to know quite a lot about it. I think this lent us some much-needed credibility and professionalism in the victim’s eye, which I understand is quite useful in a torture situation. To my considerable surprise I earned, on paper, over £6500 in a period of two months. I’ve actually been PAID about £250 in that time, but it still bodes well.
  • The clerks took a relatively straightforward bail case from me yesterday to give me something more complicated instead on the same day, and gave the bail case to a tenant of several years' call instead. I would actually have rather kept the bail case, which was for a firm I'd like to do more work for, but nevermind.
  • I’ve had a couple of people I vaguely know at another set of chambers separately suggest I apply to them, which gives me options should it go pear-shaped here and also injects a certain amount of confidence. Hopefully not tragically misplaced.

The couldn’t-make-it-up anecdote that emerged from the chat with The Master was a real corker. I’ve heard some great ones recently, but need to think of ways to dress them up slightly, if you’ll forgive what you will soon see was dramatic irony. I seek to preserve what I see as the integrity of the anecdote.

More on that in a later post.

Friday, 6 July 2007

Tenancy I

I have started to worry in earnest about tenancy. This has been prompted partly by a potentially disastrous boo-boo on my part recently, which I'm not going to go into as it's a bit of an identity giveaway and I don't have the imagination to cook up a plausible alternative.

I don't think it's fatal, but it certainly wasn't helpful.

If I was planning my path to tenancy with the meticulousness of BabyBarista, I wouldn't be going to quite those lengths but I would be:

1. Diligently doing the loose leaf filing.
2. Making lots of tea, and not just for the people in my room.
3. Asking the clerks to give me family work in far flung places.
4. Socialising with members of chambers.
5. Not being seen in my cycling clothes, even on the way into and out of chambers in the morning and evening as it seems to irritate some people (and I don't even wear lycra).
6. Offering to do paperwork and research for others.
7. Learning everyone's marital status and calling everyone Mr and Mrs Barrister.
8. Turning up early and staying late.

I am doing none of these things. I either can't be bothered or it rankles too much. Or both, more likely. But it is starting to worry me. The Master mentioned the other day how popular the other pupil is around chambers, and I suspect that several members of chambers feel that offering tenancy to both pupils from last year might have been a mistake.

Our chambers makes decisions very late, only after the end of pupillage. As the other pupil pointed out recently, that puts us at a real disadvantage if it comes to applying for third sixes at other sets as other failed pupils will already know by then and have been making applications.

Navel gazing

I'm going to slip this post in before I do a proper one in a few minutes. It's for regular readers, of whom there are still quite a few. I'm very sorry I'm managing to post less often. I'm trying to get one out a week, and I'm trying to keep them on subject, i.e. a record of my experiences of pupillage which I hope might be some use to others either in choosing career paths or in steeling themselves for the whole pupillage experience.

Since I started to cut back a bit once my second six started, I think my posts have gotten longer and they are less well crafted than previously. This is a result of limited time, basically, and as any experienced legal draftsman will know, limited time often ends up meaning longer but less good documents.

Thanks to all those who leave comments and email in. I really enjoy getting both, even though it may not seem it as I'm a bit hopeless at replying to comments. I'll try and do better in future.

Wednesday, 27 June 2007

Wig and gown


I wore a wig and my gown in combat for the first time today. And the bloody tunic shirt with detachable collars, the wing collar and the bands.

Did I look and feel silly? You bet. I looked no sillier than any other barristers in court, of course, but they are at least used to it by now. I borrowed The Master’s wig, but it turns out that the wearer isn’t magically endowed with his charm and eloquence. I did try lifting it from my head and replacing it several times to check. Had to be worth a try.

On The Master’s advice I got changed into wing collar and bands in chambers to avoid panicking about it later. It took me about twenty minutes to work out which collar stud went where and facing which way. This was despite purchasing them last night from Stanley Ley and getting Nigel there to talk me through it.

By this time I was pretty hot and bothered and I could smell my own rising fear.

The reason for the fear? This wasn’t exactly the first time I’ve appeared in front of a judge. As an advocate, I hasten to point out. I should be used to this. However, it was the first time I’d done a contested hearing in the High Court at the Royal Courts of Justice wearing full regalia.

I’d received the brief the night before. With some help from a friendly face in chambers I worked out that we were judicially reviewing the wrong decision and had also submitted no evidence to support the application. Well, we’d submitted it, but the evidence we wanted to rely on consisted of confidential family court proceedings and we didn’t have a disclosure order, so no-one was supposed to look at it – including me.

What could possibly go wrong?

In fact, because it was so hopeless, nothing could really go badly wrong. It was an ideal case to be practicing on, with no real pressure involved.

Having been way down the list, we ended up going on first. I had been counting on watching the proper barristers showing me how it worked, particularly at the beginning and end of the hearing when I did my introductions and then made any requests for orders. No such luck.

Being used to tribunal work, I wrote ‘MAY IT PLEASE MY LORDSHIP!’ and ‘’MY LEARNED FRIEND!’ at the top of the page in my notebook to remind myself of the protocols.

It went quite well, considering. We lost, unsurprisingly, but I felt I put up a good fight and the hearing took 40 minutes, so I did give the judge a few things to think about. I think I was really quite good on the law, even if I say so myself, and responded well to the judge’s points but I’ve definitely got work to do on presentation. It didn’t help that after about five minutes I reverted to ‘Sir’ rather than ‘My Lord’ and had to start correcting myself. At the end I was asked whether I had any requests for any orders. I was relieved Treasury Counsel wasn’t pressing for costs, and I thought it was probably a privately funded brief but hadn’t checked. I asked for detailed assessment of legally aided costs. It turned out it was private, but I don’t think this matters.

I was really quite pleased -- although also exhausted -- by the time I got back to chambers.

Then I bumped into the head of the library committee, who told me to get on with the loose leaf filing mountain. She’s emailed my pupilmaster about it.

Back in your box, Pupilblogger!

Saturday, 23 June 2007

Client party

It was the chambers b-2-s schmooze-fest last night. It is held every year on the Friday closest to midsummer, and it is quite a big do. There must have been around 300 people there. Hopefully none of them are big fans of blog surfing.

The Other Pupil and I were on name tag duty for the first couple of hours. I'd been out at court until late on and then sorting out some bundles for The Master, so the preparation work had fallen to her. She arranged the names in a complex hierarchy that started with judges and wives, went on to court staff, then solicitors organised by firm and then alphabetically by name and then, finally our chambers barristers and staff.

It took me a while to realise that no other barristers were invited.

The names on the tags were facing away from the two of us, which led to some friendly rivalry as we strove to be the first to find the name of each new arrival. However, there was an additional complication The Other Pupil had not anticipated and which became something of a minefield for us both.

As each arrival walked into the room, we had somehow to ascertain their place in the hierarchy. Judge, wife, court staff or solicitor? In some cases it was really quite easy to guess. Sandals means a solicitor, I learned, and advanced age generally signifies a judge of some seniority. Still, there were a couple of classic moments.

'Sorry to keep you waiting. Which firm are you with?'

'I AM LORD JUSTICE VERY IMPORTANT.'

There was also the problem that not everyone had RSVP-ed, therefore not everyone had a nametag. Some people got quite surprisingly upset about this, and wrote out a number of tags ourselves. One solicitor also made The Other Pupil go back to chambers and print off a new name tag with his OBE included on it.

One of the waitresses took pity on us and secretly fed us canapés, which was helpful, and we were both very moderate with the champagne. We'd be warned about the behaviour of one of the pupils two years ago at the same party, but neither of us has been able to find anyone willing to spill the beans, even after a few drinks.

With the exception of one clanger, I found the party useful, I think. Nearly Legal has just posted on the subject of schmoozing by barristers, and includes a link to a recent article by David Pannick QC on the same subject. I chatted to several solicitors I haven't seen for a while and attempted to strike a delicate balance between sounding legally knowledgeable and not laying it on too thick. At the very least I reminded them that I exist and am available for work. Whether that actually translates into briefs, only time will tell. I saw several junior members of chambers being introduced to solicitors by whom they had been briefed but had never met, so I would have thought that would have been useful to them.

I can't imagine a party being a good way of meeting entirely new solicitors and somehow persuading them to brief me, though.

On a related note, The Master told me of one of his commerical barrister friends who flies a bunch of solicitors out for a weekend in Dublin every summer, which is (a) pretty weird to my ears, (b) just short of offering them money and (c) makes me wonder whether he really needs to do that to get briefs from these corrupt freeloaders and what that means about his legal skills.

Back to the clanger, which I hope wasn't actually too bad. I ended up talking to the sole partner at a firm that has sent me quite a bit of work thinking that he was one of his employees. Somehow – I'm really not sure how – he ended up pulling out his driving licence to prove otherwise. Other than that, I think my evening was gaff free.

Fate decreed that I bumped into an old friend on the way home – the same friend I had witnessed in action at his chambers client party a couple of years ago. Neither of us could face going for a drink at that point, so we just vaguely suggested meeting up soon. An odd coincidence.

Tuesday, 12 June 2007

Cardiff

Whoops, went to Cardiff today. Wasn't supposed to. Looked at the wrong page in my diary. No serious harm done, though, as I wasn't supposed to be anywhere else anyway.

Mental note to self: do try not to do that again.

Thursday, 7 June 2007

Busy is good

I've been Busy. This is Good.

I am, I admit, having a little difficulty with this correlation. Now, I've never been lazy. Ok, ok, I've had days occasionally. But I've always considered myself a hard worker and have often ended up volunteering for additional tasks or jobs, or just getting on and doing something I didn't technically need to do. Yes, I'm basically a bit of a swot.

In my previous jobs, though, this was genuinely voluntary and it was also controllable. I could always just relax and take it easy instead.

Now, I find myself been given stuff to do by the clerks and my contacts, and I've just got to get on with it. It is very much involuntary.

But -- and this is the conceptually difficult bit -- this is a Good Thing. It means that I'm earning money. Well, in theory, at least. More accurately, I'm actually just building up what barristers call an 'aged debt', meaning the wad of cash that a whole bunch of solicitors owe you but haven't paid you yet. The only actual money I've received was a cash payment, but more on that in another post.

One of my friends, who got tenancy in 2002, told me he had an aged debt of £50,000. And also three separate overdrafts of about £10,000 each. At least I think that's what he said, there had been some cold drinks involved.

Wednesday, 16 May 2007

Still standing

I'm happy to report that all went quite well. The pre-hearing review went smoothly, although the judge must have taken three times as long as was necessary, just through general faffing. The ex parte application also went fairly smoothly.

I was certainly nervous. The Master wasn't around, but had texted me some rough details. There was no papers yet, so I drafted up an order based on this text message, thinking I could amend it once I had the papers. When did I get the papers? On the way to court, of course. It was a bit late for changes by then as we really needed the order signed and sealed that day so that documents could be released to us by the court.

The solicitors sent a work experience student. This was Good because it meant that no-one important was watching me if I messed up, stuttered, slumped forward in a nervous collapse and so on. However, it was Bad because there was no-one there to point me in the right direction if something went wrong.

After some deliberation I decided to write on the form for my name and party that I was 'counsel/pupil' and tell the usher it was my first case in the High Court in the hope she would tell the judge. I decided there was probably more chance of an easy ride that way, as the judge in question was reputed to be OK. I'd checked that in chambers before leaving.

The hearing was over in a flash and I did fine, even if I say so myself. There was very little to say and the order I'd drafted was suitable, with one slight amendment (insertion in the recital of a quick reference to a previous order). The judge and Associate were willing for me to hand write this, as otherwise we'd need to call the solicitors, get them to make the changes then email it to the Associate so that a pristine correct copy could be produced.

All in all, a good first day. I've now got a few hearings appearing in my diary, including some substantive half day cases. I am, however, going through what I hope is simply a nervous phase where I wonder where the work is going to come from in the future. I've got to make a living doing this.

Sunday, 13 May 2007

Day One, Second Six

Tomorrow, Monday, is the first day of my 'second six'. Thie second six is the second six months of pupillage, when the pupil is (finally) allowed to take his or her own cases. I will be on The Master's professional indemnity insurance but it will be me doing the advocacy and I can at last accept instructions. I actually had to turn down one opportunity to do an opinion a couple of months ago, which was frustrating.

I will be said by other barristers to be 'on my feet', a term I accidentally used to my girlfriend. Understandably, she was less than excited, presumably thinking that I really had been spending an awful lot of time sitting down recently.

I have been in contact with a few solicitors that I know over the last few days. This was pretty embarrassing but I decided that they simply wouldn't know that I was available if I didn't tell them and that a direct reference to the fact that I was now looking for work was preferable to some beating around the bush.

I am happy to report that I now have booked into my diary:
  • one case to do in June (and a pre-hearing review before then) from a contact
  • a pre-hearing review return tomorrow morning
  • a straightforward ex parte High Court application tomorrow afternoon
I am particularly pleased/petrified about the last on this list. My first day on my feet and I'm off to the High Court. I don't even have a wig and gown yet, but as this is the Family Division that isn't a problem this time. I think it might be time to bite the bullet, though, and splash out on the gear.

I've been semi-briefed on this through The Master, who has introduced me to one of his key solicitors and seems to have suggested that I make the application rather than him. This is, obviously, quite generous of him. I say semi-briefed because it all depends whether I can get back from the other case in time. Anyone in chambers could do it. Or, at least, anyone this solicitor is willing to tolerate. She send a lot of work into chambers, but definitely has some favourites and some she has marked with the Black Spot. I have so far made a good impression and she's willing to let me do it.

I just hope I don't somehow screw it up.

Tuesday, 8 May 2007

Third six pupil

There was a chambers meeting last week. These are convened but rarely – only when a tenancy application is made, apparently. I therefore knew that last year’s pupil, who had not previously applied for tenancy but was instead doing a third six, had resolved to make an application.

I admit to mixed feelings. The other pupil from this year is already on her feet and has done a few very minor hearings so far. They have been uncontested interim care order renewals and the like, very straightforward. There doesn’t seem to be that much junior work coming into chambers at the moment, though, something on which a couple of people have remarked sicne I started.

Competition for scarce resources is not necessarily a good thing, then, from a purely selfish point of view. I was keen to question The Master the next morning.

She got the tenancy. I am genuinely pleased for her as she seems very nice and very competent. The line at the meeting was apparently that she was a good barrister, the tenancy committee was therefore recommending her and chambers as a whole (those who turned up, anyway) were willing to give her a chance to stand on her own two feet. If she can’t get enough work, that is her problem, basically.

I was told that this was chambers policy when I applied for pupillage, I remember, and it seems to be applied in practise. Unlike the days before pupillage awards, chambers have actually invested something in pupils and the selection process is done early on, in these chambers at least. The default position seems to be that you get tenancy as long as you don’t screw up.

That said, until last year the last pupil to be taken on was called in 2003, and I know that we were taking two pupils a year throughout.

Thursday, 3 May 2007

Letter of apology

I was going to change tack and write an angst-ridden post about a recent schmoozing experience, some chambers politics and the fate of last year’s now third six pupil, but instead I report that The Master received a letter of apology from the very judge I mentioned in my very last post. The Master appealed him to the Court of Appeal on what The Master considered an obvious legislative interpretation point that the judge concerned had pulled out of his own hat very late on in a trial.

Well, The Master just received a personal note from the judge, addressed to The Master by his first name (‘The’, in case you were wondering) admitting that he, the judge, was wrong (er, as had been pointed out already by the Court of Appeal) and saying, basically, ‘no hard feelings’.

I’ve never seen or heard of anything like it, but I haven’t been around long.

Angst-y post or posts to follow eventually.

Tuesday, 24 April 2007

Whole Lotta Love

Everyone loves The Master. Seeing him arrive at the Royal Courts of Justice is reminiscent of the opening scene of Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery. Austin Powers struts his stuff through the film’s version of Swinging Sixties London, packed with be-micro-skirted beauties, smiling Bobbies, bright red buses and psychedelic everything else. Everyone knows him, everyone smiles and says hello. Everyone he passes is greeted with a personalised quip or question. Barristers suddenly ignore their clients, solicitors hang up their mobile phones, the court clerks turn cartwheels as he passes, the Associates swoon, the judges… well, the judges. The judges LOVE The Master. He appears before them almost daily, often in several different cases, and he clearly knows them all well.

One judge seems to have a particular fondness for The Master. Their banter is almost excruciating at times. At the end of one hearing the judge concerned turned to opposing counsel and said that The Master would draft the required order, as The Master was the junior of the two. Both counsel looked confused and started to stutter, slightly embarrassed being as it was already clear that The Master would be doing the drafting being as it was his application.

‘Sorry, I do like to tease [Mr Master].’ Ingratiating smile. Yuck.

In another case it became evident that the same judge has developed a dislike for the instructing solicitors. The Master was asked to admonish them for failure to comply with the practice direction. It was very minor and most judges wouldn't even have noticed, never mind brought it up. He has another case with the same firm in the afternoon, this time with several significant breaches of the practice direction. As he was leaving court, he turned to the judge, mentioned the case and the firm, and continued, ‘I’ll be adopting the position for that one, Your Lordship.’ I couldn’t see if he winked or not, but it wouldn’t be hard to imagine.

They love him, he loves it, there’s a whole lot of love going around.

Thursday, 19 April 2007

Swiss Toni moment

'Getting the brief as junior in a House of Lords case is very much like making love to a beautiful woman, Pupilblogger.'

I was all ears.

'You've got to look interested but not desperate. Keen, but not over-eager. We've sent the opinion, we'll just sit back now.'

That was a week ago. Today, The Master got a text message from the solicitor saying the case is almost certain to happen. The solicitor, whom he knows very well, wouldn't be texting him if he wasn't lined up to be the junior. He's pretty sure she's dangling the leader brief in front of several QCs, though.

The Master is in a very nice position, it would seem. There might well be something in his pearl of wisdom. Put in the work early if angling for a case, but then let things be for a while.

Friday, 13 April 2007

Legal basis

What do you know? I find myself with a few minutes to kill before I can safely escape chambers and I immediately think of the blog. Giving up might not be as easy as all that, but I do expect to wind down the number of posts. Thanks for the kind comments. I like Corporate Blawger's starship analogy (I assume it is particularly hot in his part of town). I will, perhaps, float gradually off into space. Hopefully avoiding the enormous, enigmatic, floaty black monolith and ensuing trippy weirdness.

In my quest to see some straightforward non-molestation, occupation and other similar injunction work, I was supposed to tag along with someone new from chambers this morning. However, when I dropped by to offer to carry her bags, she was on the phone to the solicitor explaining with rapidly diminishing patience that she couldn't possibly apply for the injunction in question because the statute very clearly forbade it. The local authority rather than the carer would need to make any application.

There was then some to-ing and fro-ing between the solicitors as to who was going to do what, and they decided to abandon the intended application to the Principal Registry of the High Court Family Division, which is on High Holborn, and instead apply in the High Court at the Royal Courts of Justice on The Strand.

Er, why?

The change of venue is due to the differing powers of different sorts of judge. We needed someone who would be able to exercise the High Court's inherent jurisdiction. This apparently requires a judge with a 'tag nine ticket', or something similar sounding. Something to do with the Sainsbury's deli counter, I assume, or possibly the judicial lottery that determines whether you get an easy ride or get eviscerated then dusted in salt and soaked in vinegar.

So we headed off the the RCJ to the ex parte list in the afternoon. We had to wait around for quite a while, during which time we were offered the judge next door. He or she didn't have the right ticket, though, apparently, a fact that both barristers instantly knew. How a pupil is supposed to work this all out I've no idea - and there does seem to be a risk that this could happen to me, as it initially looked like quite a simple matter and is the sort of thing the clerks might give me.

On the way down, my barrister had given me a little talk on how important it is to buy a Family Court Practice book, an enormous red tome that costs about £200 and comes out every year. I think not. I haven't bought a wig and gown yet and plan to avoid that as long as possible. For my Call I borrowed one from a friend I had hitherto failed to realise was a pinhead. It was a bit small for me, as anyone will quickly realise from but the briefest glance at the Chairman Mao style mural of me on one wall on the outside of my grandmother's house.

However, she very quickly got a chance to demonstrate the utility of her advice when the judge asked for the criteria and legal basis for attaching a power of arrest to an injunction. This was over and above what she was asking for, so wasn't actually in the draft order she had prepared. Of course, she had her red book with her and was able to furnish the judge with the answer (s.47 Family Law Act 1996) with nay bother.

Thursday, 12 April 2007

The end is nigh?

Firstly, I apologise for the introspection of the following post, which will only be of interest to regular Pupilblog readers.

I am currently considering the future of Pupilblog. This has been a recurring theme since I started it only a few months ago. Friends, family and girlfriend think I’m plain bonkers. Someone worked out the identity of The Master through overenthusiastic carelessness on my part (too many details about a case). I had a near miss with other pupils on the compulsory advocacy course. And Geeklawyer seems to have been hauled in front of then narrowly escaped torture by the Bar Council.

This fate seems unlikely (I am neither as rude nor as popular as Geeklawyer, for starters), but I have always worried that my chambers would take less than kindly to this blog, thus bringing my nascent legal career to a swift (but perhaps welcome) end. Yes, I continue to flirt with the idea of career suicide and am still uncertain about what direction I plan to follow in the future.

More to the point, perhaps, I’m a bit fed up with writing about pupillage. When I first started, I had some specific purposes in mind. I feel I have to a significant extent fulfilled those purposes. My pupillage is no longer as excruciating an experience as once was and I no longer have the same need to make light of my situation. A number of people interested in pursuing a career at the Bar have come across this blog and found it helpful, and it would continue to exist in cyberspace for that purpose. And it has been fun until recently. It now feels like something of a chore.

Having gotten into the whole blogging thing, I recently started another blog, and I guess I only have enough enthusiasm for one. Unfortunately, regular Pupilblog readers may be disappointed to find out that the other blog is far less interesting to others than this one has, to my surprise, proven to be. It’s on a very specific area of law. The experiences of Corporate Blawger suggest, unsurprisingly, that the general blogosphere isn’t terribly interested in specialist legal blogs, and I have noted that many purportedly specialist but popular law blogs go way off subject. As I may well end up doing in the future, I guess.

I won’t include the name of the blog here as it may cease to be anonymous in the future and I’d rather this post and blog didn’t pop up on any search engines. It’s not that hard to work it out, though, if you are interested. Yes, I am well aware this is a far from fool proof piece of self protection.

I’m therefore either going to cease posting or, more likely, wind down Pupilblog. My second six starts shortly and I can’t see me having much time on my hands. On the other hand, I would like to record at least the early days of being ‘on my feet’. My Pupilblogger email account will hopefully also continue to function.

Right, I better go and pick some loose leaf filing to get on with…

Wednesday, 11 April 2007

Non-molestation

This morning I tagged along with then had a good chat and coffee with last year's successful pupil. We talked about the sort of work I'm likely to be doing and what to do if the clerks give me something I don't feel competent to handle.

I definitely need to see some non-molestation, occupation and prohibited steps order work and some committals. The former relate mainly to private family law proceedings where there is an allegation of harassment, violence or similar against a partner or former partner, the latter to alleged breaches of one of these orders, where the alleged commitor may be fined or sent to prison.

So, just now, I asked one of the senior clerks whether there is any of this work going on over the next few days.

‘It’s a bit quiet this week,’ I was told, ‘but there’s something right up your street on Friday. It’s Miss X who’s doing it, and she’s in today so drop in and have a word. Mind you, she probably doesn’t know what she’s doing on Friday yet.’

As a sort of aside, he then went on, ‘I wouldn’t normally send someone so senior, but it is a firm we like to keep sweet.’

So, I innocently dropped in, started to explain the context, but found myself talking to thin air as she stomped out to see the clerk concerned. ‘I’m not minded to do any such thing as an occupation order! We’ll see about this. You’re welcome to come if I do it, but that’s not very likely!’

To make matters worse, on the way out of her room I then bumped into someone on the library committee. I was escorted to the bookshelves full of pending loose leaf filing and told in no uncertain terms to get cracking, pronto. I wasn’t actually dragged by my ear, but it felt like it. I admit that it isn’t quite as bad as I have imagined in my occasional loose leaf filing nightmares, but there’s a couple of full book shelves that need doing.

Think how many wafer-thin pages of material that means. Sometimes inserted page by page. Argh.

I then went back to see the clerks. Apparently Miss X hasn’t been to see them. I muttered something about the possibility that she might drop by and didn’t seem too happy about Friday. The senior clerk’s response was a nonchalant yet also somehow threatening simultaneous shrugging and squaring of the shoulders. The kind you see just before something kicks off – not a threat as such, more like an invitation to have a go.

I scurried away. My courageous and bold plan now is now to remain in hiding until after they’ve all gone tonight. I don’t want to end up as collateral damage.

Tuesday, 10 April 2007

Compulsory advocacy course II

My fellow pupils were an interesting bunch. Most, of course, were straight out of Bar School. And, my, they looked young. A lot of them were at criminal sets, and many will by now be ‘on their feet’, the barrister-ism for starting your second six. This is when you start taking your own cases, and these very young looking recent students will be out prosecuting or defending the guilty and the innocent with equal vigour, as directed by their clerks.

Scary. For all concerned, no doubt. I myself am a few weeks behind them, which is also pretty scary.

During the first coffee break, I introduced myself to a few of the other pupils with the equivalent of the compulsory A-levels or gap year conversation you are by law compelled to have with other freshers at university. For barrister pupils, this seems to be what set, what work and what your Master is like. I said a few words on all of these subjects in order to join in.

As we were finishing a coffee break, though, I overheard someone talking about this brilliant new blog by a pupil barrister that was ‘blowing the whole thing wide open’. A shiver of fear ran down my spine. I’d probably just given away enough information to make myself traceable in the highly unlikely event that anyone had been listening when I was introducing myself. This also meant I’d need to slip away at lunch for some swift blog editing, as I’d mentioned when I’d be going on the course.

The next emotion to flash through my brain, very shortly afterwards, was pride. These pupils were reading my blog! Excellent, I have an audience amongst my peers, I thought.

I eavesdropped a little more as we filed back into the lecture room. As the initiator of the conversation sat down, someone was asking him for the address for my blog. ‘babybarista.blogspot.com', he said.

Oh well.

However, I take this opportunity to plug BabyBarista as a very good read. It's as if Anonymous Lawyer had been reincarnated as a pupil barrister, basically, and it differs from my blog in being fictional but being more consistently written (in the sense of style and care as well as regularity) and having a plot. I see from my own catching up with the unfolding plotline involving a direct access honey trap today that he’s justifiably landed a deal with TimesOnline. They do seem to have altered his strapline, though, I just noticed in pasting this link, and it's a little more like mine than it used to be. I should perhaps consult Geeklawyer about the intellectual property dimension. I guess it's a fairly obvious descriptor to pick given the subject matter, and I've certainly no objection.

Anyway, what about the advocacy course itself? There was a heavy criminal focus, which is presumably justified on the ground that criminal cases provide an excellent training ground on both advocacy and the rules of evidence. I can see this point, but it does feel a bit frustrating being put through pathetic pleas in mitigation when I have no intention of ever knowingly going near a criminal court.

I am, perhaps, prejudiced by the appalling experience of freezing up during the exercises on the first day. I was in a dank, foul mood after the ridiculous start to the day and over the obvious criminal law focus. The trainers are told to pick up on negative ‘headlines’ and I had strips torn off/from me for exactly this grammatical point. I was speechless with embarrassment and disbelief. It definitely got better as it went, though, and the witness handling practise was particularly useful.

Overall judgment: better than hanging around chambers for the same time, some useful witness work and I'm grateful for getting some proper training, even if it was rather negative in its approach.

Tuesday, 3 April 2007

Compulsory advocacy course

I’m not saying when, but in the last few months I attended the compulsory advocacy course the Bar Council insists all first six pupils undertake.

It was a bit of a nightmare. It brought back some traumatic memories of Bar School, which I hated and remains the worst year of my life. Closely followed by the CPE conversion course.

On the first day, the course compere started by barking at a randomly selected victim.

‘STAND UP AND TELL US ABOUT THE MOST INTERESTING THING YOU’VE EVER DONE!’

This turned out to be riding back from India on a motorbike with the victim’s army chums.

The compere, a matronly figure, then proceeded to explain to the class in some detail how badly this poor chap had spoken. The next victim was then selected, and it turned out that the most interesting thing she’d ever done was, with her sisters, meet Mother Theresa in Calcutta. Who was amazing, apparently. I’m not sure whether the sisters in question were the victim’s siblings or fellow nuns.

This victim’s ability to speak in the English language was then dissected before us. It was like the latest Channel 4 live vivisection show. Pun intended, I’m afraid.

Further casualties followed, until even Matron was compelled to feel pity by the answer ‘I have to say that attending my high school was the most interesting thing I’ve ever done in my life. There were some really fascinating people there!’

She moved on to her next routine, which consisted of asking us one by one what we thought of our own voice. If this training were true to life, there would have been a Dr Evil-style trapdoor incident every time someone said they didn’t like the sound of their own voice. This is barrister training, for God’s sake! A real barrister LOVES the sound of his or her own voice. Instead, we got to victim no. 7, who admitted that he didn’t much like the sound of his voice.

‘NO, I CAN HER WHY! YOUR VOICE HAS QUITE A NASAL QUALITY! BUT IT’S NOT THAT BAD! IT’S NOT AS BAD AT KEN LIVINGSTON, FOR EXAMPLE!’

This post is already getting too long, so I can see I’ll need to do another on the subject. By the time the first half hour was over I was already a seething ball of resentment. Not a good way to start, I feel. I’m duty bound to say, though, that by the end of the course it had been helpful.

Saturday, 31 March 2007

What value do barristers add?

It’s been an exciting week, and slightly to my own surprise I’m still feeling pretty perky. This is, perhaps, partly because I’m away next week. This blog will therefore become even quieter than it has otherwise been of late. I’ve been a bit busy, basically, and I’m no insomniac, unlike Charon QC – quite the opposite in fact – nor am I quite as, er, geeky as Geeklawyer.

I’ve been mulling over the above question in my mind for the last few weeks. It has recurred in a number of contexts. My previous position would have been ‘not much’ but I’m either (a) starting to change my mind after careful consideration or (b) I’m brainwashing myself because I need to justify my existence.

I recently had to listen to a QC who, as he liked to point out as often as possible, at the tender age of 41 is quite young to have taken silk. He was clearly convinced that his peers, who have been so astute as to elevate him to his current state of grace must themselves be really rather special. He was also offensively dismissive of solicitor advocates, failed pupils and Bar Vocational Course tutors (the last two being closely linked in his mind). He obviously thinks that barristers generally, but perhaps one barrister even more so than the others, are God’s gift to humanity.

The issue of litigants in person, recently also commented on by Nearly Legal, raises the same issue of added value but in a different way.

Counsel-only conferences have also prompted some reflection on this issue. The additional link in the chain between client and advocate often proves pragmatically beneficial. There is real pressure in child care proceedings for all parties to be reasonable, as being seen to be unreasonable is highly damaging to one’s case. The solicitor will often be under considerable pressure from the client to put certain points or arguments, and is of course being paid to act according to the client’s instructions. The solicitor will try to moderate the client. The barrister will then try to moderate the solicitor. With much rolling of eyes and so forth, the outline of a reasonable agreement will be reached, and then pressure applied to the parties to accept it. I can’t see this working so well with solicitors only, who have their client’s interests more immediately in mind.

Some might be horrified by this, and I well realise that it could be said to be elitist and condescending, but the best interests of the child probably are served by everyone being reasonable rather than slogging it out in a more adversarial environment. This might apply more in family proceedings than other areas of law, but I imagine there is some utility in the additional link in the chain right across the board.

The other area of potential added value I’ve noticed is in buying in specialist advice. Today I watched my new Master against two very competent solicitors in high court proceedings. The solicitors were clearly on the ball and knew what they were doing, but they simply didn’t have the same experience or knowledge of the particularly narrow, esoteric area of law in question. Had they instructed specialist counsel, we’d have been in trouble. As it was, we got what we wanted.

Our odd legal system and divided profession enables solicitors from all over the country to buy in specialist experience in particular areas of law, and therefore to offer a full service to Joe Public, without Joe having to travel a long way to find a specialist himself. There is therefore added value in instructing counsel in unusual areas of law. I’m not so sure that the same arguments apply in less esoteric areas of law, where solicitors would build up experience and knowledge themselves.

Monday, 26 March 2007

New dawn

The Master is dead. Long live The Master.

I am feeling unusally bright and cheerful today, not exactly my default condition for the past few months since starting. I arrived at 9am and settled down in The Master's room to start work on my pupillage checklist. The room was empty, and after a meeting a few weeks ago with The Master, I expected it to stay empty. The other occupants are quite senior and rarely show up in chambers. I plugged myself into someone else's network cable and downloaded what I needed.

An hour later, I was reflecting on how lonely the next few months would be. Tucked at the end of a corridor with no passing trade in gossip, war stories and panic, stuck in a room with another absent Master and two senior ghost counsel, there was a risk I could die alone, perhaps from a severe paper cut or ring binder injury, be partially eaten by kittens and that it would be days before my discovery.

However, another hour down the line and The Master had materialised, transmogrified, sent my CV off to a major player solicitor who is looking for advice on intervening in a House of Lords case -- as a genuine part of his own angling for the role of junior in the case as I'm apparently part of his team now and would allegedly be invaluable -- agreed to let me take a day off for a long weekend for my thirtieth (boo!) shortly and is keen for me to do more training work to raise my profile.

It's as if the carpet were made of clover.

However, the more serious business of my pupillage checklist is proving vexing. I feel I can legitimately tick many of the boxes necessary. When it comes to part five, on the specialist area of my pupilmaster, however, I'm in a bit of difficulty, as barristers sometimes say. I simply haven't seen more than one case involving ancilliary relief and that didn't cover all the right bases. I've got no idea about various types of injunction. Even on child cases, I've got a good grounding in most public law principles (even then, I've only seen adoption stuff fairly tangentally) but haven't seen much private law at all.

I tried to email the Bar Council but, to their credit, very quickly got an email back from the Bar Standards Board. The Bar Council seems to have split into two parts, although I haven't yet had time to look up why or get to grips with this. I assume it's something to do with making the profession look better regulated. The email response suggested I just write down what I've done and send it in with as much of the checklist as I can complete.

I'm hoping they aren't too serious about being better regulated and that this is some sort of prelude to a rubber stamping exercise. I'm not sure that sending a link to this blog and an essay on the arts of photocopying, hole punching and stapling will do the trick.

I bumped into The Other Pupil at the shared computers while printing the checklists out. She's been ticking hers off as she went, which is admirably organised and farsighted of both her and her Master. I highly recommend this approach to any pupils or potential pupils out there reading this. In contrast, I'm now going to have to tout myself around chambers fairly frantically over the next couple of weeks to try and cover a few more checklist criteria.

I got a call from the old Master in the afternoon. He has a back injury, won't be in chambers for some time and wanted me to check his cheque folder and pigeon hole. Like in the old days. I was more than happy to do so, and will probably tag along to a couple of big hearings he has coming up for which I've been involved in the preparation work. I tried not to sound too upbeat or excited on the phone, especially as he was clearly feeling pretty rotten.

For the first time in quite some time, however, I am actually quite upbeat and excited. Long may it last!

Sunday, 25 March 2007

Litigants in person

I'm trying to make a point of watching some simple cases at the moment. Thus far on my pupillage I seem to either have been hanging around chambers writing blog entries, photocopying and so on, or in court watching major cases, the like of which I probably wouldn't be doing myself for five to ten years, if not longer. My second six isn't far away and, it being quite a while since I was at bar school, I really need to familiarise myself with the sort of work I might end up doing very shortly.

I saw a good example at one of the London county courts last week. It involved a lady who had been suffering what she considered to be harassment by a firm of bailiffs. Her ex-partner had moved out some four years previously but had given her address to some creditor. The bailiffs had therefore attempted on a number of occasions to seize her property. She was in court asking for an interim injunction to stop them.

The bailiffs meanwhile had realised that they had it wrong, that the guy had indeed moved out as she asserted and they were offering an undertaking to the court not to visit her house any more or to attempt to seize any of her property. The judge asked whether she was willing to accept the undertaking, which would effectively end the case, make a full hearing unnecessary and save costs. She declined, saying that they couldn't be trusted.

At this point, if the judge had explained what an undertaking actually is, that it is set down in writing and recorded by the court and that breaching it involves contempt of court, I think she would probably have accepted it as adequate. It is, of course, difficult to tell, as litigants often suffer from the delusion that their day in court will lead to some sort of personal vindication, the judge seeing it all their way and to punishment of the other side. However, the judge did not explain this, instead setting the case down for full hearing and granting the interim injunction as requested.

This lady will almost certainly lose her case in the end. The bailiffs probably haven't done anything unlawful, and without a lawyer on her side even if they have she won't be able to expose it. This means she will pay the legal costs incurred by the bailiffs, which are likely to run to several thousand pounds. I seriously considered following her out to have a quiet word, but this would have been an exceedingly bad idea on any number of levels.

Conducting your own case in court is also a bad idea, unless you know roughly what you are doing, but in this case it could have been an awful lot easier had the judge spent a few moments explaining the significance of an undertaking and the difference between this and an injunction. Without doing any research on the subject, an undertaking is voluntary but binding, breach of which can amount to contempt of court. An injunction is imposed by the court, often has an explicit penal notice attached to it, and enforcement in the event of a breach is probably more straightforward than with an undertaking.

It is worth pointing out that litigants in person are generally considered to be a real pain by lawyers. I recently read an interesting explanation of why in a new book by Professor Anthony Good. Many non lawyers think in what he calls a relational fashion, analysing a situation with reference to social and historical context. Lawyers are trained to think in what he calls a rules orientated way, looking for generalised and transferrable rules that can be extracted or applied. When a lawyer hears a relational account of a case, the lawyer hears irrelevant waffle, basically. Judges being lawyers, this approach doesn't tend to be very productive in the courts. I'd highly recommend the book. It's also a very interesting analysis of the (shoddy) treatment of evidence by anthropologists and other experts in the asylum courts.

Sunday, 18 March 2007

Kids in court

I was watching a case in the Court of Appeal last week when in trouped a class of teenagers. It was in one of the old fashioned courtrooms at the Royal Courts of Justice and it was a very senior panel of judges. The first few of the kids squeezed onto the back row, which filled rapidly. The chair of the panel therefore invited the others to sit in the rows in front, which was misinterpreted as an invitation to sit in the front row for QCs.

I should explain that there is a separate row of seats right at the front of some court rooms which is for QCs only. The other barristers, I think all of whom are referred to as juniors (sometimes as senior juniors when it becomes obvious to all that they are never going to get silk), have to advocate from a row back, which puts them in their place and at something of a disadvantage.

The arguments in the case were turgid and concerned overlapping and badly drafted regulations. However, the substantive issue at stake was an important one with serious consequences for those affected. Had one of the Lords Justice stopped the proceedings for a moment or two to explain some context, the proceedings might have looked less like a pointless and very boring wig and gown show and more like an important legal case. Quite the opposite, as everyone if anything hammed it up even more. The words ultra vires and ex hypothesi were even deployed, which I thought was particularly criminal in the circumstances.

The kids trouped out again after 20 minutes. As the last of them were leaving, the chair of the panel congratulated the speaking barrister for what must have been amazing advocacy, as none of the children seemed to have fallen asleep despite the subject matter.

Presumably the kids left having understood nothing other than that barrister and judges are boring, look pretty damn silly in wigs and gowns and sometimes use Latin words. All very accurate, you might think, but I can't help feeling the legal profession didn't exactly help itself on this occasion. Politicians and the political classes -- which I suspect includes judges and many barristers -- waffle about citizenship classes and engagement but when opportunities present themselves in a meaningful context, they are passed by.

And then teachers get the blame, somehow.

Saturday, 17 March 2007

Is this picture straight?

As regular visitors will immediately see, I have attempted to spruce up my blog slightly. I have a rare weekend at home to myself and it is bit like an information age version of DIY. I'd welcome any feedback.

While the minimalist look of the old template appealed to me, the narrow columns of text were annoying me and I thought they didn't work too well with the fairly lengthy nature of most of my posts. I've therefore gone for something that seems to fill more of the screen, at least on my computers.

I've also tried, belatedly, to sort out the subscription situation and have used Feedburner for both feed and email subscriptions. I've subscribed to myself to see how this works out, but it wouldn't surprise me if I've done something wrong or if my occasional edits of old posts somehow get sent out as fresh feed or emails. Incidentally, these are usually prompted by comments, as recently by a Janeite vigilante that I rather embarrassingly misspelled 'Austen' (particularly embarrassing as I coincidentally just finished P&P a couple of days ago). Someone also recently, helpfully, pointed out the difference between 'buffon' and 'bouffant'. Oh dear. Good job I'm (mostly) anonymous. Occasionally the edits are prompted by identity paranoia, as happened again this week. More on this after next week, once the coast is clear.

Anyway, enough navel gazing. Hopefully all this works, but please let me know if (a) you think it's rubbish or (b) it doesn't work. Suggestions on how to make it work would be particularly helpful in the event of (b).

Friday, 16 March 2007

Callow youths

I saw my own future yesterday. I was at a county court and watched a couple of very young looking barristers slogging it out in a Housing Act appeal. Barrister 1 spoke with natural authority, and it was only when he turned around for instructions from his solicitor that I realised how young he looked. The judge rather rammed it home by commenting on three separate occasions on his youth. I quote:

'Of course, you are too young to remember when...'

'I have man-handled prams down similar staircases but I suspect you are a little young to have done likewise...'

'It's easy to clean mould off, you just use Jeyes Fluid, you haven't lived, have you?'

Barrister 1 bore these remarks with staid equanimity, but he did seem to be making what I guess are classic novice mistakes. He talked over the judge on a number of occasions and adopted a slightly hectoring tone at times, venturing his own opinion rather too readily. I would guess these are advocacy attributes of the very inexperienced and the very experienced barrister, but no-one in-between.

Towards the end of the hearing it became clear from a little judicial rant that the judge was less than sympathetic on the challenge to the reasonableness of the decision in question. This monologue covered the nature of health and safety These Days, how well the judge knew the locality in question, how typical the condition of the house was and how everyone else seemed to be managing just fine. Barrister 1 could see the direction the hearing was going, and his submissions took on a slightly unseemly pleading tone. He fell back on emotional language and imagery and his delivery speed increased. It must be so difficult to just abandon what one considers to be a good point but with the benefit of observation rather than participation, it seemed clear that he was frittering away both his time and his credibility as an advocate. In fact, he won on a good technical point and could have just dropped this angle of the case.

Meanwhile, Barrister 2 had been bounding around the court room like an enthusiastic puppy. The clerk was absent for long periods, and Barrister 1 had a few documents to hand up. Before he could move himself, Barrister 2 was scooting round to hand up the papers for him, bending down to pick up a stray paper cup on the way back. When it transpired that Barrister 1's skeleton had not made its way to the court file, Barrister 2 leapt up to offer a spare copy. When Barrister 1 looked around and muttered about water, Barrister 2 looked around him like a helpful meercat, trying to spot some way, any way, of obliging, before the judge offered some from his own carafe. He was a bit too mobile, basically, although he spoke very well.

I'll be there myself in the not-too-distant future, and I dread to think what I'll look like and how I'll behave.

Wednesday, 14 March 2007

Sorry...

Dying to blog about what I'm up to at the moment as there is LOADS of material in it. Not wise for various reasons, however. Next week might be a bit quiet too. Will fill you in soon.

As a blatent stop gap, any wannabe barristers coming across this should check out Legal Beagle's advice on applying for pupillage. I have to admit, the practice/practise thing regularly catches me out.

I'm also happy to report that someone only today came across this blog with the search terms 'plumbier sex'. Not sure whether that beats my other contender for favourite: 'can barristers have girlfriends'.

Friday, 9 March 2007

Portrait of The Master

The Master describes his own advocacy style as ‘discursive’. It’s a good description.

He is meticulous about obtaining the papers for a case at least the night before the hearing, never on the morning itself. Not infrequently, this requires him to pay for a courier from chambers. He likes to stop at a café on the way to court for a final read-through. As part of his pre-advocacy routine, he drinks different types of coffee at different cafés, having developed different favourites at different locations over the years. He avoids the coffee factories, preferring the small cafés and greasy spoons I’ve noticed one finds in the proximity of all courts.

Once at court, he starts by sweet-talking the other advocates. A smile goes an awfully long way in this respect. It is, I’m sorry to say, amazing how many po-faced, wasp-chewing, miserable young barristers there are out there, which is food for career thought in its own right. On any case where there is a listing issue (meaning it is not certain when or even whether the hearing might start) or which will run to more than one day, he takes care to introduce himself to the usher or clerk and to learn their first name.

He usually starts these warm-up conversations on a related but tangential subject, particularly when first meeting the client, instructing solicitor or social worker. For a recent mental health case, for example, when he met the approved social worker he began with a discussion of an article he had that morning read in The Times about a link between high intelligence and schizophrenia. Into this preliminary chatter he always drops some personal information. Usually it is about what a struggle it is to pay his children’s school fees or how he always does what his wife tells him. In his social circles, I imagine this is the condition of Everyman. If anything, though, it is more successful at charming those who move outside his milieu, as it plays well to one of the more pleasant, least abrasive stereotypes of the lawyer or barrister. Social workers often seemed bemused but fascinated by this routine, for example.

His physical appearance matches his pleasant, unassuming demeanour. He is 52, he once revealed, and is slight, and also perhaps slightly short, at about 5’8” or so. His somewhat buffon hair is white, his shoulders hunched and his eyes weak, necessitating the use of thick, pebble glasses. His movements are delicate, slightly bird-like at times, but when in full flow in court he gesticulates strongly. When making a point or under pressure he holds his right hand out at nearly chest height, elbow bent, with his palm facing upwards and his fingers slightly curled, bending his knees into an argument. He has a penchant for soft rock, particularly ballads, and writes songs for his own amusement. Hopefully the lyrics are more accomplished than the
Ode to Pupilblogger. He is often distracted by his own slightly Thought for the Day-ish ruminations.

He almost always seems to represent the claimant – a product of his doing a lot of work for local authorities – and accordingly it is often he who goes first once the hearing starts. He always begins with the customary introductions (‘to my right and for the first defendant is…’) and then goes into what he always calls ‘housekeeping matters’. For example, he checks the judge has the right paperwork, makes any necessary apologies (‘ideally, we’d have a bundle for this case, but…’) and generally manages to extract some sort of chit chat and exchange with the judge.

He maintains this chatty approach throughout a hearing and always cooks up some new housekeeping issue at the recommencement of proceedings after a break.

All of this serves to endear him with most of the solicitors, barristers, ushers and judges he encounters. Those who find him frustrating – and there certainly are a few – nevertheless find it difficult to criticise him or land punches of any sort. His approach is highly effective in disarming his opponents. This is particularly beneficial for an advocate who frequently represents local authorities, which frequently send their barristers to court with less than ideally prepared cases.

Today was our last day together and, true to form, his discursive style stood him in good stead as he fielded a directions hearing for a local authority for which, almost inevitably, the previous directions had not been complied with. We shook hands as we went our separate ways at the court steps. I doubt I'll be seeing much of him in future as we have most often met at court rather than chambers.

Thursday, 8 March 2007

Ode to Pupilblogger

I'm just back from a valedictory lunch at the Inn with The Master. It's our penultimate day together and, despite being pretty unhappy with pupillage so far, I have developed a real fondness for The Master himself. He said at the outset that he buys lunch for his pupils at the start and the end of their time with him, and today is our last day in chambers. We're off to another far flung court tomorrow.

Rather to my surprise, he has written me a poem:

Goodbye o faithful [Pupilblogger]
You are off to spend time with [The Master Part II]
With a vow of silence

Like a Trappist monk

We have climbed many a forensic mountain
And sandwiches you have I bought
I wish you success and good luck
And an initial practice entirely in the High Court

I have to add that our time has been entirely without friction
And in due course I wish you a successful practice
Entirely in the appellate jurisdiction.

I've had to change the words just slightly, as you may have detected, and I checked and the Trappist monk bit is a reference to not asking the next guy too many questions. He recited it after lunch, but was very reluctant to let me have a copy. I eventually persuaded him to let me photocopy it.

As to its quality, this is no time for literary criticism. I'm quite touched.

Crash and burn

The Master went down in flames yesterday, but he certainly went down fighting.

The case was in one of the higher courts and we had quite a senior judge. There were multiple parties, and it was effectively two against two. On the order of the court when granting permission, the argument had been carved up between the advocates in advance to avoid repetition. The Master was on second, but the judge's comments during the first set of submissions very clearly indicated that he was going to be fighting a losing battle. There was also some unfortunate business about the bundle, which I had been working on when ill and had, to cut a long story short, screwed up a bit.

The Master was therefore on the back foot as he started. He was far more hesitant than usual. To make matters a lot worse, though, the judge couldn't have made it more obvious that he wasn't remotely interested in what The Master had to say. Well, he could have whistled to himself or could actually have fallen asleep, but as it was he played with his pencils, which he kept in a little box on his desk, he sharpened a couple of them after inspecting them all carefully, he slouched with folds of his double chin rolling over the hand with which he reluctantly held his head away from the desk, he gazed vacantly around the court room (anywhere but at The Master), he exhaled loudly a few times and he flapped his papers about.

The contrast with his demeanour during the next set of submissions could not have been greater. He was all ears all of a sudden, keeping a careful note, repeating points to make sure he had them down properly, sharing a little joke about a Latin word and generally being as attentive as you could possibly hope as an advocate.

After two minutes of this, the Master turned around and passed me a piece of paper. 'We've lost', he had scrawled.

Lunch was a pretty dejected affair. We'd spent a lot of time preparing for this case, only for that effort to be entirely wasted and for the hearing to be going very badly indeed. We discussed salvage strategies for setting it up for further appeal or trying to extract some useful factual findings.

After lunch came the replies. The Master started strangely, though, and the court room went unusually quiet. 'I would not normally be so bold,' he said, 'but it seems that the court has already reached a view on the issue of x...' He didn't manage to get any further before the judge exploded. 'You have made a forensic mistake,' he spluttered, before going on for several minutes about how he usually changed his mind several times during the course of a hearing, this hearing was no exception and The Master should not assume anything about the outcome. It was all delivered as quite a bollocking.

The Master appeared suitably apologetic. With the judge finally listening, he launched into his reply.

Unfortunately, I suspect quite a lot of the points he then made were a bit rubbish. One of his opponents, who seemed to know what she was doing, gurned impressively throughout to express general confusion, befuddlement and perplexity at what The Master was saying. I certainly couldn't follow his logic. But in pure advocacy terms he was on fire now.

At the end of the reply, The Master apologised for his earlier remarks. The judge admonished him further, telling him he should think more carefully before opening his mouth.

As soon as the hearing was over, The Master turned to the instructing solicitor and explained that he had acted deliberately as he had felt it was the only way to get the case heard properly. I joked that the instructing solicitor should realise that he'd blown any chance of getting silk in the interests of the client. This went down like a lead balloon, I think it would be fair to say. I wasn't remotely in trouble, but it seems to have triggered a real crisis for The Master. On the walk back to chambers, in response to rather leading questions, I had to reassure him constantly that he'd done the right thing and he hadn't had any choice. I thought a few white lies were appropriate at this point, and it certainly wasn't a good time to say 'what the hell do I know, I'm your pupil!' He was clearly shaken by the experience. My reassurances resumed this morning when he called in to check I was about, so I think he had a bit of a night of it as well.

Wednesday, 7 March 2007

A bit lippy

I was tucked safely away in The Master's room yesterday, as usual with the door open. The communal computers and the photocopier are just outside the room, so I often overhear conversations. Crispin was, as usual, playing Patience. I should say that he went through a phase a month or so ago where he really genuinely seemed to have a serious problem, but he has noticeably cut down recently.

Crispin is a bit posh. He's also a bit camp. His standard salutation to colleagues in the morning is 'hello, darling!' and he is effusive in making unnecessary compliments. He very occasionally lets slip a slightly suggestive remark of some sort, but very seldom. This doesn't necessarily make one 'a bit camp', but it's all done in a slightly camp way. Or it might just be very posh, I find it hard to tell the difference sometimes, I'm afraid.

Anyway, he's just a tad flirty with Young John, the more junior of the two junior clerks. From references to him around chambers, 'Young' might as well be his first name. As with our other clerks, and quite possibly all clerks, he's definitely from East London somewhere.

Sometimes Young John will pass by in the morning and politely ask Crispin how he is: 'How are you today, sir?' I have twice heard Crispin reply, 'All the better for seeing you, Young John!' There doesn't seem to be anything threatening about this and Crispin is usually talking to the face cards on his screen as he's saying these sorts of things.

This little bit of banter was repeated yesterday afternoon, but one of the other barristers, a woman, was using the photocopier at the time. The normal exchange took place, and Young John replied along the lines of 'glad to hear it, sir'. Once he'd gone, the other barrister muttered to Crispin: 'He's getting a bit lippy.'

Crispin seemed to ignore this, but I couldn't believe it. Young John has gamely been fielding Crispin's harmless manner, but then apparently gets stick for daring to talk back (although it was barely talking back!) to one of the barristers. There might be more to it, in that Young John might have been 'lippy' about something else recently, but it was nevertheless an amazingly class-based put down.

Monday, 5 March 2007

Not quite as predicted

Today didn't work as out as particularly quiet, but it wasn't exactly atypical either. I spent most of the morning traipsing between the Inn libraries looking for the most up to date editions of various popular dictionaries and to get a few pages copied from Bennion on Statutory Interpretation (the 4th edition, mind, and the supplement). I've ended up copying various pages from the Oxford English Dictionary (1989), the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary (2002), The Chambers Dictionary (1998), the New Oxford Dictionary of English (1998) and the Concise Oxford English Dictionary (2002). I've listed them in this order because I discovered that the first three were helpful and the last two were not helpful, giving a very different emphasis to the meaning of the word I was looking up. I also copied the preface from the latter two dictionaries, as it seems that the editors of these have followed some sort of new-fangled, radical approach to dictionary writing by taking the word, examining examples of its modern usage and then writing the definition accordingly. This contrasts with the more traditional, time-honoured approach of looking at the origins and etymology of the word in question to discern its various meanings. This seems to take quite a long time, by the way, which is why there have only ever been two editions of the full OED, and the first one seems to have taken sixty years to write, during which time several editors died. From boredom or other causes, Wikipedia does not inform me.

Fascinating.

I feel the need to confess that I accidentally ended up discussing the study of insects with several people on my travels, due to a rather embarrassing malapropism on my part.

This was all with a view to strengthening an argument I came up with last week for this week's case. It's not a terribly interesting argument, turning as it does on whether Home Office drafters (or would we rather say 'draughtsmen', anyone?) were using a word in the wider or the narrower sense, but it's a useful lesson in statutory interpretation principles and how appallingly crap Home Office drafting/draughting can be.

I don't really want to say what the word is, I'm afraid, for fear of giving away too much and making myself traceable again.

The Master plans to keep this material in reserve, in case the argument heads in this particular direction. He doesn't want to be handing in another late bundle on top of the existing 'additional bundle'. This new one would be 'additional bundle no.2'. The Master is at serious risk of a good judicial bollocking, and I don't think he'd be able to charm his way out of this one.

I also spent a lot of time today photocopying, stapling and hole punching, for good measure. But did slip out to get my eyes tested, that twitch having been a bit of a worry but now having subsided. I don't need glasses. Yet.

Quiet day

I predict a very quiet day. The Master has a big case on tomorrow for which we've been doing preparation for a couple of weeks now. He was in chambers on Friday, but was so absorbed with his own preparation that I was just getting in the way. He said he'd be in today as well, although there's no sign of him yet. It is a tad early for barristers, mind.

In many ways, this hardly deserves a post. I usually wait until something vaguely interesting has happened or occurs to me, or at least something out of which I can spin an anecdote. However, I've spent quite a few days just hanging around doing not much, so it is important to record this 'activity' on the blog. In percentage terms, it's probably the main activity in which I've been engaged, in fact: nothing.

The fact is that pupils do rather get in the way, and allocating us work is a bit of a chore. Allocating meaningful work requires a bit of imagination and also more time further down the line in going over the work with the pupil concerned. Friday's task of 'just read the papers' was the first time The Master has resorted to this particular fall-back, which I think reflects quite well on his tutillage hitherto. I'm expecting more of the same today should he put in an appearance.