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.