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


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.


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.


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.