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?'


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 canap├ęs, 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


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.