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.