Monday, 26 February 2007
I've long been thinking about writing an entry on this subject. Nearly Legal recently brought it to the front of my mind with a really interesting post looking at this from the other side - why solicitors select (and de-select) barristers. I found Nearly Legal's thoughts both terrifying and reassuring. As long as I don't settle when the solicitor doesn't want me to, don't forget to call after every hearing, my clerks don't double book me, and I generally do exactly what the solicitor wants (including winning a goodly proportion of cases, presumably), I'll be fine. If I do a good job, I'll be OK. But can I do a good job? That's the real test.
Instructions can be incredibly brief and vague, I've seen, so it can be difficult to discern the wishes of the solicitor. These brief briefs generally come, rather unsurprisingly, from less well regarded firms or individuals. In contrast, some solicitors' demands can be very exacting. I used to work with a guy I'll call Hardial. He's the one person from whom I think I've learned the most, although none of it was legal. He once picked up a case I had let slip, having come to regard it as hopeless, only for the client to be removed from the UK, beaten on arrival at the airport and then returned to the UK after Hardial got an injunction requiring it because of the illegal removal without notice. The client is now a refugee and his family has joined him here, but no thanks to me. I went away for the weekend with some friends, Hardial worked all weekend on the case. However, I know from barristers that he is a nightmare to work with in some ways. He calls evenings and weekends even on non-urgent cases. If unimpressed, he bounces the barrister without hesitation, including dropping a QC from one appeal to the next on one occasion.
I was particularly amused to read this comment by Nearly Legal:
"Oddly enough though, Chambers and barristers schmoozing and offering jollies doesn’t seem to play a huge part in the process."
This doesn't at all surprise me, but I think it would come as a big surprise to a lot of barristers and clerks, who seem to set great store by these kinds of events. A few years ago I went to an enormous, now I believe semi-legendary, chambers party at a large and really well-known nightclub (I'd heard of it, therefore it MUST be famous) not far from Gray's Inn. I was surprised at the venue, which seemed a bit, well, fancy for a set of chambers priding itself on its progressive reputation and its work on behalf of the disadvantaged and vulnerable. I was a lot more surprised by the free bar and the rather nice free food. And there were a LOT of people there. As barristers are self employed, this was paid for from their own pockets. Apparently it cost about £8,000 each. Did each of their practices receive £8,000 worth of boost over the next year or two as a result of the party? No way.
A friend of mine took the leap before me and started pupillage maybe three years ago. He got tenancy, but his practice seems to be struggling so far. I see him fairly seldom, but did drop in on his chambers party last year. He was absolutely trashed by the time I got there, quite possibly deliberately in order to lower some dignity thresholds as well as his inhibitions, but was still trying to schmooze various solicitors. It was quite an unedifying sight, made more poignant by the fact his inebriation must inevitably have been a deterrent. As I was leaving, he staggered over to apologise for not speaking to me earlier, explained that he had been touting for business, then went into a passionate tirade about the indignity of the whole affair. He said he felt like he was prostituting himself.
I have been steeling myself for months now. I hope to get at least a few instructions from a few people I know, and I hope that my reasonably positive reputation will help me. However, I will need to let friends know that I'm available for and looking for work, and there's going to be no getting around the fact that I wouldn't be getting in touch with them on that particular occasion otherwise. With people I see fairly regularly it is less of a problem, with old colleagues and others I tend to see by chance these days, I'm really not looking forward to it. The way forward has to be an upfront and unembarrassed approach. Anything else will just make it worse for all concerned.
Friday, 23 February 2007
'self', 'pitying', 'whiny', 'unpleasant', 'navel', 'gazing' and 'twaddle'.
She was far more tactful, in fact, but she is, as always, entirely right. Gets a bit weird that, after a while. It's like the opening to Stoppard's Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead. By the laws of probability you'd have thought I'd be right occasionally, if only by accident. As in the play, my time will eventually come... Anyway, I have therefore removed the previous post of the same title. The only remaining bit is the postscript I added a couple of hours later (see below).
Btw, I feel much better, thank you. Apart from Anonymous, whoever you are. I hope you get the lurgy.
Have just re-read this before posting. Hopefully she was talking about the specific post, not the whole lot...
[from original post]
P.S. Forgot to mention this earlier when posting. Helen was off for a couple of days at the beginning of the week, perhaps with something similar. She had an asylum case to do on Monday, so phoned in to the tribunal to let them know she couldn't make it and ask for an adjournment. The immigration judge refused the request and the case went ahead with the client unrepresented. I'm VERY sorely tempted to name names but really shouldn't. Almost certainly appealable on this point alone, but it is an indication of the sympathy one can expect in the world of law. Mind you, I have to say that some immigration judges are held in pretty low esteem in the legal profession, so it is perhaps unfair to generalise.
Thursday, 22 February 2007
I've spent the last three days photocopying and I am not a happy bunny. I'm preparing the authorities bundle for a Court of Appeal case The Master has coming up in five weeks or so. I'm blending the various previous bundles used in the Administrative Court and adding a few cases to bring it up to date. I've divided it into primary legislation, secondary legislation, policy and guidance and case law. The job has presented some tough challenges:
- Removing staples
- Copying from double sided to single sided
- Arranging the cases into some kind of order (I opted for the classic chronological approach rather than biographical or similar)
- Avoiding paper cuts
This has taken a lot longer than it ought for two main reasons. One of them is alluded to in the post title. The Court of Appeal only like to accept copies of cases from 'proper' law reports, meaning report series that are affiliated to the Incorporated Council of Law Reporting. Sounds like a very cosy arrangement to me. I wonder if any Court of Appeal judges sit on the Council. While this was fine in the Days of Yore, back when you got proper fog in Chancery Lane, it seems less sensible when there are electronic versions of all these cases that can be printed off at a very low cost in a nice big judge-friendly font if desired. See BAILII, for example. Instead, I've been backwards and forwards to the Inn library several times, spent over £20 on copying there, spent hours trying to find various reports hidden on or under various desks and shelves around the warren that is our chambers (this got a bit Indiana Jones at one point, but that story can wait for another time), spent further hours chasing incorrect case references given by the other parties and have hunched over various photocopiers pressing the spines of various case reports hard into the glass plate to try and avoid a distorted copy. All to create poor quality copies with an enormous black border. Compared to perfectly printed transcripts. Transcripts are fine for the Administrative Court, why not the Court of Appeal?
The other reason is that, unusually, I'm a bit ill and I didn't get to sleep last night until gone 5am. Ironically, this has rendered me fit only to carry out menial tasks like photocopying. And even then I've made several mistakes, such as forgetting to include a case or looking up a case in a report but somehow not seeing it there, when it transpired later it was exactly where it was supposed to be.
At the risk of sounding like Marvin the Paranoid Android, I (normally) have a brain the size of a planet yet here I am doing the photocopying. Well, the size of a small watermelon. Or maybe a large orange, anyway. Definitely a large clementine. But the point here is that I'm not learning anything, I'm just doing odd jobs. I photocopy a lot, I take a bundle from here to there, I fetch sandwiches and coffee (often with the patronising but welcome invitation 'and something for yourself too'), I do loose leaf filing, I carry bags for people, I look up case references, I sit around taking of note of things and I operate complex office machinery like hole punches and staplers. I do from time to time get to look up legal questions, and I've been pleased to see that The Master has used quite a lot of the material I've drafted in several cases, but these highlights are pretty few and far between.
As I said, not a happy bunny.
Monday, 19 February 2007
He also happens to be a member of these chambers, although I have known him for some time.
The Master has come in today to faff around with the few remnants of our clear out of his room before Christmas. Martin and I were chatting in The Master's room when he arrived.
'Perfect!', he said, clearly in boisterous mood. 'You're just who I wanted to see, Martin. I've got an advice for you, and it's a nice little earner. It's a split payment so you can ratchet up the costs a bit. When they aren't paying the full amount, neither party minds so much. I'd be asking the clerks to bill £190-£200 an hour if I were you. Should be at least four or five hours' worth. And it's all thanks to Pupilblogger here who suggested you.'
'Great, thanks,' Martin replied, a little taken aback. He's not really the type to ratchet the rates, and was looking a bit embarrassed about the whole thing. Not as embarrassed as I, however. I'd told Martin this advice might be coming his way so he knew to expect it, but I hadn't said anything about recommending him. I thought it was a bit too cosy and I didn't want to look like I was gathering favours.
After several seconds of Martin and I avoiding eye contact, he muttered something about owing me a drink, or some devilling at the very least. I had to look this up on Wikipedia. In England and Wales it's written work given to a pupil by a barrister and paid for out of the barrister's own pocket.
I really didn't feel at all comfortable carving up other people's money between us. I'd never have recommended Martin had I known he'd end up being backed into feeling beholden to me, even in some small way. I'd hate for someone to think they owe me a favour. On the other hand, perhaps this is excessively naive and I need to start thinking like this if I do want to pursue a career at the bar. This kind of thing probably goes on quite openly all the time, given The Master's reaction and that there is said to be no conflict of interest in barristers from the same chambers representing both sides in a dispute, despite the mutual reliance and interdependency of the barristers, the closeness of their personal and business relationship, the referral of work and returns between them and, finally, the gossip and general incestuousness inherent in chambers life.
Friday, 16 February 2007
Like several other bloggers -- Nearlylegal and Geeklawyer/Ruthie, at least (links are to their reviews, btw) -- I was contacted by the publisher of a book entitled Anonymous Lawyer by a guy called Jeremy Blachman and asked whether I'd give it a mention on this blog. I was delighted to accept, as it brings my total earnings from this blog to $3.73 (from the Google Adsense thing I tucked away discretely at the foot of the blog to try and get access to stats on how many visitors I was getting, before I heard from Tim Kevan about site counters) and one book. I was also flattered and a bit surprised to be asked, although, I strongly suspect the email to me originated with the UK publishers, Vintage, rather than Blachman himself, especially given the very swift arrival of the book in question when I agreed.
Anyway, for the above reasons I can't credibly claim to be entirely dispassionate.
The book is structured mainly as blog entries by the (sadly) fictional, Machiavellian and anonymous hiring partner at a major US law firm, and it is all based on the blog of the same name. I found the book very funny indeed. I read it over the course of last weekend and it was a light read but tremondously enjoyable. I was rooting for the Anonymous Lawyer all the way. I think he appealed to my dark side. Which clearly means I should never be entrusted with minions.
The torturing of paralegals and associates is highly entertaining and sounds like a lot of fun. Unfortunately, it seems one has to undergo this baptism of fire oneself before getting to dole it out, so I don't think I'll be signing up for any of the misleadingly opulent summer associate programmes he describes. The various references to associate suicides seemed more amusing before the recent death of Matthew Courtney, I have to say (see Charon QC for blog commentary links). Attitudes amongst the senior partners to the role of women, ethnic minorities and the disabled are interestingly almost prejudice free - they are marginalised and humiliated by Anonymous Lawyer and Anonymous Law Firm for entirely commercial reasons of short term profit maximisation. Without wanting to come over too sandal-flappy, it's a good expose of what happens when you combine short term profit motive and an unregulated market.
I was particularly horrified to read about the character's blogging experiences, which are all (which one rather important exception) very familiar to me. Setting it up in the first place as a form of release and confession, the technical hurdles a newbie needs to cross, increasing hubris expressed through the blog, the giving away of too much personal information, the kicking in of a desire after a few weeks to see what other people think by setting up a visitor counter and an email address, the discovery of your identity by an initially friendly unknown individual...
I'd definitely recommend it as a fun read. It was far better than I imagined it would be when I started, as I'm not, ironically, much of a fan of the use of the diary format in literature. Although as a lawyer and a blogger I'm not exactly best placed to judge this, I think it is sufficiently well written and amusing to appeal to a wider audience.
On another non-pupillage related subject, while I'm at it, I have, since I started this blog, linked several other blogs on my 'blogroll' to the right of the main text. Partly this is the result of the etiquette of reciprocation, partly because I dip into these other blogs from time to time and find them interesting and amusing.
They range from the well established big fish of the small pond of the UK legal blogging world, the likes of Geeklawyer, Charon QC (both of whom have been on particularly amusing form of late, incidentally) and Binary law, to the more niche, specialist and reflective bloggers like Nearlylegal, Lo-fi librarian, Tim Kevan and Human Law, to the trainee and up and coming bloggers such as the UK Law Students, Batgirl, Law Student and Lawyer-2-be. It's this last category into which I fall, as I've so far resisted using this blog as a platform.
Legal Scribbles & Quibbles will no doubt shortly rank with the 'blawging' (I'm not keen on the term) colossi but Martin George of conflictoflaws.net fame has only just started this personal blog. Legal Beagle also looks interesting, and makes me realise that I should probably link other practitioner blogs, and perhaps have a section on them. It would be useful for anyone stumbling across this blog while considering a legal career.
I'm thinking of expanding but also breaking down my existing blogroll into these sorts of sections to point readers in the right direction. I haven't given it much thought yet, but this is probably fraught with difficulties and potential for offence. One of the advantages of anonymity, I suppose.
1. Legal comment and gossip
2. Practitioner and trainee experiences
3. Slightly random
Right, back to normal posting parameters for next time!
Thursday, 15 February 2007
'Oh no! No, no, no! Jesus Christ, fuck! Fuck!'
Bizarrely, the humming then immediately resumed, leading me to think that it can't be as bad as all that. The first time I commented on this (these outbursts are not unusual, in fact), it turned out later it was a personal missed share options deadline or somesuch.
But, no, he's not quite finished: 'Oh no, I don't believe it! God almighty, what the FUCK is going on? I really DO NOT need this, not now!'
There's a couple of thumps -- possibly the sound of a rattle being thrown out of a pram -- and the humming resumes.
I have transcribed Barry's Biblically-themed musings on existence from a handy post-it that I used to take a note. All that note taking practice has finally came in handy for something. Although I may not have managed to get the punctuation quite right.
There's no way I am going next door. I wouldn't want to be there when he finally snaps, grabs some of that pink ribbon that's everywhere and quietly throttles one of his room mates for no obvious reason. Or attempts to use his wig tin to cave in someone's skull.
I did discover something interesting yesterday that provides a potential explanation for all this flakey behaviour. I was talking to Humphrey about my near miss with the underground papers hand-over, and he remarked that Barry 'manages his diary very carefully'. This seemed to me to be the polar opposite of the truth, and I guessed that Humphrey, who is a thoroughly nice human being, was being tactful rather than sarcastic. In response to close questioning (this whole cross examination thing must be contagious) he explained what he meant. Barry books in morning and afternoon hearings and appearances, whereas most members of chambers just do one appearance a day. Barry is apparently more careful than most to ask for afternoon listings to avoid clashes, for example.
This no doubt increases his earning capacity, perhaps considerably, but also cranks up his stress levels. And it's entirely voluntary, unlike the heavy workload faced by employed solicitors, perhaps sometimes with tragic consequences.
I'm no expert, but from the evidence I've heard through the wall I'm not sure it's worth it.
Wednesday, 14 February 2007
However, I got a call from the clerks on the tannoy thing at about 12pm and one of the senior ones wanted me to go to Brent with Barry for a case management hearing at 2pm. While he attempted to sell this to me as an interesting trip out of chambers, it quickly became clear that Barry was in court elsewhere on another matter, didn't have the papers with him and needed them taking to him. I should say that it's quite possible that the papers had arrived late in the day, rather than this being an indictment of Barry's organisational skills.
The mission, should I choose to accept it, was to meet him on the northbound Jubilee line platform at 1.20pm, or wait there with the papers until he turned up. He might be running late.
I gave a rather ambivalent, lukewarm in response to this request for two reasons. The first is that I didn't want to go to Brent and was hoping to get away early today to get started cooking for my girlfriend. The other is that The Master, quite some time ago, said in passing that other members of chambers should ask a pupilmaster's permission before giving work to a pupil. There was also another, less important reason - I was making progress with the job in hand and it has been on my 'to do' list for a couple of weeks now. OK, this is getting like the Spanish Inquisition sketch. Fourth reason: I didn't want to hang around underground waiting for Godot.
However, balanced against this was my desire not to upset the influential clerks, who will or won't be feeding me work in a few months, nor to upset Barry, who I think is on the pupillage committee and, like everyone else, has a vote for tenancy decisions.
I called The Master to ask for advice, but I couldn't get through. He's visiting Bath today to look at buying a property to add to his portfolio.
I ended up staying put, as will be obvious from the timing of this post, and am cracking on with the contractual terms research. I justified this on the grounds that I already had a job from The Master and was nervous about leaving it without being able to get in touch first - entirely truthful, so far as it went. Meanwhile, I suspect that as I write this one of the two junior clerks is hanging around underground, afraid to surface for mobile contact for fear of missing Barry, but with no sign of him actually showing up.
Friday, 9 February 2007
I was happily sitting alone tapping away on my computer yesterday when another member of chambers, Samantha, suddenly stuck her head round the door and asked whether I was a working pupil. My initial reaction was rather defensive, being as I was blog surfing at that exact moment in time, but I quickly realised she probably meant 'working' in the narrower sense of being able to take on proper work. I barely had time to start saying 'no' when she vanished, obviously in a hurry.
I was quite pleased about this, thinking it boded well for my Prospects once my second six gets started.
A couple of hours later, at about 3.30pm, Helen was sitting opposite me and took a call from the clerks. I wasn't paying attention initially but that changed when her tone shifted and she exclaimed, 'Not another nightmare return from Samantha? No way!' Some wheedling obviously went on, or perhaps threats of actual bodily harm, I wouldn't discount the possibility with our clerks, and she eventually agreed that she'd take a look at the papers. But absolutely only if they arrived before 5pm.
The hearing was for 10.30am the next morning and it was an oral renewal application for judicial review. These are fairly complex pieces of work, usually requiring the assimilation of a considerable quantity of paperwork and the cooking up of some decent legal arguments that go a bit beyond those on the papers that have already been refused.
Another member of chambers then dropped by and asked whether Helen had been asked to take on Samantha's return. The clerks had apparently been having a right job finding someone willing even to take a look at it, and I suddenly realised Samantha must have been so desperate it even occurred to her to ask me whether I was available. That's pretty desperate, need I say. Sending a pupil into the High Court could lead to corporate manslaughter charges, if the offence ever reaches the statute book.
This other barrister had refused point blank, and the two of them got to chatting about Samantha's rather relaxed approach to handing over complex and not terribly well prepared returns at the last possible minute. It's not the first time this has happened, it would seem. The papers did eventually arrive, at 4.30pm, and poor Helen then spent the evening and morning nervously reading the paperwork and researching the case.
I think a 'return' is a brief that the barrister has agreed to take on but is suddenly unable to complete for some reason. It would have to be a pretty good reason, generally. The brief is then offered around other members of chambers and the instructing solicitors seem then to be presented with a bit of a fait accompli: 'Samantha can't actually do that case you wanted her for, but at 4.30pm the night before the hearing we've found someone else who can do it. Do you want to instruct her instead or do you want to find someone yourself at this notice?'
I gleaned from this conversation that Samantha had apparently queered her pitch even further by vetoing the barrister the clerks had initially lined up to do the case. This no doubt annoyed him no end, as well as attracting severe disapproval from the other barristers the clerks were now trying to cajole into taking the return. And I don't imagine the clerks were too happy either. Nor the instructing solicitors.
I suspect Samantha won't be winning any 'colleague of the month' awards from chambers in the near future.
And I say 'poor Helen', but what about the client? Permission refused.
Wednesday, 7 February 2007
Flicking through the bundle in the corridor outside the court, he suddenly looked up and mentioned that he had found the sifting we'd done on the PII case the other day very hard. I wholeheartedly agreed -- I'd been thinking about the case a great deal -- and we spent a couple of minutes discussing some of the more disturbing details. It was a relief to talk it through.
A related subject arose during the hearing. As usual, I was introduced as The Master's pupil. One of the solicitors had a work experience placee with her and in turn introduced him, asking whether anyone would mind him staying for the hearing. Slightly to my surprise (despite one bad experience there's never since been a fuss) one of the barristers, who were by this time gossiping on the front row waiting for the judge, asked how old he was. '22' came the reply. The barristers looked at one another and agreed he could stay. The Master then started to say that his 16 year old son very much wanted to do work experience but that Chambers policy was for 18 year olds and over only. One of the others chipped in and said she thought that was right and that 16 was too young considering some of the things with which they have to deal. The arrival of the judge brought the conversation to an end at this point.
I used to do some work with asylum seekers, and I remember that when I first started it was similarly tough. I was sharing a flat with a girl who worked in clinical psychiatry of some sort and had done a psychology degree. I didn't know her at all, so, in the absence of much common ground, I would chat about what I'd been up to that day. I called this conversational tactic to an abrupt halt after only a few days after she enquired whether I had therapy or counselling available through work. It wasn't asked in a nasty way and I don't think she was trying to discourage me from telling her about work, I think it was just professional curiosity. It certainly made me think. I know a few people who have worked for the Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture and they used to attend art therapy sessions every week. It was presented by the employer as being fun and not compulsory, and the staff did actually make use of the facility.
I imagine I'll quite quickly get used to care cases, as I have in the past to working with asylum seekers. I fear I will shed another precious little scrap of my humanity in the process.
Monday, 5 February 2007
This precedes a probable public interest immunity hearing in the next couple of months. The prosecution were responsible for asking for disclosure and had, even more so than usual, done an appalling job. There were no pointers whatsoever as to what they wanted disclosed or what issues or themes for which they wanted us to be looking, just a request for the files. There's no way any competent social services department (er, I realise there's a flaw in this sentence somewhere) will just hand over all the conceivably relevant files in their entirety as it is a massive breach of the privacy of the subject of the files.
I've described this process before in an earlier post.
Today's bit of randomness from The Master happened very early in the day. It ended up we'd been on the same train and on the walk up to the social services buildings he asked me what I'd been up to at the weekend. I explained I'd been up to the Lake District and had met my girlfriend's mother for the first time. 'Serious, then?' he asked. 'Er, yes,' I replied, but immediately kicking myself for once again giving away personal information. He always asks follow up questions to this kind of thing. Sure enough, I found myself being cross examined on how old my girlfriend's parents are, what they do and other questions that appeared to be designed to establish whether she and her family can keep me in the style to which I've become accustomed.
Which may yet become important if my secret identity ends up being revealed.
Friday, 2 February 2007
However, as soon as the phrase was used I was quickly instructed that there is no such thing as 'counsel to counsel'. I got the impression that this is probably the result of a Bar Council ruling of some sort, and that the discussions to which the term used to refer had perhaps been distinguished by not to be revealable to the actual clients. This would be Deeply Unethical Behaviour, although I can see that it might also be temptingly practical in certain circumstances.
A slightly different version of a counsel to counsel discussion arose last week. I was lurking on the fringes of a discussion about various housekeeping aspects of the case in question. Suddenly one of the barristers asked The Master where he got his shoes from and commented -- in a friendly, inconsequential way -- that they looked the same as his. This was enough to snap me out of my lurking trance and actually pay attention. Without pausing for breath, The Master seamlessly switched from bundles to brogues and explained rather defensively that he bought them for comfort but they didn't look too bad, he thought. There was a general pause to consider this and for everyone silently to compare shoes.
The Master broke the contemplative silence. 'I did think about getting ones with steel toe caps,' he said. 'I think they'd give me a more menacing air.' Thankfully, he then added, nodding earnestly, 'It would help for these sorts of courtroom negotations.'
More contemplative silence. What they were contemplating, I have no idea. I think I may have been witnessing a scene not entirely dissimilar to the business card comparison scene in American Psycho. Hopefully none of them are deranged psychopathic misogynist killers.
Thursday, 1 February 2007
This has led me to conduct another judicious edit and to consider deleting the whole lot. Can anyone else who is reading this work out what chambers I'm at following my edit? I had assumed that no-one would bother, to be honest, so the tip-off email this morning was a tad alarming. An additional factor is that, while I have enjoyed writing this so far, I am actually quite busy now, whereas I was really at a loose end when I started.
Will need to mull this over some more.