Raking It In

I was recently involved in a Twitter discussion about something or other when another Twitter user suggested I should acquaint myself with the facts. And then linked me to a story in the Daily Mail. There were some facts in the article to which I was referred. They were deeply hidden amongst the tittle tattle, the perversions of the truth, the views of people presented as a fact and the downright untruths.

This, sadly, illustrates an ill of modern society. When people decry our “post truth” era, when people complain about the EU referendum and the misleading approach by both sides, it is not really the fault of the politicians. It is the fault of some sectors of the media.

Nothing makes you realise this more than an article about something close to home. Like this piece in the Mail today. I started to read with trepidation when the headline said “Lawyers raked in £32.2bn in just ONE year”. The use of the word “raked” told me bad things were coming. It is remarkable that when, for example, there is an increase in jobs in the car industry it is never announced by adding up the incomes of the new employees and then announcing that car workers are “raking” in the total, including the tax they pay. And NI.

Then the line that set the tone of the piece – “despite strikes over their pay levels the legal profession has been booming”. This told me the tone was going to be “misleading” or, as some would have it, “total bollocks”. It may, of course, just have been a sloppy phrase when they used the words “the legal profession”. I mean, I know it was just the criminal lawyers who went on strike. I know that my commercial, civil, planning, admiralty, tax, professional negligence and intellectual property colleagues did not go on strike. It was, probably, just an error to suggest that the whole legal profession had been on strike despite the fact that they were, and still are, “raking it in”.

But then again maybe it was not just a slip of the pen. For the very next line is “lawyers earn almost 24 per cent more than the £26.0 billion they earned in 2011.” This was good news. I raced instantly to my iPad and my online banking. I must take this up with my chambers as it appears that I have missed out on the 24 per cent pay rise.

The article continues in this merry dance of juxtaposition of fact and fiction. The factual substance of the piece is that figures show “that last year lawyers across Britain achieved a turnover of £32.2 billion – almost 24 per cent more than the £26 billion they earned in 2011”.

Let us just, as David Brent might say, unpack that fact for you. Note the word “turnover” but then the use of the words “they earned”. The £32bn is turnover not earnings. Yet this article is written in a way that could make you believe that £32bn is going straight into the pockets of lawyers instead of being used to create jobs for receptionists, typists, admin staff, cleaners etc. And also being used to pay professional fees like accountants and experts. And going back to the Treasury in the form of taxation or the local council in business rates.

Having set the tone earlier with the action being taken by lawyers receiving public funds and then gross turn over figure of the entire legal sector the piece goes on to say that there are 171,198 people working in the legal profession and compares this to the 126,618 police officers or the 153,720 military personnel.

Now these comparisons are totally meaningless. How about comparing it to the numbers of plumbers? Or accountants? Or shop workers? Or brain surgeons? Or magicians? The only point in the comparison is to say “look at how many lawyers there are when the police and the army have been cut?” The not very subtle underlying statement is that for every lawyer that steals a living, there is one fewer police officer available.

What the article has not said up to this point is that the £32bn is money paid to law firms and lawyers by everyone. From the person in the street who wants a will to the oil oligarchs who wants to settle their disputes in the courts of this country. Only £1.6bn is from Legal Aid. The vast majority of it comes from private money. I bet you had no idea that the money you spent on your house conveyance prevented a police officer hitting the beat? You didn’t? Well, that’s because it doesn’t.

It then dedicates a whole paragraph to how legal Chiefs complain that financial pressures means recruiting becomes a struggle but then proclaims that the number of solicitors has risen by 47 per cent and the numbers of barristers by 32 per cent. Yet again the article misses out a distinction between the struggle to recruit into areas such as crime and family, areas that are vital to the functioning of society and are underfunded, and the growth in other areas (also important to the rule of law) but paid for by the private sector.

We then have a whole chunk dedicated to strikes in response to legal aid cuts “which were accused of impoverishing criminal lawyers” (the not so subtle subtext being they said that, when in fact they were raking it in….) and a rehash of the Mulberry handbag ad hominem. These three paragraphs contain no explanation that legal aid rates have been cut, that public funded lawyers are paid a fraction of the rates of their privately paid counterparts and that the growth has been driven by other areas of the legal profession.

In fact this chunk of the piece is sandwiched between the total growth of all lawyers and the view of Dr David Green “no win, no fee agreements” have undermined the ethos of the legal profession, concluding that the “legal profession has lost its way morally”. I do not know whether Dr Green intended to damn the entire legal profession in this way but I can assure him, the Daily Mail and their readers that I have never conducted the prosecution of a serious offence in the Crown Court under a no win no fee agreement….

I have never undertaken a single “no win, no fee” case. Many lawyers have not. Many other lawyers will have done and still maintained the highest of ethical standards. What the article wants you to do is to see all lawyers as avaricious leeches who “rake in” billions whilst complaining their fees are going down.

There are quotes from the Law Society and the Bar Council. But they do not repair the damaging tone of this article. The deliberately damaging tone of an article which is light on exploration and explanation but heavy on adding two and two together to get 32bn. Nowhere does it explain that lawyers are involved in non contentious work in drafting etc. Nowhere does it explore that a growth in the sector is actually involved in attracting business to this country. Nowhere does it explain how many areas have been removed from legal aid.

How do I know it is misleading? Because I have read the comments below the article. It is the 2nd of January. I already need a stiff drink.

A footnote

I did a little research into the figures quoted by the Mail. It would appear that the journalist concerned has done no more than take the figures quoted in the article from a footnote to an LSB press release which you can find here. It is the fifth footnote. If the journalist had done a little more digging then they would have gone to the source material from the Office of National Statistics. I did. And when I looked at the datasets I discovered that for the first three quarters of 2016 the turnover in the legal sector is DOWN 2.4%. But of course that does not fit in with the narrative. Or maybe the journalist just did not look beyond the footnote to a press release. 

Another statistic that does not fit the story is that in 2011 when the legal sector’s turnover was £26bn the Legal Aid spend was £2.1 bn. So public spending has gone down when the overall turnover has gone up. And whereas it used to represent (very roughly) 1/12th of the market spend it now accounts for 1/20th of the market spend. 

Finally the article compares the turnover to the MOD’s budget of £27bn. Which is both misleading in making that comparison and the figure. The MOD’s budget is £34.4 bn.

Tim Farron – Political Genius?

Tim Farron seems an unlikely candidate for political genius. Some are born a genius. Some work hard at being a genius. Others may just stumble upon something that makes them look like a genius. Farron may just have stumbled on a formula that will lead to the greatest political comeback since the fifth time that Farage un-resigned. 

As an increasingly enthusiastic Remainer (I was ambivalent towards the EU until I listened to the arguments to Leave) I find the political agenda in the UK most bizarre at the moment. It is as if there is one political truth and that truth is called Brexit. And yet no one is prepared to state clearly their ambitions and goals. Other than no longer being a member of the EU, we have no idea what a politician views as a successful Brexit. All we know is that Brexit is Brexit. And that it is red, white and blue. Although I fear that may be because we are bloodied by the process, left a pale imitation of the influential nation we once were and blue from being left out in the cold…..

Yet support for Brexit is the panacea for all political ills. Politicians are falling over themselves for a bit of the Trump zeitgeist. Everyone wants to appeal to the voter with concerns about immigration. Every party wants to make Britain great again (the process of Brexit somewhat ironically raising the prospect of the United Kingdom of Great Britain actually being diminished by the breakdown of the Union). Every political step is taken to appeal to those outside of the “Westminster Bubble” (where I would much rather see money invested in the North than us just being given the name of Powerhouse, which makes us sound like a cut price electrical retailer). 

So the Conservative Party, what passes for the Labour Party and UKIP are all falling over themselves chasing the Brexit supporting public. And in the process they are not seeking to persuade those that have doubts. They are not building consensus. Their rhetoric is all about delivering what the victors wanted. It is about how opposing Brexit is unpatriotic.

And here is where Tim Farron may have just done some simple maths. The next General Election will see a turnout which is lower than the turnout at the EU referendum. But let’s say the turnout mirrored the June turnout. If it did, UKIP, Labour and the Conservatives are chasing 17,410,742 votes. Farron and the LibDems are chasing 16,141,241 votes. They are the only party currently appealing to that demographic directly on this issue, the biggest single issue in politics in my lifetime. The other three want a share of the 52%. The LibDems have 48% all to themselves. 

Of course there are many who will vote at a General Election contrary to their vote in the Referendum. There will be plenty who do not vote at all. There will be plenty who will vote according to their party affiliations, notwithstanding their own views on Brexit. 

There will be many who will not forgive the LibDems for the coalition and for tuition fees. But that was always going to be the case. The LibDems were on the verge of political armageddon. But right now there is a void in politics where the only show in town is Brexit and many of us don’t want to go. Throw into the mix that there will be many long term Labour voters who will not support a Corbyn led party and suddenly Farron may just be bringing his party back from the brink. 

He is the only one making a play for 16 million votes. He will not get them all. But everyone else is leaving him an open goal. And you don’t have to be a genius to put the ball in the back of the net. 

Be The Aubergine

When I was at University a mate of mine used to wear a t-shirt that bore a picture of an aubergine and the slogan “An aubergine having fun.”  It was just a picture of a plain old, inanimate aubergine. So my advice to aspirant advocates is: Be The Aubergine. 

I am not counselling against fun. I am not suggesting adopting a purple hue. It is the inanimate, inscrutable appearance of the egg plant (as an American advocate would have it) that I commend. Lady Gaga would say Poker Face. Lord VFTN says “Be The Aubergine.”

Advocates should rarely interrupt or interject. Nothing is gained by reacting to what your oppenent is saying until such time as you get to say it in a cogent manner to the Judge. One should sit there and keep one’s own counsel. Like an aubergine. 

The rhythm of submissions is fairly easy to discern. The party making the application goes first. The Respondent (the clue is in the name) then responds. The party making the first submissions gets to respond to the response (making them the Re-Respondent, but only if they say “Bo Selecta”). The point is that everyone gets to have their say. There is no need to interrupt with heckles from the floor. This is a courtroom, not the Comedy Club. 

There may be occasions when it is necessary to interrupt. Usually if a misunderstanding is taking the submissions in a direction which is unhelpful to everyone. And the interruption should usually be prefaced by a gentle rising to the feet and a “I hesitate to interrupt but…” Very occasionally a sotto voce prompt might be necessary to your opponent. So recently I was making submissions about a defendant being sentenced for all matters at the same time. My oppenent whispered “in the event he is convicted” to me and I corrected myself. On occasion I have whispered “don’t lead” to my oppenent as a warning before the objection or something similar to head off inadmissible evidence. Like all rules, there are exceptions. 

The interruptions that I am advising against are those that either arise from intemperance or are designed for show. The latter of these two sins is by far the greater, the former the more dangerous. 

Learning the art of controlling one’s reactions is invaluable for the advocate. The tribunal should never be able to discern that you have just received the most damaging or unexpected answer in cross-examination by the look on your face. The only way to maintain this is through a calm demeanour. Never let triumph or dismay speak. Always let control speak. 

The staged interjection for the purpose of showing off to your client is the stuff of sixth form debating. You would have to be the sharpest of wit to even remotely get away with it. But cries of “outrageous” when your oppenent is making their submissions may make great pantomime but have no place in the courtroom. Even if your opponent is being outrageous do not match them by being outrageous yourself. Demonstrate your outrage with measured words, not fiery interjections.

Maintaining the dignity of the courtroom is one of the tasks of the professional advocate. Even when provoked, even when your heart is thudding in your chest at the injustice of it all. This is not the free for all of Speakers’ Corner but the precision of the courtroom. 

At all times Be The Aubergine.   

Trussed Up

“We do not have a written constitution, but that is not to say the Government are not subject to constitutional law. A written constitution provides a degree of certainty but can also produce unintended consequences, such as the right for many Americans to carry assault weapons. As we do not have a written constitution we need the very best legal minds to rule on whether a Government has acted lawfully. Those legal minds are appointed to the judiciary. 

“When the recent litigation in connection to the EU Referendum and the decision to leave the EU began, the Government did not suggest that the matter being brought before the Court was something that was outside the jurisdiction of the Court. Nor did the Government suggest that any of the Judges who heard the matter should have been excluded from hearing the case due to their personal connections to any organisation. 

“The litigation was about the mechanism being utilized by the Government in order to invoke Article 50. It expressly and clearly did not involve the question as to whether we should or should not leave the Union. It was about whether the method that the Government sought to use was constitutional or unconstitutional. Whilst the Government do not agree that the ruling of the Court is correct and intend to appeal it, the Government do not view the decision of the Court as something which has in anyway subverted, negated or reversed the result of the Referendum. No matter what the result in the Supreme Court, the Government still intend to carry out the result of the Referendum. Brexit will still take place. 

“Essential to democracy and a free nation is the freedom of the Press. Where the Press disagrees with the ruling of a Court it is vital that the Press have the freedom to do so. But they also have a responsibility to report these matters in a way which assists the public’s understanding of the matter. Headlines that describe Judges as being “Enemies of the People” could not be further from the truth and are irresponsible. The fine, independent Judiciary that serve this nation are part of the machinery which protect each and every one of us. They protect our rights. They are part of the process which means that democracy and liberty continues to flourish in our nation.”

These are my words. Four paragraphs that took me ten minutes to write on a Sunday morning. I have done so to make the job of our Lord Chancellor really easy. She is completely free to borrow some, all or any of the words and sentiments expressed above. It is a really easy thing for her to do, which is unusual, because duties are often onerous to carry out. And this is her duty. Her duty to protect the rule of law. Her duty to inform the public (and many of her ill informed colleagues at Westminster) about the reality of the “Brexit” litigation. 

Her actual statement is breathtaking in its lack of comment on the furore that followed the judgment. The Lord Chancellor has displayed more passion in her promotion of the cheese industry than she manages to invoke in her defence of a vital aspect of our democratic society. 

There is only one judicial officeholder who should lose their job over the “Brexit” litigation. And that is one Mary Elizabeth Truss. 

One Wheel on My Waggon

“Tell me why, I don’t like Mondays?” implored Bob Geldof and his rats.

The unlikely answer is because he and the rats were barristers from Boomtown Chambers. They had come to hate Mondays because they knew that Mondays were the embodiment of the problems that beset the criminal justice system.

I know how they feel. Recent Mondays have not been kind to me. Not that how my Mondays pan out really matters in the grand scheme of things. The problem is that recent Mondays have been rather unkind to victims, witnesses and defendants. I would go so far as to say they have been cruel to (and I am now going to use a phrase so beloved by our politicians) ordinary, decent people. 

Let us make like Marty McFly and do a little time travel. Hop aboard the Delorean that is my diary for the last month. The first Monday of the month had me scheduled to prosecute a drug trial. This is a little humblebrag, this was not a couple of street deals, this was a delivery of wholesale amounts of drugs. There was a hiccup in the week before the trial when it turned out my opponent was over running in his current trial and we all agreed that the trial could go back a day to the Tuesday. The Court demanded that the case be listed before a Judge for this application so along we all trooped for the Judge and the Listing Officer to confer and announce that the Court could accommodate the case if it was pushed back by a day. 

So the calendar ticked round to Monday. 5pm on Monday to be precise. That was when the call came – case pulled from the list for lack of court time. 

The call was so late that the CPS were not able to react to it. All the officers were at court the following day, including one officer that had travelled from London. So I had quite an audience to watch me mention the case and refix the trial for March 2017. 

“Hush your moaning,” I hear you say, “this is one of life’s little blows. Roll with the punches.”

The following Monday found me boarding a train at an hour which usually finds me in bed. I rattled through some spectacular English scenery. I rolled into a different city, grateful for the fact that my bag contained only iPads and laptops rather than all the files usually needed for a three week fraud. Later in the day I reversed my journey having popped into court for a grand total of about five minutes. Our Judge was part heard with his trial from the previous week for the whole of the Monday. And, so it turned out, quite a bit of the Tuesday too. 

This one is, I admit, a personal moan. This does not impact on ordinary, decent people just odd, indecent people like me. As every barrister will know no jury sworn on the Monday meant no significant fee paid for the day. In fact my fee did not cover my train fare. 

As it happened that trial went short for other reasons. Fear not, dear reader, I had a trial in my diary for the next Monday so the mortgage was still going to be paid. Can you see what is coming? My trial on the Monday did not happen. Listing pulled it on the Friday evening. Which was a bit of a sickener for me, but probably even worse for the witness who was due to travel to court in the North West from the South East coast. 

It would, would it not, be incredible bad luck for a fourth Monday on the trot to go wrong? So this Monday was to see me once again in a far flung court to conduct a trial. I was going to be accompanied by two other members of my chambers on a bit of a chambers outing to co-defend. And I suppose that, at least, made the job of the Listing Officer a tad easier on the Friday evening, as he only had one set of chambers to call and say that the trial had been put back by a day. 

So yesterday saw three members of my chambers, all self-employed people, sitting idle. Being idle allowed the three of us plenty of time to share our thoughts via text and email when our clerk was told that the case was not going to be heard on Tuesday either and we had now been pushed back to the Wednesday. So the three of us are at a loose end today too, like a barristerial version of Last of the Summer Wine. 

This is not just a case of lunaediesophobia. Cases get pulled every day of the week. And it isn’t just me. The third Monday in this little trot of bad luck saw four trials pulled in the same court centre. So what is causing this?

On one of the rare recent days when I actually went to court and did a case I found myself in a room in the court building. In that room was one of those trolley things that people use to transport great piles of files and boxes into the building. The trolley had a sign attached to it that read “Do Not Use. Flat Tyre.” Underneath the prohibition on use was the fact that the fault had been reported to the necessary authorities……in October 2015. And there it was, tyre still flat and not fit for its intended use. 

But perfect as a metaphor for the criminal justice system. We are running on a flat tyre. 

Due to my recent experiences of cases being delayed, pulled or evaporating I have been keeping a keener eye on the lists of recent times. And I have noticed a plethora of lists that look like this….

….or this……


This is replicated across the nation. I went through the lists for court centres that I know. On Monday mornings you will see Court Centres that have eight courtrooms are only using three of them. Buildings that could accommodate ten Judges have five sitting. Large cities will have five courtrooms occupied and nine sitting vacant, whilst having three floating trials. 

This is not a case for closing these buildings. The fact is that we have more than enough work to fill them and perhaps reduce the delay from offence to trial that can often be two years. The answer lies not in allowing defendants to plead to speeding cases online, that is not going to allow the sex case to be heard any earlier. It is not the answer to allow vulnerable victims to be cross-examined early in the proceedings, that is just going to clog up more courtrooms. 

The answer is more Judges. The problem lies in the fact that Courts suffer a lack of full time Judges and are not allowed to fill the gaps by utilising Recorders (part time Judges) with sufficient advanced planning. Judges have told me in open court that the reason why cases are not being reached is because, as is shown in the list for “Court 1” above, a Recorder has not been allocated. What is happening is that an email will wing its way around potential Recorders with only a few days of notice. So often the email will be seeking Recorders to sit a whole week, or two weeks or even three weeks, with less than a week’s notice. It is no surprise when there are no takers. One would expect Recorders to be amongst the busier members of the professions. And their diaries only collapse at the last minute, when their trial is pulled because no one else has answered the call to sit at such short notice. 

I would hazard a guess that every senior criminal judge knows that the delays in the CJS are nothing short of a scandal. I would like to think that they know they have the accommodation capacity to deal with more cases. I am confident that they know with the deployment of more part time Judges more trials could start every single Monday of every single month. Instead of banging the drum for pleading guilty when we do not know the nature of the evidence, the senior judiciary should be looking at the evidence of the lists and banging the drum for more resources that would allow better forward planning. When one cannot get a case into the courtroom, it is nothing short of embarrassing to see the championing of a mobile video link van. 

Like the trolley with the flat tyre that was reported nearly a year ago, nothing will happen unless someone takes responsibility for change. That is not something I can do, it is not something the CBA can do. It is something only achievable by those who can use their independence from humdrum politics to make the case that the system is failing society. It takes the people at the very top to be honest about the problems we face and to be realistic about the solutions. It takes advocacy on behalf of a system that is central to our society, advocacy which is conducted without fear or favour. Advocacy that is conducted by those who are entrusted with the privilege of ensuring that justice is done within our courtrooms.  

A Grammar School Boy

In my early days as a barrister I was having a conversation with another, more senior, barrister in the robing room. The conversation turned to schools. He asked me where I went. I told him Kingsway, a comprehensive school in Cheadle. 

“Really,” he said, “what was it like being a grammar school boy at a comp?”

I pointed out to him that I was not a grammar school boy at a comprehensive. I was just a boy at a school. 

That is why the Government’s announcement about grammar schools is just so wrong. At the age of 11 my life should not have been defined by the school that I went to. At the age of 11 children should be equal, with equal opportunity and shared experiences. 

I am not proclaiming that I went to a school where the lessons were in hard knocks and life, albeit I recall vividly the time when one of my teachers knocked a classmate to the floor twice by punching him to the face and then made us all stand behind our chairs for an hour before telling us not to tell our parents. What I would say is that I went to a school that was reflective of society, a broad spectrum of society. And there are aspects of my “education” that have been important in my life that had little to do with books and grades.

I like to think that I would have passed an 11+ examination. In fact I will let you into a secret, I passed the entrance examination for a local private grammar school but failed to secure a scholarship. Had I gone to that school I may well have been someone who believed that life was divided into grammar school boys and comprehensive school boys. Why create that division?

Our Prime Minister had introduced her grammar school plan by saying the future of children are being held back by “dogma and ideology.” I suppose the dogma is that access to education should be on an entirely equal footing, irrespective of social position or wealth. I suppose the ideology is that every child in this country who has the ability should go on to achieve their ambitions.

 A grammar school/non grammar school is defining those likely to go to university at the age of 11. My “Frere Jacques” was spot on at age 11. I only discovered I was really bad at French during my A-Levels. Children develop at very different times and in very different ways. A grammar school system locks children down far too soon. 

If the Government’s plans go through, in thirty years from now will we have a lawyer expressing some surprise that a boy from a comp has managed to qualify? If we do, the country has taken a massive backwards step. 

A Game With No Rules

Twenty-three years ago I commenced pupillage. It is a good job that this is being written on an iPad so the solitary tear that has just dropped from my eye has not smudged the ink. Twenty-three years ago! Where has that time gone?

I have less hair on my head and more hair on my face (more of that later). I have moved from being pupil to pupil master to three pupils, all of whom it has been a privilege and a pleasure to supervise. And yet I can recall the fear and trepidation of pupillage like it was yesterday. 

Pupillage is the strangest experience. It is part interview, part trial by endurance and part learning experience. You want to appear like you know everything so you impress and yet you do not want to come across as a know-it-all. And, of course, the reality is that you are at the bottom of an incredibly steep learning curve. You feel like Eddie the Eagle when he first stood at the bottom of the 70 metre ski jump. You are entering some weird game where everybody else knows the rules except you and, just to make things more complicated, virtually every barrister you will encounter will have their own variations on those rules. 

My beard is the embodiment of that miasma of unwritten conventions that you may transgress. I was struggling to obtain pupillage. A barrister I spoke to suggested I shaved my beard off. The very next, clean shaven, pupillage interview secured my first six. Coincidence? Well I grew my beard back when I started pupillage and was asked in the first week “Did you have that beard when the PTC interviewed you?” by a senior Silk in chambers. Off came the beard again for my pupil master to say “Glad to see the facial hair has gone, Gavin” (whilst clearly forming a view on the goatee, my pupil master always struggled with my name). 

Was this pognophobia limited to my first chambers? I went four years into tenancy (in the chambers where I did my second six with a pupil master who remembered my name and knows more about advocacy than I ever will) sporting a freshly shaved chin every single day. Then I had to have some time off to have an operation and back came the beard (I reassure you that it was no longer a goatee). The reaction of a Silk in chambers on my first day back at work was to point to my chin and utter the words “Hopefully that is just temporary…”

Enough of my beard, the point is that there are many such views on what is wrong and what is right for the putative barrister, beyond the rules of ethics they teach you on the course. And because pupillage has that element of the year long interview you are walking through a minefield wearing over sized boots. With your feet tied together. Blindfolded. 

So what advice to give the new pupil? You cannot go wrong by having a good look around you at those members of chambers who have been through this process before. I am not suggesting that you have to suppress yourself, to pretend to be someone else but you will notice that there is a certain way the majority of barristers dress, for example. No matter how free, fearless and independent you are going to be once you are a member of chambers, those electric blue flares with an embroidered flower down one of the thighs is not appropriate wear for your first day in chambers. You are not expected to be a Stepford barrister but the fact of the matter is that courtrooms are serious, somber places where the attention should be on the eloquence of your advocacy, not the flamboyance of your pocket square. 

Smart, dark suits and neatly ironed shirts and blouses are the order of the day. Clothes may not maketh the woman, but they can certainly show you have made the transition from student to professional. 

I was advised by someone the year ahead of me to say every third thing that came into my head, that pupils were like Victorian children; to be seen and not heard. That advice was along the right lines. As the pupil you have to remember that the members of chambers you go to court with are involved in cases that may well be stressful and may have nuances to them of which you are unaware. The golden rule is do not “contribute” your view unless asked to, particularly in conference, in the presence of the opponent or solicitor. By all means have a discussion with your pupil master or the person you are with that day about your approach to the case and its issues, but do it at an appropriate time. You may well feel that you have something to contribute but remember that you are there to observe and learn. There may be a very good reason why something is not being mentioned to the opponent so do not be the one to blurt it out. 

That even includes if you are dead certain the member of chambers you are with has got something absolutely wrong. Firstly, they may not have done, for reasons that you are not aware. Secondly, they are not going to thank you if they are wrong and you expose this error to all and sundry. If you think they are getting something wrong, then find a subtle way or moment to tell them. You may be able to slip them a note or begin a conversation when you are not being overheard with “I am probably being stupid, but I have had a look in Archbold and I would have said that statute isn’t in force yet. Where am I going wrong?”

Diligence and hard work will always be noted. And that includes the appearance of diligence and hard work. If your pupil master tells you they expect you in chambers at 9am there is no harm in being at your desk at 830. And the same can be said at home time. Do not be the pupil who is never seen in chambers after 430pm. This is not just a question of being chained to your desk to show you can cope with the sort of hours that City Lawyers wear as a badge of pride. These are the times, outside of court hours, when you are likely to encounter members of chambers. This is, therefore, your chance to get to know them and them to get to know you. Add to that is the fact that a career at the Bar is going to involve plenty of preparation outside of “normal” office hours. Now is a good time to get used to it. 

Pupillage is, more than anything else, your apprenticeship. There is so much to learn, so much to absorb. Take every opportunity to gain experience. And do not be afraid to ask if you do not know how something is done. Or why someone did something in a particular way. 

Try to avoid, if you can, simply asking for the answer. It is so easy to approach members of chambers to ask “how do I….” or “what is the law on….” Show people you are thinking about things and not just expecting to be spoon fed. Try saying “I think the answer is…..what is your view?” Or “I have looked it up, can I just run through what I have found? Is there anything else?” People should be generous with their time as long as they do not think this is a substitute to you doing your own work and thinking. 

Always meet deadlines set to you for work. If there is a specific problem, if you are struggling to find the answer or found yourself hospitalised when you dropped Archbold on your toe, then ask for an extension. That is what you will do when you are on your feet. Do not hand in work late, and then come up with your excuses. 

Check your written work. Then check it again. Then go away and read something else. Then come back to your piece of work and check it again. Then print it out. And check again. 

There will come the point in time when something goes wrong. Do not think that because someone gives you a piece of work back with red ink all over and corrections galore then this is the end of the world. Your work is not going to be perfect. It is going to need correcting. You are going to make plenty of errors. The important thing is to learn from them, to not make the same mistake time and time again. 

Things can go more spectacularly wrong, of course. There are a rare number of pupillages so that do encounter real problems. Make sure you work with Chambers so, should a problem be identified during a review of your pupillage, you know what is expected of you and what you need to be doing. Set a plan and work out the problem. The Bar Council run a dedicated and confidential advice service for pupils. If you encounter difficulties then use this service. 

One final word of advice. Enjoy your pupillage and enjoy getting to know people that you will hopefully spend the rest of your career working with. Do remember that you want to be remembered as the pupil who excelled at everything they did, not the pupil who photocopied their nether regions in the clerks’ room after the Christmas drinks party….

I hope someone out there will find this advice useful. Pupillage is full of highs and lows. At the start you will be desperate to get out there and begin your career. As your first six draws near to a close you will wish you could go back to the start as you will feel like you know nothing. Trust me, you know enough and you have the ability that has got you this far. More senior members of the profession will always be prepared to help. 

Twenty-three years have passed in the blink of an eye. I may moan about the job, about the MoJ, about fees and about just about everything else. But it is still great to see the enthusiasm of those new to the job. Good luck!