Tag Archives: BPTC

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!

The Inconvenient Truth

Those who know can talk, those with an agenda will not listen. Another conversation from the imagination….

Backbencher Thank you for agreeing to see me Lord Chancellor

Lord Chancellor Well we all have to humour the swivel-eyed loons.

BB Are you talking about me?

LC Of course not, I was simply saying I understand that you are here representing the view of your constituents and I am here to listen.

BB Right, well, I have had letters from some of my constituents about Legal Aid.

LC Brilliant. My officials told me that they existed but I thought they were kidding. At last I can shut some of those lawyers up and point to the letters you have showing the public’s concerns about the credibility of the Legal Aid scheme. I was beginning worry these letters might be my “weapons of mass destruction” so thank goodness you have some. This is turning out to be a jolly good meeting.

BB Sorry Lord Chancellor, these letters support Legal Aid and are rather critical of your reforms.

LC Oh. Did you mention that to Maureen when you made this appointment?

BB I certainly did.

LC I see. [reaches for pen and paper] That’s one more wage saving I can make straight away….

BB The letters I have received raise a lot of concerns about the cuts.

LC I have to make cuts. I have already agreed to make cuts. I promised Gideon.

BB I don’t wish to be pedantic but didn’t you take an oath that included the promise to discharge your duty to ensure the provision of resources for the efficient and effective support of the courts for which you are responsible?

LC I remember something along those lines.

BB And doesn’t that set you apart from most of your ministerial colleagues?

LC Well I suppose if you are someone who applies the technicalities of oath taking and don’t just see it as a quaint tradition there for the tourists then yes, technically speaking it does make me a bit different from the other ministers but I don’t like to make it too obvious.

BB If we do think it means something then shouldn’t it mean your job is not to agree to any cuts? Isn’t that your duty?

LC Look, you’re not Michael Turner are you?

BB No!

LC Right. Are you sure?

BB Of course I am sure.

LC Its just that I have never met him so I thought I should check. I imagine these are the kind of pesky questions he asks.

BB It is one of the things my constituents raised, as Lord Chancellor you should protect the front line services of representation and find savings from elsewhere only if necessary. But you should be fighting to protect the budget, not agreeing to reducing it.

LC The Legal Aid budget is over £1 billion. I need to reduce it.

BB No it isn’t. The spend was over £1 billion. The future projected spend is well under that figure. You have already reduced the payments we make to practitioners so you don’t have to make further savings.

LC Yes I do. I promised.

BB You also promised resources in your oath….

LC Here we go again…. Look I need to make savings and the Legal Aid spend is huge and so that has to give. Every penny I spend is critical to complying with that oath thingy you keep banging on about.

BB Really? £2 million on leadership training for the civil servants?

LC Its vital that someone shows some leadership.

BB £3.6 million on car hire?

LC People in the department have to get from A to B doing all these blinking’ roadshows.

BB What about the £720,000 your department spent on actors?

LC They play an essential role in selecting a suitably qualified and diverse judiciary.

BB More important than funding the lawyers appropriately who go on to be the Judges in the future?

LC Paying them less won’t diminish quality.

BB How about PCT? Won’t that diminish quality?

LC Nope.

BB Won’t removing client choice and market competition reduce quality?

LC Nope. There may be a different quality but it will still be there.

BB Is there a risk that the different quality will be lower than before?

LC I am committed to defendants having a fair trial. The CPS have been under resourced for years. I am just levelling the playing field.

BB Speaking of paying lawyers I note that the MOJ paid over £6million for “estate legal services”, £200 grand for legal support to MOJ procurement and I dread to think what you have paid the lawyers assisting with plans to privatise the courts.

LC Of course we did. These chaps don’t come cheap. You’re a Tory. Market forces and all that. You have to pay the going rate. If you want quality advice you have to be prepared to pay.

BB But that doesn’t apply to the provision of criminal representation?

LC I am a connoisseur of legal services you see. I know what I am looking at. The plebs, I mean, the public are generally speaking just run of the mill amateur palates when it comes to legal services. I like caviar, they like fish and chips. So it’s best if I choose who represents them and how good they are at it. And if they are acceptably adequate then that’ll do me. For them of course. For me and the Home Secretary it is wall to wall QCs all the way.

BB Isn’t it quite important that the individual gets to choose though?

LC I have a strong record on individual choice. The B&B owners of this land know how much I believe in individual choice. But I just prefer it when their choice matches my choice. And at the moment these people keep choosing specialist lawyers and I would prefer them to choose one of my contracted lawyers. But people cannot have free choice when the state picks up the tab.

BB What about the NHS. Haven’t we introduced personal choice there to improve standards.

LC Okay. People cannot have free choice when the public pays, unless they are ill.

BB What about mentally disordered offenders?

LC Right, people cannot have free choice when the public pays, unless they are ill, EXCEPT where them being ill coincides with them being a criminal.

BB What if them being ill means they should not be labelled a criminal? What if being ill means they are innocent? Should they not be able to choose a specialist solicitor with experience of them personally or mentally disordered offenders generally?

LC Look at that giant hummingbird over your shoulder. Look! Look now!

BB There is nothing there is there Lord chancellor? Okay. Let’s for a moment say we are not going to allow the market to dictate quality, how else do propose to maintain quality?

LC Well clearly there will have to be rigorously assessed standards and processes of quality assurance to make sure the lawyers are all acceptable to me.

BB And how long has that quality assessment scheme been up and running?

LC It isn’t.

BB Because one of my constituents directed me to Lord Carter’s review of legal services procurement from 2007 and in his report he considered it vital that if client choice was removed there had to be a rigorous quality assurance scheme in place that would take at least two and a half years to establish and develop before choice was removed from the market. So how long until you put your plans in place?

LC Four months. But this focus on quality is just a smokescreen by the fat cat lawyers and their monstrous earnings.

BB My constituents were quite, well I think I can safely say, were quite irate about this.

LC I am not surprised they are irate! I have proof as well. Statistics. Evidence of payments. It is fair to say that no professional should be paid more than the Prime Minister out of public funds.

BB They are not irate about what barristers earn, they are irate about what you say they earn. The last figures I have available to me showed that seven civil servants in your department had a salary bigger than the Prime Minister.

LC Well you have to reward some people commensurate to their skills and the responsibility of their work.

BB Isn’t that what is going on when a handful of lawyers get large single payments that will relate to the most serious and complicated cases?

LC But it is why the public lack confidence in the credibility of the Legal Aid regime because they see these figures.

BB Because you tell them these figures….

LC It is simply freedom of information and statistics don’t lie.

BB But ministers some times do in their use of them.

LC I have no idea what you mean.

BB Well it could be said that some minsters have form for it. A propensity to use statistics in a misleading way.

LC Propensity…..that sounds like a lawyer’s word. You’re not Ian West are you? He’s another one of the awkward squad. Are you?

BB No! If the information you release is undermining the credibility of the system why don’t we tell them the reality rather than base a reform on this misconception. Lawyers often say difficult cases make bad law.

LC The public will never think that lawyers are anything but fat cats [whispers] … thankfully …

BB We could tell them. You could tell the press how impressed you are by this account of the junior bar in the blog 50 Shades of Affray [hands minister the document]. Read that and you’ll see she only earns £20,000 per year before expenses after three years in the job.

LC £20 grand before expenses? I bet she gets her decorators paid for on top of that. And claims loads against her expenses for her daily travel, accommodation and meals. We all know how much you can top up your income with some imaginative claims, not that I am condoning that sort of thing you understand. But £20,000 before taking into account her expense claims would be most misleading.

BB You’re right. It would. But it is £20,000 before she takes her expenses OFF that figure. An economic adviser with postgraduate qualification in your department starts on £31,000 per annum. I would imagine their economic advice to that barrister would be “get another job”.

LC Well it is exactly that member of the junior bar that I have made it clear I want to help.

BB By cutting their fees and squeezing them out of the Crown Court by cutting solicitors thereby forcing them to do their own advocacy?

LC Yes. And if they don’t like that help I have made it quite clear I will introduce PCT in to the Crown Court. That’ll learn ’em.

BB So PCT is a weapon rather than a reform?

LC PCT is my grand plan. My flagship policy. The Grayling’s not for turning.

BB But what’s your Plan B?

LC I quite liked the Defamation of Strickland Banks but the rest of his stuff leaves me a bit cold……

BB No Lord Chancellor. Not a question about music What is your alternative to PCT?

LC I don’t need one.

BB But what if there are no bids?

LC There will be.

BB Indulge me for a moment. Let’s say that too few solicitors bid to cover the work. What will you do then?

LC They will bid. And if they don’t we’ll call the Army in. That’s what we always do. Firemen on strike? Call in the Green Goddesses. Security a bit lapse at the Olympics? Call in the Army.

BB That doesn’t really work does it. And what happens if you put 1200 firms out of business and then PCT turns out to be the disaster many predict. What then?

LC What do you suggest? Pilot schemes?

BB Well it would seem sensible. At least have some idea you are right before you get it very, very wrong.

LC I promised to make the savings now, or rather I need to make immediate savings.

BB But you already have. That’s what my concerned constituents are saying.

LC No. I need to save something from the £1.2billion budget.

BB As I said before, it is less than that now.

LC No. The budget is £1.3 billion.

BB You keep changing that figure.

LC No I don’t. The £1.4 billion budget is spiralling out of control as we speak.

BB You are just deliberately inflating the figures.

LC I have to rein in the projected £1.5 billion we are going to spend on criminal Legal Aid.

BB Stop this. It’s ridiculous.

LC Yes it is ridiculous that we spend £1.6 billion on mostly foreign criminals who don’t have a defence. I agree it needs stopping.

BB I am beginning to think you might say anything to justify these reforms.

LC Not at all. The public need to know that I intend to curb this system which swallows £1.7 billion of public funds….

BB Right, I’m leaving this is pointless.

LC Jolly nice to see you. Thanks and all that. Tell your constituents that at £1.8 billion we spend more on criminal legal aid than any other country….

BB I’m off. You are not listening.

LC Oh I am old boy. I listen. Send Maureen in on your way out. I have a saving to make. And give my best to the SELs…..

Make the Lord Chancellor listen to the facts and evidence being debated in Parliament. Signing the petition here is our only chance for that to happen.