Entries from March 2011 ↓

Pupillage Advice

Pupillage Portal has just opened and hundreds of aspirant barristers will be applying for pupillage all across the country. Many will be disappointed and will receive correspondence containing the (in)famous line “the standard was exceptionally high”. The standard has been “exceptionally high” for many years now though, which makes you wonder when it’s going to stop being the exception.

I was lucky enough to get pupillage last year so have fortunately been saved from going through the whole system again. It still leaves you with paranoia, but of a different kind: “will I get pupillage?” becomes “will I get tenancy?”, and you start worrying that you will turn up on the day specified to discover that they in fact sent the offer pack to you by mistake, or never received your signed contract.

For all those who are applying this year, I wish the best of luck and hope you get pupillage at a place that you will enjoy.

I am not going to dish out buckets of advice. I am not some super-pupilllage star that had every chambers I applied to clamouring for me and giving me a stack of options to choose from. I’m not going to pretend I know everything about the process and can therefore give out some winning advice. These are just a few brief points that I wish I’d known when I started the process, rather than learning through mistakes.

Recommended Reading

Like I just said, I’m not an expert. The people who write these are. I read them and found the advice really useful.

Some of these are written for an audience that know absolutely nothing about the Bar and pupillage. That does not make them a waste of time if you are über-moot champion and have published three-dozen articles on your favourite area of law. They contain a lot of detail that is not immediately obvious, and even if you find yourself skim-reading some parts, there are very likely to be others that teach you something new.

Pupillage and How to Get It - written by Simon Myerson QC. Filled with excellent articles containing a large amount of information and detail about the process and what you can do to help yourself along the way. It is worth reading the entire archive of his posts for advice.

The Pupillage Pages – a new site recommended by the above. I’ve only had a glance at it so can’t vouch for its quality, but I’d trust that recommendation.

The Path to Pupillage – a book I simply cannot recommend enough, and not just because I have an indirect interest in it. This book has a lot of useful information and practical advice for applicants, including little testimonials from pupils and practitioners on what they applied for. This book covers everything but it’s still worth reading the chapters that you think you already know, as there are details in those chapters that you probably don’t.

Bewigged and Bewildered (Old Edition; New Edition (pre-order)) - a very good comprehensive overview of a career at the Bar. It goes a little wider than the above book, which allows it to cover different areas. In particular the part on choosing your desired practice area is especially good as it focuses on the practicalities.

Get Opinions

This is really for the LLB and GDL students. Quite a few chambers will assess you by way of writing an Opinion. This is a specific type of document in which you offer practical legal advice on a legal question. It is not as academic as a problem question. They have a specific style. Make sure you know how these are written and formatted. BPTC students have an advantage here because they have been taught how to do this over a (roughly) 10-week course. Do not let them get an edge on you because you do not know how to write one of these. In particular, make sure you know how they are formatted: you do not want an otherwise-good answer to be ditched in favour of an answer of similar quality simply because yours looked less impressive because it was a big chunk of prose (I don’t know if this happens, but why take the risk?). Buy a book on opinion writing and learn the basic principles to put yourself on more of an equal footing.

Read the Blogs

You will be asked questions about current developments in the English legal system. You will be rewarded for knowledge and understanding of these. From the rumours I have heard, Alternative Business Structures (i.e. Clementi) and the Jackson review of costs are becoming hot topics in interviews. Read both reports and understand the issues. I wouldn’t be surprised if the proposed cuts to legal aid were also a topic of questioning. You need to know about these areas (especially those that relate to your desired practice area/chambers). You are expected to take an interest. Read the legal press, read the legal blogs. Make sure you know, within reason, what’s happening in this world. Similarly, know wider developments in your chosen practice area. If you want to be a commercial barrister, have “commercial awareness”. If you want to do Family Law, know about the government’s proposed changes to legal aid.

I would particularly recommend Garrulous Law, it’s written by a very charming and handsome man who knows everything there is to know about everything that matters. Seriously though I’d start by looking at the blogs on my blogroll, then the blogs on their blogrolls, and so on until you’re sick of the whole exercise and wish you’d never read this.

In a similar vein listen to Law in Action and Charon QC’s podcasts.

Pimp Everything

Try and relate everything in your application form (within reason) back to why you think it would make you a good barrister. It shows you understand what the job is about and have “relevant skills”.

For example, I used to work as a teaching assistant in a saturday school for under-13s. That sounds about as remote from the Bar as you can get. But it’s still relevant; you need tact, communication skills, the ability to explain complex ideas in simple and comprehensible terms, and an ability to handle large amounts of documents. There’s probably something you’ve done in your employment history that provides you with a relevant skill. Tell them. They won’t know otherwise.

Similarly, no mini-pupillage is unremarkable. Think of something that happened that confirmed why you wanted to be a barrister (finding out how much your supervisor earns probably isn’t quite right), or was otherwise significant or memorable. Say why that was.

Hold Your Own

The softest interview I had was swiftly followed up with a “the standard was exceptionally high” letter. The toughest interviews I had were followed by invitations to the next stage of the process. The interviewers go hard on you to see how well you will cope under pressure. They want to know that you’re not going to take a concession unnecessarily just because the judge looks irritated or your opponent has told you your case is rubbish. Just because they are doing so does not mean that you are wrong or a failure. A tough interview can be a sign that they are taking you seriously enough to test you. I walked out of all of the tough interviews thinking I’d failed. One some occasions I was right, but it wasn’t because the interview was tough.

If you think you’re right, stick to your guns and politely explain why you think you are. Don’t back down just because the senior practitioner is being irritable. That being said, if you are sure that you’re wrong, and it’s not just because the interviewer scares you a little, then it may be better to admit you were wrong and reconsider your position.

On a related note, don’t be afraid of silence. Taking time to think or re-read something can come across as a strength, not a weakness.

Don’t Make Excuses

You’re digging yourself further into a hole. Explain, but don’t excuse. If, for example, you didn’t get your predicted grades because you were lazy, don’t start coming up with all manner of self-pitying reasons why this was the case. They often sound rubbish. Take responsibility for yourself, admit that your grades dropped because you were lazy, and explain why Chambers don’t have to fear that you will be that lazy in the future, preferably with some evidence to back it up.

If you have a genuine mitigating circumstance, explain it (usually in the covering letter), but don’t spend too long on it.

Be Honest

In addition to the matters of ethics and personal integrity, if you lie you’ll probably get caught. If you don’t get caught then you may get found out later. There’s a good chance that whatever you want to lie about will not kill your application or career. By contrast if you lie about it there’s a very good chance that it will. It’s not worth it.

Don’t Steal a Wig and Gown

I know they did it in Silk, but that show is, to put it politely, not 100% accurate. Similarly don’t try and steal an out-of-date copy of Archbold from Hammick’s, don’t push a senior member of chambers down the stairs, don’t have the charisma of a damp fish, don’t ask women their age, don’t stick your hands in your pockets and certainly don’t give off the impression that you haven’t a clue what the law is.

Good Luck

If at first you don’t succeed… well let’s hope you do as I don’t want to receive a load of hate-mail for giving out duff advice.

If you have anything to add, or any questions, please descend upon the comments section.

“Don’t Know” to AV

I have absolutely no idea how I’m going to vote in the AV referendum. It’s not a straight PR-FPTP debate, so the usual arguments don’t apply. On the other hand I don’t quite understand what effect it would have on the electoral system, and thus the relative advantages and disadvantages.

The Yes and No campaigns have been lamentable. As far as I can tell they have spent most of their time talking to each other, usually whining about each side’s tactics. No2AV have been engaged in dirty tricks and some very bizarre scaremongering (apparently a Yes vote is also a vote in favour of abolishing maternity units). Similarly the Yes campaign makes a lot of criticisms of the existing system and FPTP, but does very little in the way of positively explaining why AV, as opposed to any other system, is the right solution other than a generall mumble about ‘fairness’.

In other words we have two uninspiring and negative campaigns generating more heat than light. I feel neither wiser nor better informed for all their bluster and campaigning.

Given the potential constitutional ramifications of this referendum, we deserve better. Merely abstaining isn’t really an option, tempting though it may be.

To that end I plan to open out my blog to discuss the issue in more detail. The aim is to have an honest discussion of the actual issues underlying the AV. No bluster, no tactical posturing, no dirty tricks.

I’m hoping to start with a podcast debate and take it from there, with (preferably) some guest posts. I’ve already got Mark Thompson, of Mark Reckons, for the first podcast, but I need more people for that and others.

If you’re interested and want to help out, please let me know.

Can You Call Fred Goodwin a Banker?

Yes.

If the story sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Misreporting is going around on the terms of a superinjunction alleged to have been taken out by Fred Goodwin. According to the reports, the terms of the injunction prevent anyone “calling him a banker”.

This is inaccurate.

The term referred to by John Hemming MP (and hence why it can be reported on at all) was “identified as a banker”. This would better read as “identified as ‘a banker’”.

What this means is that in any reporting about the superinjunction it would not be acceptable to substitute the phrase “a Banker” for Fred Goodwin’s name. The injunction relates to Fred Goodwin’s alleged conduct, and not his job title.

Let’s say, for example, that Fred Goodwin has been accused of plotting to blow up the moon (so that nobody mistakes this for a genuine accusation). An ordinary report would read as follows:

News has emerged that Fred Goodwin, the former head of RBS, is plotting to blow up the moon.

Now let’s say that Goodwin takes out a superinjunction to prevent reporting of this plot (assume for the moment that he can do so). The aim is to prevent him being identified as the moon plotter. The terms of the injunction say that you cannot name Fred Goodwin as the plotter.

That sounds reasonable enough, but you have to look at it from the point of view of the other side. They are going to want to get round the injunction. They will look for loopholes. Now, as the term of the injunction is only that you can’t say “Fred Goodwin”, you can quite easily defeat it by reporting as follows:

A former head of RBS is plotting to blow up the moon

This version, though it complies with the strict terms of the injunction, would still make it blindingly obvious that it is talking about Fred Goodwin.

When you draft an injunction you have to think about the ways the other side can avoid it. The point of a superinjunction is to prevent identification. A key identifying feature of Fred Goodwin is that he’s a banker. Presumably the conduct the papers intend to report on would identify Goodwin if they simply call him “a banker”. That is what the injunction is trying to prevent. Not calling him a banker.

Sub Judex

From Reuters:

A judge sporting full robes and a wig rugby-tackled a sex offender to the floor to prevent him from fleeing the court where he was on trial, the Press Association reported on Tuesday.

The Guardian provides us with the prosecutor’s opening speech:

“The jury was just leaving when the defendant jumped up and ran across the clerk’s bench to get to the judge’s door. As he went through the door his honour Judge Marks Moore grabbed him round the throat to try to bring him down. Together they went down three steps and then Mr Reid broke free and ran down the judge’s corridor. The judge gave chase.

“Just as Mr Reid was about to open a push-handle fire door, HHJ Marks Moore rugby-tackled him around the throat and waist and brought him crashing to the ground, landing on top of him. He held him there, struggling and protesting, until the prison officers managed to catch up, secure him and return him to custody.”

The rather implausible defence given was that he thought the judge had said he could go home for the day. Perhaps sensibly, the defendant changed his plea to guilty.

“There is only one reason why a crown court judge would rugby-tackle a defendant to the ground – because he is trying to escape and the judge is the only person in any position to prevent that escape.”

I’ll take the prosecution’s word on that.

Nail in the Coffin

The principle that there is a presumption of innocence in favor of the accused is the undoubted law, axiomatic and elementary, and its enforcement lies at the foundation of the administration of our criminal law

Coffin v. United States, 156 U.S. 432 (1895)

Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.

Eighth Amendment, United States Constitution

Then look at how the system treats a remand prisoner:

23-hour/day solitary confinement; barred even from exercising in his cell; one hour total outside his cell per day where he’s allowed to walk around in circles in a room alone while shackled, and is returned to his cell the minute he stops walking; forced to respond to guards’ inquiries literally every 5 minutes, all day, everyday; and awakened at night each time he is curled up in the corner of his bed or otherwise outside the guards’ full view

In addition the prisoner is now stripped of his clothing nightly and forced ‘to stand outside his cell naked during a morning inspection’.

The prisoner has not been convicted of anything, and yet has served a period on remand harsher than many custodial sentences.

What’s worse, this is supposedly being done for his own good. It is brought in under the Orwellianly-named “prevention of injury watch”. Against the recommendation of the prison psychiatrist.

This will sound quite abstract. Imagine it this way:

Go to your bathroom. Turn all the lights on. Take any reading materials you may have out. You can have one book or magazine, but that’s it. Put a mattress on the floor. Put your phone and laptop away. This is your world.

Get a stranger to lock you in. Have him open the door every five minutes to make you respond. Now sit there. Don’t do anything. Wait until you’re let out, cuffed, to another room where you live. Walk around in a circle for an hour. If you stop, you go back to the bathroom. If you speak, you go back to the bathroom. After an hour, you go back to the bathroom. Sit there. Don’t do anything. Respond to the stranger when told. When he tells you to go to sleep, take off all your clothes and give them to him. Sleep on the mattress. On your back only. If you change position you will be woken and forced back onto your back. The stranger will continue to open the door to check on you through the night. You will be woken at 6. You will stand outside the bathroom naked. The stranger will ‘inspect’ you. You get your clothes back. Back into the bathroom you go. Now sit, and let the process repeat itself.

Think you’d keep your sanity?

Is this the treatment of a presumed-innocent man by authorities genuinely concerned for his safety?

The prisoner’s name, not that it matters, is Bradley Manning.

A Long List of Queens

This year’s list of Queen’s Counsel appointments has gone up on the Ministry of Justice’s website. Amusingly, there’s a rather glaring spelling error at the top of the document:

A long list of Queens?

The difficulty getting the spelling right even extends to the document title:

Rather more worryingly, they have forgotten to put my name on the list.

Hat Tip: @joshuarozenberg