Burqa Banned

by Charles Roffey

France’s “Burqa Ban” came into force yesterday.

I posted about this last year and generally stand by what I wrote then. There is a debate to be had about the Veil and its place in both Islam and the West. That does not entitle a liberal democracy to use the coercive power of the criminal law to force people into compliance with “our values”. Coercion cannot and should not replace rational debate and persuasion. If it does we’re no better than the systems we claim to abhor.

Pupillage Advice, Part 2

The original post is now up at Legal Week.

Having had some initial feedback, I’ve been given some further pointers worth repeating here:

More Links

Current Awareness – run by the librarians of Inner Temple, this is a very good roundup of links to relevant legal news. You don’t have to read every link posted, but it’s useful to keep abreast of what’s going on. Definitely count this as one of the blogs worth reading.

Pupillage Blog – I don’t read it, but apparently other people like and recommend it.

Do Your Homework

Chambers get deluged with CVs and applications. They will look for (legitimate) reasons to bin whatever they can. If you give off the impression that you know nothing about the set you’re applying to, they’re very unlikely to want you. Applying to a specialist revenue law set with an application stating your passion for criminal law is very likely to result in your application being filed in the dustbin.

This ought to go without saying, but unfortunately it does happen. It makes you very easy to bin indeed.

Go onto Chambers website and look at what they do and what recent cases they have appeared in. Comb through the site for every useful detail. Bear these in mind when you apply and give a reason why you want to be a pupil at that specific set. Try and look at editions of Chambers & Partners and Legal 500 (the student edition of the former is particularly useful). Tailor your applications to the set.

Cheque You’re Spelling. Punctuation and Grammar

If you paid close attention to the last post I wrote on this subject you’d notice that the final paragraph was a bit grammatically non-sensical. If you didn’t notice it, that’s because I edited it after I posted it. Unlike here, you don’t get an opportunity to amend once sent. The Bar is a job that expects very high standards of written and oral communication. You are paid, roughly speaking, to write things and say things. If you can’t do either well this may not be the job for you. Some parts of the Bar are extremely paperwork-heavy. The pupillage committee will be looking at how you present yourself on paper, and it will be the first impression you make. Make sure it’s a good one. Spelling mistakes and so forth are relatively easy to correct, but potentially lethal if left in.

Similarly make sure you’ve answered the questions asked and not failed to leave any out. A friend once forgot to put in the addresses of his referees. Needless to say the set didn’t offer him pupillage, and he never made that mistake again. Similarly, although it may be considered pedantry, avoid putting prepositions at the end of sentences unless you have no choice. It’s a habit you need to cut down on.

Spellcheck won’t cover this. It wouldn’t notice the errors in the above heading. Similarly don’t expect to spot these mistakes as soon as you’ve written them: your mind will fill in the gaps and you will see a complete sentence in place of the nonsense you’ve written. In this regard you have two options: either get a friend (preferably a non-lawyer) to check the draft for these errors (I believe this is allowed), or leave the completed application for a few days then go back to it having done something else.

Anticipate the Questions

Certain parts of your CV will bring up obvious questions (e.g. “Why didn’t you get a 1st?”; “Why did you do a GDL rather than a law degree?” etc.). Other questions are very likely to come up in general (“What attracts you to this set?”). Treat it like your UCAS personal statement. If you put something in your application, expect to get grilled on it. Be prepared for the tough and incisive questions and have answers prepared (but NOT scripted). Don’t think you’ll be given an easy ride: approach your CV from the pupillage committee’s perspective and think what questions they’ll ask on it, especially the tough ones. It again may be helpful to have someone who’s been through the process look through your CV and ask you the tough questions.

Similarly, if your law school or university offers a mock interview service, use it.

Know Your Weaknesses

If you know that some part of your CV isn’t as strong as it could be, don’t try and hide from it. Accept it and deal with it. Have an answer ready for why that weakness is there (but remember: no excuses and no scripted answers). If you can find some way of eliminating the weakness, do it. For example, if you got a 2:1 in your degree, aim for a Distinction on the GDL; if you lack advocacy experience, go mooting or join a debating club.

Apply Early

I don’t mean this in the sense that your application should be complete the day the Portal opens. As far as I’m aware, the Portal applications all get sent to chambers at the same time, so use the given time to fine-tune yours (please correct me here if I’m wrong). What I mean is that if you’re in your GDL year or still on your LLB, you should consider applying now.

First, it will mean you don’t have to take a gap year after the BPTC if you succeed.

Second, if you don’t succeed, you’ll know a lot more about the process and be able to make a better series of applications the following year.

Third, with a few exceptions, there is little harm in applying more than once to the same set. This point is worth checking though: some chambers have a One Attempt Only policy, and will only allow another try in exceptional circumstances. Check the pupillage policy of chambers before you do so, and consider whether, if you want to treat this as effectively a trial run, you might be better holding off until next year.

Finally, you only get a limited number of attempts at applying for pupillage after you’ve done the BPTC. Why waste one?

Give Yourself a Spare Week

Submit your applications a week before the deadline. This should give you enough time to deal with any technical problems that come up. In particular, the Portal has been known to crash around the deadlines when everyone floods the servers. Submit a week before and you’ll save yourself a lot of headaches.

The Orwell Prize

I didn’t make too much of an issue of it but I entered my blog for the Orwell Prize for Blogging earlier this year.

A few days ago the results for the longlists were announced. I have just had a look and suffice it to say I am not happy.

The concern isn’t personal. I am not bothered in the slightest that I have not got an award for my writing. My interest is wholly professional.

My blog writes about law. UK Human Rights Blog and Head of Legal have been known to do the same on occasion as well. Unlike them, I don’t write this blog out of the goodness of my heart or a general passion about the law but a calculated effort to raise my profile and rake in business. When I become a fully fledged barrister I intend to use this blog as a way of obtaining instructions from solicitors.

This then becomes deadly serious when you realise that one of the Orwell Prize judges is David Allen Green, a solicitor and partner at a prestigious law firm. The implication of the selection of their blogs over mine is obvious: Wagner and Gardner are worthy of receiving instructions and business, but I am not. This is in no way an accurate reflection of ability and experience. There is an implied assertion that my skills as a lawyer are simply not good enough to merit attention. This is a serious allegation against my professional ability and conduct.

The same cannot be said of Peat Worrier and Pink Tape because, frankly, they’re a bit rubbish compared to me.

I am taking this accusation extremely seriously and have instructed Carter-Ruck to represent me in this matter. I consider the decision to be highly defamatory. I am asking for substantial damages, but my attitude to the same will be determined by the nature of their response to the pre-action correspondence I have also sent.

UPDATE: A lot of people on Twitter are referring me to Arkell v Pressdram (unrep). So many as to suggest the Intended Defendant has orchestrated a further defamatory campaign. I have done my research: the case isn’t on Westlaw, and it’s therefore not authority for anything.

UPDATE 2: April Fools.