Thursday, 13 March 2008

PP Discovers New Maxim of Equity

What is it with people on the second from bottom rung of the ladder? Am working on a case with PM at the moment on which our instructing solicitors are a big City firm. It is a big case with big numbers etc. and has been going on for absolutely yonks. I have been doing lots of work on it over the past few months, helping PM with drafting pleadings, opinions and advices, and over the past couple of weeks we have had a series of cons, to which PM invited me.

I managed to get over the initial status anxiety which I experienced upon becoming a pupil, and am resigned to my being at the very bottom of the pile, but I have to admit that I have managed to get riled by being patronised and spoken down to by the trainee at the instructing solicitors. Now call me a romantic old fashioned Marxist but I would have thought that as two downtrodden proletarians toiling away without any participation in the capital of our respective practices we should have a bit of fellow-feeling and comradeship. Oh no! She spends the whole bl**dy time trying to establish her seniority in the pecking order by asking me to do all the boring admin tasks during meetings that her supervisor asks her to do. And though it galls me to give in to her power play, in acknowledgement of the new equitable maxim that "he who pays the piper calls the tunes" I have to go ahead and do it - after all, fearless fighting for justice aside, PM relies upon instructing solicitors' favour to put PM Major and Minor through their respective schools and to pay the mortgage on PM Park, so who am I to b*gger things up with petty squabbling. I just take my medicine and go to the photocopy room to press the green button in the way that my tens of thousands of pounds worth of law school training has prepared me to do.

Seriously, though - I don't give a toss about doing admin work - after all someone has to do it and I don't (any longer) pretend to be any grander than anyone else, so am happy for that person to be me - but I think that it is poor form of the trainee to try to lord it over me and not do her bit of the grunt work too. Was prepared to build a few bridges between the two professions (her being easy on the eye, as it happens) and find out a bit more about the other side of the fence, but don't feel that this trial is going to be the barrel of laughs that I had hoped for. Oh well.

Monday, 10 March 2008

Three of them, and Alleline

When we started out there were four of us, and Control has yet to narrow the field, for four we remain. Have been getting into my John Le Carre recently so I am afraid that my posts might have become a bit cryptic - what I mean to say is that we pupils shall ALL live to fight another day, so I can stop feeling anxious for myself and my fellow footsoldiers and get on with the task of making a case for tenancy.

Last night there was something of a lobster quadrille as each of us was desperate to know the fate of the others, but too British to do anything as vulgarly direct as to ask in case the answer would make things a bit awkward. Once we had fumbled our respective ways to the realisation that we were all still alive we were able to enjoy the moment and went for a drink. Nice to have the chance to relax together and exchange a few anecdotes amongst ourselves for once. I think that most pupils probably feel that they need to play their cards pretty close to their chests during pupillage when in fact everyone is eager to share their experiences and compare notes. It is certainly reassuring to find out that other people have made *rses of themselves with their pupilmasters and mistresses, and not everyone (or indeed anyone) has a relaxed and easygoing relationship with their PM.

Having said that, since Head of Chambers gave me the good news last night and thoughts turn to the start of my second six, the reality of the imminent end of my time with my current PM has begun to dawn and I realise that I am now much more able to relax in his company than I was before. He too has relaxed with me, and I think that he might almost admit in an unguarded moment to enjoying my company a little bit these days. He still has his rather dry style: when I came back from my meeting with Head of Chambers PM said that they would only have given me the boot if I had been completely brain dead, and that although I had made a number of valiant attempts to demonstrate that such was indeed the case, Chambers had seen through me and concluded that, despite appearances, I was sentient. I think that I am going to rather miss the miserable old sod!

Many Are Called, But Few Are Chosen....

Apologies for not posting for such a very very long time (and for the mixing of enough metaphors in this post to give you all a terrible hangover tomorrow). The thing is, PP has been just a little bit anxious for the past several weeks about Fate, and the plans that he has for PP and his progress in The Senior Profession.

I don't know whether PP in his bravado 'fessed up to the fact that notwithstanding all the medals he had collected from his glorious campaigns at Oxford and the Inns, he had only secured a first six pupillage, and had no second six to fall back on should Fate and The Gods of chambers not smile upon him and extend for a further six months. PP has been busying himself exploring other options and wondering whether he can come up with a catchy title for the blog of a trainee solicitor, paralegal, D.Phil student, burger flipper or bum.

PP Towers (for which read Chatterton-esque garret in an unsalubrious district the postcode of which Mr and Mrs P would not even recognise - my mother was surprised to hear that the numbers went up that high and insists on referring to it as "SW A Million") is positively littered with discarded attempts at completing the application forms for City law firms, all of which are similar but subtly and tantalisingly different (OK that's a lie - they're actually just annoyingly and inconveniently different). It really is a very efficient test of how dedicated one is to joining the profession - if one's heart isn't 100 per cent. in it one finds it impossible to get past page 30. The Lord only knows how one is expected to get through the assessment days et cetera. I thought that since the coming into force of the Human Rights Act we would be spared the kind of patently cruel and distinctly unusual punishments described in the recruitment brochures. It almost makes one nostalgic for the humiliations of pupillage.

Well, the likes of Clifford Chance, Linklaters, Freshfields, Slaughters and A&O can breath a huge sigh of relief for the moment at least because, no doubt to the astonishment of many, despite his many first six gaffes (only a small selection of which he could be *rsed to chronicle here, so busy was he pulling his hair out, biting his nails and telling HR departments about challenges that he has risen to and examples of PP exhibiting commercial acumen) PP has pulled it off! He's cleared the first hurdle of the tenancy steeplechase and earned himself a reprieve from the glue factory for another six months.

When I was told The Decision I wasn't told whether all four of us have made the cut for the second six and, to tell you the truth, I didn't have the balls to ask. You see, the reason why PP hasn't shared with you lovely people too much detail about his fellow pupils is that he is a little squeamish about the competitive nature of pupillage and the suggestion from some readers that PP is a bit of a sh*t for revelling in the gaffes of a fellow pupil rather struck a nerve, because PP isn't quite as horrid as he likes to make out.

Although the pupillage race is undoubtedly a competitive one, and it is certainly not a case of "everyone shall have prizes", I must admit that no matter how many times I consult my well-thumbed copies of "The Art of War" and "The Prince", I can't bear the thought of any of my co-pupils being told that they are not being kept on.

I have "survivor's guilt" and I don't even know that anyone has perished. I know that this is a serious chink in PP's armour and perhaps marks him out as unsuitable for the jousting of an adversarial and competitive profession. I know also that I have misled you with all my bluster, and that the bluster is probably rather more fun to read, but there it is.

Anyway, until PP's mind is put at rest as to the fate of his fellow pupils, it's "two cheers" for the second six decision.

Sunday, 9 December 2007

Work For Idle Hands

Or indeed the hands of the not so idle. Just when I thought that things were easing up I find myself busy again due to the extreme busyness of the rest of chambers. One of the junior tenants is doing some devilling for one of the senior juniors and is a bit under the gun so has asked me to have a go at a first draft - and has agreed to slip me such portion of his devilling fee as reflects the usefulness of what I produce. Now this could be nothing at all (as he so delicately put it!) but it is nice of him to suggest it as he knows full well that I would normally be expected to do any work for members of chambers for nothing anyway.

So, I guess that means that I am devilling for a devil. And in this case the term is rather apt - because the task at hand is to come up with as many arguments - no matter how technical, obscure, without merit or indeed downright evil - as I can think of in order to stall progress of the litigation in question while the Other Side busy themselves with analysing and responding to our unmeritorious points.

I must admit that this is not exactly the wielding of the "simple sword of truth and the trusty shield of honesty" that I had had in mind when I first dreamed of becoming a barrister (hang on, wasn't that Jonathan Aitken? Well - you know what I mean). All the same it is rather fun dreaming up points when not hindered by them having to be good ones. I hope that some of them at least raise a chuckle with the devil for whom I am devilling.

Tuesday, 4 December 2007

How time flies when you're....

....actually doing some work for once!

Apologies for the radio silence of the last month. The demands of pupillage have ratcheted up a gear or two and I have struggled to find time to post. Even though things have eased up a bit today my prolix posts of old will be replaced by a rather more succinct account of my adventures.

PP has been globetrotting of late (can one really say that of trips to the Channel Islands?!). Well, at least it involved getting on a plane which made me feel moderately more glamorous than I did taking the tube to Regents Park to attend the Central London County Court or indeed walking as far as the winders. It was sweet of PM to bring me along, as I really do feel that I am surplus to requirements, but it is very good for me to have seen the whole of this case rather than just reading and advising on the papers. Got to see PM on his feet before a judge (rare occurrence), advising his client and lay-client, and also in negotiations with the other side. So a good chance to learn a bit of this peculiar trade.

PP was slightly underwhelmed by his visit to this particular tax haven which was not quite as glamorous as he had been led to believe. Despite enjoying a post-prandial jaunt in the client's Ferrari (rather fun, although one suspects that the ability to "open her up" and enjoy the benefits of such a beast are limited on an island of this size - I don't think that one can go over about 40 except for stretches of about 200 yards - the Nurburgring it ain't!) PP couldn't help being reminded of childhood trips to see grandparents in Surrey.

What's the point is of having pots of money and being a tax exile if one needs to live an extremely dull life. Surely better to live fast in London and take the tax on the chin - perhaps I am just showing that I have never earned enough to worry too much about tax rates. All seemed terribly dull to me, anyway. Would prefer to fritter it all away at the tables at Crockfords or somewhere than to be consigned to this Bergerac world!

Anyway, they are an odd lot out there. It is like being back at School or Oxford where everything familiar is rendered unfamiliar by virtue of a different name being given to it for no particular reason. Bankruptcy becomes "desastre" (I LOVE that - what a bunch of drama queens!), and someone who seems to perform something akin to the role of a Master is called a "Judicial Greffe" (I think deriving from the Norman French - how wonderful). Anyway, the whole "Alice in Wonderland" feel is heightened by the fact that EVERYONE one meets seems to be called "Le Quesne" - whether they are the lawyer, the judge or the maitre d'. I get the impression that there are not too many "incomers" on the island.

Anyway, my trips to tax havens are over for now (perhaps for ever) as the case has settled and so PP will be strolling about the Inns for the forseeable future.

Friday, 2 November 2007

The Boy Who Makes a Bundle and The Baby Barrister With The Babbling Heart

Having a healthy sense of perspective doesn't come naturally to me. When told to count my blessings I generally conclude that someone has had their hands in the till and there aren't as many as there should be, but my experience of accompanying the junior tenant to the winders has led me to conclude that there are people out there who have it rougher than PP.

At chambers drinks last Friday PM suggested in a moment of alcohol-induced bonhomie (I was in charge of chambers drinks last week and managed to put on a creditable performance with a few bottles of Chateau Cissac, a very respectable Cru Bourgeouis Bordeaux which at about a tenner a bottle punches above its weight, and won some admiring comments) that it might be a good idea for me to see what a baby barrister actually does. Who knows, perhaps that skeleton last week got him thinking that the possibility of me actually practising as a barrister some day is not as far-fetched as he had originally thought.

And so it was that I arrived at court this week with the junior tenant (who we'll call "JT" for reasons which I will explain later) carrying an armful of papers for the winding-up petitions that he was presenting that morning. The courtroom was absolutely packed. Counsel's row had been bagged by the early arrivals and many were spilling off the end into the edges of the court. Others were standing behind in the area generally reserved for solicitors and lay clients. In short, it was a bit of a zoo.

The zookeeper in this instance was a Chancery Division judge who was very much of the old school. Things kicked off without incident as His Lordship rattled through a few unopposed applications. Then came the turn of an extremely pale young man with ginger hair who exuded anxiety. Things started off badly for him as he opened with a mumble:

"May it please Your, er, Your Honour, my name is Mr. Ginge and I, er, appear for, er, Maxibank."

"I am afraid I can't hear you" boomed OldSchool J. I felt rather glad that he couldn't hear poor young Ginge, as he certainly wouldn't have been impressed by Ginge having seemingly demoted him to the County Court bench.

Ginge tried again (correcting himself following an elbow in the ribs from a well-meaning fellow-traveller), this time a little louder and with a bit more oomph:

"May it please Your Lordship I appear for Maxibank...."

"I still can't hear you" interrupts OldSchool J.

Ginge visibly braced himself for his "man or mouse" moment and positively belted out his "MAY IT PLEASE YOUR LORDSHIP...." but OldSchool J. interrupted again:

"There's no need to shout. I may be old but I am not deaf." Ginge looked absolutely baffled.

"I can't hear you because you are not addressing me from an appropriate place."

Ginge had panic in his eyes. He cast them around the court silently pleading for assistance, but his professional brethren had scented blood and weren't going to help him out. OldSchool J. scanned his court to satisfy himself that no-one was coming to the poor chap's aid and offered: "I can't hear you because you are not addressing me from counsel's row". Ginge then pushed his way into the end of counsel's row, which by now was as jammed as a rush hour tube train, and tried again, his face and neck - even his scalp - glowing a violent shade of puce:

"M-m-m-may it please Your Lordship I appear for M-m-maxibank...."

OldSchool J. interrupts him yet again:

"I am sorry Mr. Ginge" he says, not sounding at all sorry, "but I still can't hear you as you are not dressed appropriately for this Court"

Poor old Ginge was now really quite desperate. Again his ocular appeals were to no avail and he now raised his eyes to His Lordship, in his desperation seeking mercy from his tormentor.

"Mr Ginge, I cannot hear you because you are not wearing your gown."

Ginge looked down incredulously at his gown, which was draped casually half way down his back, but clearly visible, and in much the style sported by about 75% of the barristers in the court. He hitched it up onto his shoulders and tried again:

"M-m-m-may it p-p-p-please Y-y-your L-l-l-lordsh-sh-ship, I appear for Maxibank and I ask for an order for the winding-up of B-b-b-bust Co" He seemed to have completely lost it, but began to recover, and managed to get out the basis on which the petition was made (failure to pay following a statutory demand for 18,000 pounds odd) but then completely fell apart when OldSchool J. , no doubt enjoying the moment, threw it out for a technical procedural reason which I must admit I didn't quite follow.

Poor chap - I wouldn't be at all surprised if he went home and vowed never to go to court again. This time there was no schadenfreude from PP - I felt genuinely terrible for him, and couldn't help wondering what it was all for if this is the reward that one gets for winning the Holy Grail of tenancy.

Next up on the list was JT. I was hoping that he wouldn't make any gaffes of courtroom etiquette or procedure as OldSchool J. was plainly an absolute ogre, and I reckoned that if he ate junior tenants for breakfast, he didn't look as if he could manage only one. Anyway, JT got up on his feet and addressed OldSchool J. with great confidence:

"May it please Your Lordship, I am Mr. JT and I represent Megabank"

"Of course you do" interrupted OldSchool J., his eyes softening "how appropriate"

I wondered what kind of magic powers JT held to have so completely transformed this ogre into an avuncular old man. JT, having tested the water and sensing an opportunity for theatre, cut to the quick and asked for dozens of winding up orders for his client in a radically truncated request in which he simply referred to the number next to each application in the list (thereby jumping his place in the queue many times over), noted that the debtor was not represented in OldSchool's Court today, and asked for the "usual compulsory order".

There was hushed expectation in the Courtroom at his titanium cojones and all eyes were on OldSchool J. to see his reaction.

"Very good" barked His Lordship, "u.c.o." and moved on to the next matter in the list.

I was in awe of JT and couldn't pluck up the courage to ask him his secret on the way back to chambers. Perhaps OldSchool J.'s avuncular manner is down to his actually being JT's uncle (they don't share a surname, but I guess that he could be on JT's mother's side). Or perhaps he has compromising photographs of His Lordship in flagrante with a rent boy, or some such cliche. Anyway, I have to admit to being impressed by his balls.

And now for the explanation of the JT moniker - other than standing for "Junior Tenant" it also stands for "John Terry" (the Association Footballer, M'Lud). Why? Because for the privelege of doing the winders, which are beneath the dignity of the more senior members of chambers, JT makes an absolute packet - for his 30 second appearance asking for the "usual compulsory order" he earned not far off 5 figures. Annualise that and it looks as if Roman Abramovich is paying the other JT peanuts!

Having seen Ginge in action I thought that no amount of money would make the experience of doing the winders worthwhile, but seeing how easily JT makes such a mint it seems like a pretty good gig. The other barristers tend to do only one or two a-piece, but our chambers get a lot of them and the tradition is that they all go to the junior tenant.

And it seems that were I to be taken on in chambers the mantel of "winders gimp" would fall to me, as JT explained that when a pupil is taken on as a tenant the mantel is handed down to them as it is considered infra dignitatum for the no-longer-most-junior-tenant to do them.

Now I have written a lot over the past few weeks about how to retain my dignity, but I have only two words to say about the prospect of being the winders gimp: "Ker-ching"

Thursday, 25 October 2007

Seventh Heaven

Week 4, Day 4

I speak not of The Arsenal but of PP himself who, I am happy to report, is currently tapping away from his cloud in the seventh and uppermost circle of Heaven. For PM has smiled upon him.

Last week PM asked me to produce a skeleton argument in relation to an interlocutory matter which is coming up in the Commercial Court. I beavered away in the library for 4 days digging up authorities and wading through practitioners' texts, getting to grips with the background docs. The fruit of my labours was a 30 page skeleton which represented my best shot at a pithy summary of the arguments which I had gleaned from PM's written advice and notes (I was not afforded an audience with His Grace to discuss the case as he has been extremely busy preparing for trial on another matter), together with a couple of arguments of my own based on my reading of the authorities which I managed to find.

Anyway, long and short of it is that PM expressed himself to be pleased with my work. He sat down with me for an hour to turn the pages on my skeleton and to discuss the holes and defects, but it was a very constructive session.

His main point was that it was far too long - the point of a skeleton (PM says) is to summarise one's case in almost bullet point fashion for an extremely busy judge so that he has an overview of the matter before him. If it is 30 pages, according to PM, there is little chance of the judge reading it in advance of the hearing, so you have missed a valuable chance to start his mind travelling in the direction in which you hope to take him in the hearing. He said that one shouldn't be tempted to seek to win the argument in the skeleton alone - this is presumptuous and misguided. The judge is there to test arguments and evaluate them, and the skeleton is designed to get him in command of the thrust of each side's submissions so that he can get straight to the point at the start the hearing and to test the hypotheses to see if they stand up to scrutiny. I can see some force in this point, and will keep it in my back pocket for my next attempt.

PM identified one point which I had made which he claimed not to have thought of, and which he said was a good one (PP attempted to restrain himself from beaming, but failed. Nevertheless he felt that he had done well not to have hugged PM for saying this).

PM identified two other points which I had come up with which he disected with the speed and dexterity of a field surgeon, exposing the flaws in my arguments in all their gory horror. Oh well, can't win them all. He did say that they represented a good try, but that it was important not to put all your arguments down, only your best ones, as if you have bad arguments the judge won't be able to help himself from concluding that you must be unsure of your good ones. This again sounds like good advice to me.

PM also said that he thought that I needed to be more disciplined in the time it took to produce things, as I could have done this a little quicker, although this would come with time.

PM then produced his own skeleton argument for me to read. I must say it was (as one would expect) considerably more compelling and to the point than mine. He referred me to a particular paragraph which brought out the point which I had identified in my skeleton and which he had claimed not to have thought of. I didn't know whether PM was being altogether truthful about this as he certainly seemed to express it with greater brevity and force than I had, and developed the point in a way which had not occurred to me and which made the point look far cleverer than my version of it. I suspected that he might have done his skeleton before I gave him mine, but either way it was very nice of him to say so.

PM then pointed to a few paragraphs which he had lifted verbatim from my skeleton, which made me positively glow with pride.

No doubt people will post about my pathetic gratitude and say that I shouldn't seek and value the approval of someone who has spent the best part of the last 4 weeks telling me that I am a worm, but I can't help it. If anyone has seen "House" on TV they will recognise the phenomenon. It is an immutable fact of human nature that we find praise coming from someone whom we have experienced as a harsh judge to be ten times sweeter than the same praise coming from someone who always says nice things.

Either that or I am a masochistic weirdo. Perhaps I am, but today I don't care, because on the Fourth Day of the Fourth Week PP created a skeleton argument.......AND IT WAS GOOD!