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!

Monday, 22 October 2007

Unleash Hell!

Week 4, Day 1

I am grateful to Anonymous for inspiring today's post. In a comment on Tuesday's post he mentioned that he couldn't help feeling from reading the various barristerial (yes I know it's not a word!) blogs that barristers are "silly, venal, petty and just plain ridiculous". We are the "nasty" profession, just as the Tories are the "nasty party". I must say that I have some sympathy with that view, but for the record I set out below my case for the defence.

As counsel for the First Defendant (er, that's me - I join The System as Second Defendant. Due to conflicts rules, The System will need to be separately represented - any volunteers?) I would say that:

(1) First, I haven't actually done anything nasty except for airing thoughts in public that might well be thought unworthy.

In doing so I have not denigrated Numbers - au contraire, I have shown myself in a poor light and elicited considerable sympathy for my numerically gifted colleague (witness Anonymous and Law Minx).

By the same stroke I have risked visiting the opprobrium of the entire blogosphere upon myself for admitting to my own schadenfreude at Numbers' misfortune - and indeed it has come to pass that I have been labelled as "nasty". For my blog is not designed to promote the greater glory of PP but rather in many ways to serve as a confessional.

(2) Second, I might even go as far to say that in voicing my least worthy thoughts and revealing them in all their warty horror I might prick the consciences of the other members of the legal fraternity/sorority and encourage them to tread a nobler path than I. Having stared nastiness direct in its ugly face readers may avoid making the same mistakes as I.

(3) If I describe behaviour of others again I try to do so dispassionately and my descriptions of the behaviour and views of my colleagues/superiors should not be taken to be a justification or endorsement of their actions or the views which they express. Do I think it splendid of PM to tell me that I am good for nothing but making coffee, and for not speaking to me all day? No - but I am trying to make sense of it, and thinking aloud helps me to do so.

(4) Fourth, I submit that the whole pupillage system is geared to encouraging bad behaviour (or at least bad thoughts) in pupils. If I had read law at university I might have studied Roman law and might be able to trace the origins of the pupillage system to the gladiatorial antics of ancient Rome (I didn't, so please forgive the wholesale inaccuracies in this flight of fancy). A system which typically puts 4 pupils in close proximity in direct competition for a single tenancy does have something in common with gladiatorial combat, and chambers events such as chambers' drinks where there is a full audience of most members of chambers add to this sense. Happily for numbers there was no "thumbs up" or "thumbs down" at the end of chambers drinks. No, Numbers was patched up after drinks and will live to fight another battle - the day of reckoning will come in eleven and a half months' time after lots of scrutiny by pupil masters, and assessed work - but the principle is the same.

It is pretty uncivilised, but (not wanting to stray into the territory of counsel for the Second Defendant) we all go on about meritocracy at the bar and losing the Old Boys' Network of funny handshakes and Old Etonian ties - if we weren't put under the microscope in direct competition and under the gaze of the whole of chambers wouldn't the decisions be more likely to be made on the basis of which College someone went to, or whether they were considered to be a "good chap" or not?

I suspect that this may be so, but I do wish that PM wouldn't seem to derive so much pleasure from the spectacle!

Tuesday, 16 October 2007

Chambers Drinks (but Numbers doesn't)

Week 3, Day 2

Pupillage is full of trials and tests. Some of them are simpler than others. The menial tasks that pupils tend to obsess about (me included) sometimes come as something of a relief as it is difficult to mess them up and cheering to be able to complete a task competently even if it isn't exactly what you went through law school to achieve.

Chambers drinks provides one such opportunity: each Friday members of chambers get together in chambers for drinks. One of the pupils is prevailed upon to go around chambers during the course of Friday to collect contributions from those members of chambers who plan to attend drinks, and then to take the kitty to the off licence to buy the booze. A simple task, one might think.

But failure lurks in the strangest of places for pupils. The office of chambers drinks-wallah fell last week to one of my fellow pupils who has until now appeared to be omnicompetent - even, thanks to a mind-numbingly dull career in the City, in the mysteries of accounting - let's call him Numbers.

Well, it turns out that Numbers has a weak spot when it comes to carrying out his bar-tending duties, for Numbers is teetotal and exhibited a complete lack of familiarity with barristers' need for a few glasses of good red wine to send them on their merry way back to their families for a weekend of domestic drudgery.

Now I am guessing that, since I saw my PM contribute a tenner to the pot when Numbers came for the whip-around, that represented the "going rate", and since a dozen members of chambers turned up to drinks, he had a budget of at least 120. On the table stood 3 bottles of cheap warm sweet white wine. The bottles even had screw caps. They must have cost the best part of, oooh, a tenner between them. Which left Numbers with another 110 to play with - and being an honest soul he spent the lot.

So around the three rather sad bottles of wine was a multitude of gaudy cans of fizzy pop (not champagne) and bowls of crisps, biscuits - even those "iced midget gems". There was something of the feel of a children's party. Never had so much pop been ordered, and not only cokes but all sorts of exotic and sickly concoctions. Members of chambers were truly baffled. One of the silks, who looked particularly forlorn once the wine ran out, methodically scoured the labels of all of the fizzy drinks in the hope of finding some alcopops.

I had more bounce in my step than I had managed for the previous fortnight when I headed to the tube after drinks, with the delightfully warm glow of schadenfreude. I know that it is not noble to revel in Numbers' cock-up, and I really did feel for him, but I feel that having scored so many own goals myself it was about time my luck changed, and that I was right to enjoy the moment, as soon enough I would be putting my foot in it again.

Friday, 12 October 2007

A Man For All Seasons?

Week 2, Day 5

Well, I have made it to the end of week two and can report that week 2 went a whole lot better than week 1. I am managing to keep a lid on the paranoia, thanks to the comments of fellow bloggers who inform me that many PMs take a seeming vow of silence when they are deep in preparation for trial.

The fact that One of Her Majesty's Counsel posted on my blog to reveal that his own PM had managed months of near-mute supervision has cheered me up immeasurably - in fact, being of an optimistic (and admittedly often delusional) bent, I am managing to convince myself that rather than demonstrating some kind of animus towards me, the positively Bodleian hush maintained by PM is an indication of his accepting me as a brother in cerebral toil - no need for pleasantries or plattitudes, for we two have scores of lever arch files of papers to get through, skeleton arguments to finalise, and indeed in the case of one of us, bundles to check.

And on the basis of the precedent set by HH Myerson's PM, I look forward to popping open a couple of coldies and discussing footie and girls once the trial is out of the way and the chambers cat returns with PM's tongue.

Now although I am touched by the concern voiced by some of you that I may be taking my dignity a little too seriously - and I am quietly impressed that you were much too polite to say that I sound as if I am still a pompous a**e despite the lessons meted out to me - I think that my ramblings on the subject of the dignity of the pupil have perhaps been misunderstood. My point is perhaps a nobler one than some of you have given me credit for.

For the avoidance of doubt, as the pleadings tend to say, I don't consider that making coffee is beneath me. I like to think that, far from being a reluctant barista, I have risen to the occasion and have refined my coffee making skills over the past fortnight immeasurably. In fact, I am tempted to fox PM with Starbucks speak next time I offer to make him one: "I am just going for a refill, PM - can I interest you in a tall skinny double shot choccamochaccino?"

I just choose to execute the coffee making in a way that permits me to retain my dignity and sense of self. Were PM to break the mould and offer just once to make a cup of coffee for me the dynamics would change entirely and there would be no need for such face-saving stratagems. Oh well, I suspect that for uttering this heresy I will be inundated with Lady Bracknellesque assertions that such behaviour would surely lead to acts of violence in Gray's Inn Square, but there you go.

My point is this: if everyone else in chamber is to be accorded dignity and to be respected for what they do, whether Head of Chambers, the receptionist, the clerks or the typists, then why not the pupils too? Should we pupils behave in a servile way and flagellate ourselves for having no experience since we are in our first weeks of a new existence? If I am obliged to treat everyone with respect (and I think that we are all agreed that I am), why should PM and his ilk not be under the same obligation vis-a-vis the pupils?

Put another way, if a new clerk were to join chambers fresh out of school should I treat him with condescension or contempt because he has had a shorter tenure in chambers than me and less experience at doing his job than I have in doing mine? Should I expect him to bow and scrape and apologise for his very existence? Of course not!

Though they had all but disappeared into my body like those of a sumo wrestler preparing for a bout, I have at the suggestion of one eminent poster located my cojones and resolved that I will from now on try to be myself in chambers and not play the part which I think will appeal most to those around me.

To misquote Robert Bolt "it profits a man nothing to give his soul for the whole world....but for [junior tenancy in commercial chambers]?"

No, in a radical departure from the customary and recommended practice, I am going to seek to maintain some degree of personal integrity in my quest for tenancy and just hope that they don't find me too objectionable.

Wish me luck - I suspect that I am going to need it!

Thursday, 11 October 2007


Since commencing my pupillage I have been much preoccupied with the issue of the dignity to be accorded to the pupil.

I got off on a bad footing on the dignity front thanks to some duff advice from an older and supposedly wiser friend (see earlier post). Since said friend is now in the invidious position of doing a third six, having failed to get taken on at the end of his 12 months, I should perhaps have viewed his advice on how to get a tenancy with a certain degree of circumspection, but we'll have to chalk that one up to experience.

I have learnt my lesson that I shouldn't be a pompous a**e, but I still haven't got to the bottom of whether it is necessary for a pupil to surrender his dignity entirely and to adopt the "ever so 'umble" persona of a Uriah Heep. Call me the eternal optimist but I am still clutching to the hope that grovelling subservience is not a necessary part of the role.

In order to preserve a scrap of dignity whilst undertaking the all-important but menial duties that are the condicio sine qua non of pupildom, I have resorted to a certain amount of elaborate subterfuge. I ensure that I get into chambers for 9:00 each day so that I am always in when PM arrives at 9:15-9:30. I make sure to have a nearly empty mug of coffee on my desk so that once PM has hung up his coat and started powering up his computer I can head for the door, mug in hand, before offering almost as an afterthought to make His Grace a cup of coffee too. This way I manage to avoid acknowledging that the brewing of hot beverages is central to my role, whilst not derelicting my duties in that regard. It is a saving of "face" that I think would have been appreciated in imperial China, but I suspect that the subtleties of this morning dance are lost on PM. He has certainly never commended me on the neatness of my solution and I don't expect that he ever will.

I would not describe PM as loquacious.

He is engrossed in the final stages of preparation for trial on a large professional negligence matter. I won't go into the facts for fear of breaching all manner of duties of confidentiality, but suffice to say that the claimant is a hedge fund investor in a CDO and the defendants are the lawyers, accountants and investment bankers involved in its structuring and documentation.

The claimant's pleaded case is that the scribblers, bean counters and City boys sold them a pup or, in the alternative, done them up like a kipper. Apologies if my legal analysis is a little too technical for lay readers.

Wish I could say more as, if the FT coverage of the credit crunch fallout is to be believed, there should be plenty more disputes of this nature and the case does seem to throw up some interesting issues.

Anyway, PM is so dug into the papers on this that since his rather harsh words on my first day I have barely heard a squeak from him. Counted the words spoken today, and reached only six:

"Yes, thank you" in response to coffee offer on arrival; and

"Yes, thank you" in response to coffee offer at 4pm.

That's it.

My other rather rudimentary conversational gambits ("Good morning, PM"; "I'm just popping out for some lunch - back in 20 minutes") were met with silence. Now I am not one of the world's chatterers, and can enjoy companionable silence for hours on end, but I am finding the monastic hush of PM's room somewhat intimidating and it makes me want to blather, which is probably what I am doing now, so I shall leave you all and endeavour to make more sense tomorrow.


Wednesday, 10 October 2007

The Boy In The Bubble - Mea Culpa

Week 2, Day 3

Now it may be a classic case of "Stockholm Syndrome" but after having had a bit of time to ponder the past few days I have begun to see something in what PM has said (and many thanks to Simon Myerson who has provided some sage words of his own).

I think that what PM saw in me was someone fresh from Oxbridge and Bar School who has lived his life to date in something of a bubble - and someone who, for his own good, needed that bubble to be pricked. In summary I suspect that he saw someone who:

(1) thinks that he is clever;

(2) thinks that this cleverness entitles him to be treated with a certain amount of respect; and

(3) thinks that this cleverness, and the respect to which he believes that he is entitled, give him the right to accord others with fewer qualifications and a "below stairs/back office" role with less respect than he expects to be accorded himself.

Now on (1) he (since I don't come out of this analysis too well I feel more comfortable speaking of a hypothetical pupil in the third person if it is all the same to you!) might well have been correct. He has passed plenty of exams in his time, and passed them with higher marks than most of his fellow examinees. He has survived roastings in one-on-one tutorials with searingly intelligent dons.

Moreover, he is confident that if there is something that he doesn't know, with a bit of hard work he will come to understand it (in my case, I have to add the caveat "as long as it doesn't involve numbers" as the field of mathematics is represented by a "Here be Dragons" entry on my mental cartograph).

This is where PM's point is well made - this pupil knows nothing of the law other than what he has managed to pick up in one year of the CPE, and the playschool that was the ICSL course. He has precisely zero experience of the practice of law, and so in a very real sense he does indeed have very little to add to the wisdom and experience which PM has collected in the course of in excess of a decade of practice. We must all start somewhere, however, and perhaps the manner in which PM appraised me of this fact was a little on the brusque side.

Which brings us to point (2) - having a degree from a respected seat of learning (even a very good degree) doesn't entitle one to anything - a pupil needs to understand that his CV got him the ticket to the dinner party, but he/she needs to sing for his/her supper. We all start with a clean slate and need to prove ourselves. I hope that by pointing out the lack of value which a pupil with an Oxbridge degree represents to him he was simply trying to shake me up and realise that with an attitude like that I am going to impress no-one. I need to soak up every bit of knowledge I can from PM, and learn every trick that he vouchsafes. I will earn respect by showing that I have made the most of the opportunity given to me. In other words, by seeming to behave like a complete sh*t, perhaps he was in fact seeking to give me a fighting chance to right this vessel before it is well and truly sunk.

(3) is the real clincher, I think, which explains the brutality of the message's delivery: I am guessing that Tony might have conveyed his displeasure to PM. I suspect that pupils who are a bit on the grand side are a familiar sight, and that lack of respect shown to those who don't get to wear a wig, but who have decades of experience of working in chambers, and - let's face it - have a very tangible worth to the likes of PM, on whose behalf fee negotiations are conducted, is one of the "cardinal sins" of the pupil.

I just hope that Tony is a forgiving soul (everyone now informs me that the Head Clerk can veto a tenancy in most sets, as they have often been in practice for longer than most of the silks). I hope that my being a laughing stock in the clerks' room will be enough (due to my trouser flapping performance on my first day, my nickname among the boys from the clerks' room inevitably begins with a "w", at least for the time being) to make them feel that I have suffered enough.

PS - Simon - you made a good point. The friend who offered me the advice on not behaving in too bourgeois a fashion with the clerks is indeed third sixing at present........

Saturday, 6 October 2007

Runners and riders - I'm playing catch-up

No, I am not working on a Saturday, it is just that I only started doing this yesterday and in the blog I didn't even get as far as the room which will be my home for the next six months before I gave up in despair, so I thought that I would try again today.

Anyway, just to update you on the first couple of weeks of my pupillage, I feel that I am playing catch-up with everything, not only my blog.

I am one of four pupils in a commercial set in London. These are the (slightly doctored) stats on the "runners and riders":

  • 3 males, 1 female;
  • All 4 Oxbridge;
  • 2 law degrees;
  • 2 CPE (1 English; 1 Greats);
  • 3 firsts, 1 upper second; and
  • 1 with achingly dull but relevant previous career.
Haven't managed to find out about the Inn scholarships yet, but will ask around on the pupil grapevine.

Although I have tweaked a couple of the details to make identification more difficult, I am starting to realise that the profiles above are probably pretty representative of the pupils in any decent London commercial set.

So, the way I see it I am starting the race from a little way behind. Am beginning to realise that the first from Oxford was no more than the ticket to the party, and doesn't mark me out in the least (the 2:1 has managed to launder it with a BCL).

Pep talk from pupilmaster that first Monday, ran something like this:

"Paranoid Pupil, welcome to chambers. You have drawn the short straw"

Dramatic pause

"I will be your pupil master for the next six months, unless you do anything to displease me."

Another dramatic pause

"The term "pupil" is misleading. If I were in the business of education I would be charging you for my teaching services. You will notice that under the terms of your pupillage offer chambers is paying you a princely sum...."

In fact, given the cost of living in London and having to buy presentable clothes, wig, gown etc., it falls some significant way short of a living wage

" unless you are willing to forgo that stipend and to negotiate a commercial fee with Tony for my services as a teacher, I expect you to serve a purpose."

"You do not hold a degree in law, although you managed to score highly in an end of term law quiz in the year after you went down...."

I gather from this that PM is not a fan of the CPE

"....and the following year you managed to pass a series of role playing games set and marked by failed barristers."

Ditto Bar School

"In summary you know very little about the law academically and nothing of the practice of law."

"You probably know more than I do about Milton...."

He gives me a look which suggests that he will enjoy testing, and refuting, this hypothesis over the coming months

"....but there is one way in which I am confident that you will prove your worth."

He holds out his hand, in which is a large mug emblazoned with a positively biological image of a naked woman

"I like my coffee black as, I see, do you."

He lowers his eyes to the large damp area around my crotch, from which emanates the aroma of chambers' blend. I fight the urge to follow his eyes and look him in the eye - well, between his mouth and the nose, actually

"The kitchen's down the corridor to the right, third door along."

By the end of week 1 I was beginning to conclude that PM was a complete b*****d. He is a very clever man who knows that he is cleverer than most of those around him, and enjoys asserting and demonstrating that undeniable fact. He enjoys having fun at my expense, and has undermined my initial confidence immeasurably. I feel now that I know nothing, am clumsy, foolish, useless for anything but making coffee, and that I have more chance of winning the lottery than winning the respect of PM or a tenancy in chambers.

Incidentally, the third door on the right turned out to be the room of the Head of Chambers, who was somewhat, but not terribly, surprised to see me stumble into his office.

"Welcome to chambers, PP."

He smiles as I try to shield the gynaecological mug from him

"I expect that you will be looking for the kitchen - three doors to the left of PM, as he knows very well. You'll get used to his little jokes."

Friday, 5 October 2007

First Day

Week 1 Day 1

First Class Degree from Oxford - check
Distinction in the CPE - check
"Very Competent" in Bar Finals - check
Senior Scholarship from the Inn - check

Walking into chambers on the first day of my pupillage I feel confident and just a little smug. I announce myself to the (rather attractive) receptionist who disappears to find my pupil master. I sit in reception surrounded by law reports bound in faded leather, revelling in the rather ivory tower atmosphere. Tony, the Head Clerk, brings me a black coffee. I half rise to take it from him and then remember what I was told by a friend from Bar School about not appearing too middle class and apologetic - I am a barrister now, and the clerks work for me. Even Tony, who is older than my father. With some awkwardness I take my seat again and receive the cup of coffee straight into my lap. As the warmness envelops my loins I wonder momentarily whether it is just the coffee or whether I have also managed to empty my bladder. I turn to ask Tony whether he wouldn't mind fetching me a napkin, but he has already made for the Clerks' Room. As his back recedes along the corridor I can't help noticing something of a spring in his step and distinctly hear a jaunty hum coming from his direction. It occurs to me that my hauteur might have been noticed by Tony, and realise that I may have made the first miscalculation of my life as a pupil.

I wait for Tony to return with a cloth, but he is nowhere to be seen. I stand with my knees pushed out in front of me and try to brush the excess coffee off my trousers. I think for a moment that it could be worse - at least the floor is of stone flags rather than carpet.

Time passes.

I might have been anxious or irritated by the wait but let's face it - I look as if I have pissed myself and so am not overly anxious to meet my pupil master or indeed anyone else, and appreciate the opportunity to air-dry my trousers.

I pace around reception holding the front of my trousers out in front of me, wagging the loose cloth back and forth, encouraging the air to circulate. This is when a boy who looks no more than 14 in a lilac suit several sizes too big for him trundles into chambers with his trolley laden with bundles bound in pink ribbon. He says nothing to me rushes towards the Clerks' Room, dropping files as he goes, and bursts into uncontrolled laughter. I look down and realise that the back and forth motion I am making with my right hand, while clutching the cloth at the crotch of my trousers could have something to do with his demeanour.

Just as I am examining the glass trophy on the receptionist's desk a tall bird-like man with floppy hair and horn-rimmed spectacles stalks into the room, says "Hullo" (which I thought was only ever said in PG Woodhouse) and holds out his hand. I am confused - I have heard that barristers don't shake hands, and wonder if this is some kind of "first day" test. I fumble with the trophy, and it slips from my hand. The desk breaks its fall, but doesn't save it, as the second fall from desk to floor sees it shatter into several large pieces and dozens of splinters.

I stare at the shards of glass on the floor and begin to feel the heat in my face. I have to force myself to look up - "I am PP, your new pupil. I am most awfully sorry." I wipe my coffee-wet hand on the back of my trousers and hold it out to shake. P-M looks at it with what seems like revulsion and tells me "barristers don't shake hands", as he turns on his heels and heads down the corridor. I guess that I am supposed to follow him.