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"