Monday, 15 June 2009

How is the recession affecting barristers and pupillage chances?

Read an article in today's Times that says that 10,000 solicitors have lost their jobs because of the current recession. On top of this, many law firms are deferring their trainees for a year.

What I would be interested to know is: how has the recession affected practising members of the Bar and is it somehow affecting pupillage chances too for wannabe barristers?

I would be grateful for anyone's thoughts but also if anyone could direct me to some articles in the press that have discussed this question, that would be great too.

Saturday, 18 April 2009

Oral v. Written Communication

I was thinking recently about just how good my communication skills are. To begin with I was just wondering how I came across to other people. A friend told me recently that she always found that I always spoke with a lot of weight. When I asked her to go into more detail, she said that if we were talking in a group and I started saying something others would have to stop talking and listen. When I said that was probably for the simple reason that we don't talk over each other, she said no - it was more than that. I think I finally got to the bottom of what she was trying to say when she concluded that I had a voice that people enjoyed listening to. I was very surprised to hear such remarks. It made me start listening to my own voice critically. When I spoke to her on another day she said I sounded different. I said that couldn't possibly be the case: since the last time we had spoken my voice hadn't changed one bit. I couldn't convince her - she said I was trying too hard now! Maybe I was, maybe I wasn't.

Anyway, now I've been thinking about the importance of oral communication skills to a barrister. The one point of comparison that I do have is with my written communication. I have always felt that my written communication - especially when arguing points in essays etc - is stronger than my oral communication. I don't believe its the case that I have the opportunity to revise my written remarks for submitting a final version. In fact I hardly ever do that. I just feel that when I put pen to paper, ideas flow more freely and in a more organised fashion. It could be that because writing takes more time, I have a little bit more time to think. I'm convinced that is not the case though.

What I want to know is if this is the case for any other wannabe barristers or practising barristers out there? Are your written communication skills better than your oral communication skills? And would you say that you are at a disadvantage to practitioners who are the opposite?

As a side issue: I asked a friend of mine who recently secured tenancy at her chambers what surprised her about a barrister's life during pupillage. Her response was that she had underestimated the importance of skeleton submissions to judges. So maybe it isn't all bad if my strengths are in my writing rather than my speech.

I know anyone reading this doesn't know how I sound but I'm interested in your opinions generally on these two forms of communication.

Thanks for your help.

Saturday, 7 March 2009

Encounter with the Court Usher at the County Court

I arrived at the County Court at my usual hurried and unsatisfactory state. My tie was reaching down to my knees and this was supposed to be my lucky one. I felt like I hadn’t eaten for 48 hours.

As is usually the case, the Court Usher was not to be found behind his desk, so I rang the bell. Probably racing through the corridors of the building moving parties from room to room, I thought. I always like how they wear security outfits: it really shows that they mean business.

When he appeared, it was from the same entrance that I had just come through. I introduced myself and said that I was here to work.
“You’re late”
“Oh, I’m sorry, the traffic was…”
“You walked here”. I did but how did he know that my facial expression inquired.
“You’re out of breath and I saw which direction you came in because I was outside the building”
“Oh…” I said flustered.
“You can’t lie to me, boy; I know everything there is to know about everything. Now what do you need me for?”
“Could you tell me where I need to be please. It’s my first day and…”
“Second floor. Take the stairs not the lift. Ask for Mrs Needle at the desk.”
“Thank you”

I was at the County Court for one reason only: to meet barristers. Specifically barristers from a nearby set of chambers where I would really like to complete my pupillage at. It’s a Chambers where I did a mini-pupillage at last summer when my decision to pursue a career as a barrister was made. The next step of course is to do the Bar Vocational Course but as my decision came so late in the year I was forced to take an impromptu year out.

In the meantime I have been working at a local supermarket for the money. During this time, I have found myself questioning my desire to become a barrister. With academic study of the law completed, I have found myself outside of the law so to speak. Although, I have often found myself recalling my knowledge of Contract law when remembering whether an offer to buy is made when customers pick up items from the shelves or when they present them at the counter. I started thinking about something else that I could do that could help my career option. The thought occurred to me that maybe I could see if there were any jobs available at the local courts. There was and that is how I found myself at the County Court on Monday morning.

At the desk on the second floor I rang yet another bell and found myself waiting for Mrs Needle. The time was 9.13a.m. Big smile, I thought – still plenty of opportunity to make a good impression. Mrs Needle has to be one of the thinnest women I have come across when she came and introduced herself. She cannot have weighed more than a flower and I prayed that I would not sneeze in front of her for fear that I would blow her across the room. I cannot say for sure what Mrs Needle’s job is: she didn’t tell me and I didn’t ask. We went to her desk which is just outside the office of the Court Manager’s – maybe she is her secretary? But then we were given a thorough rendition of the safety rules around the office, where the fire exits are, what to do with any suspicious packages I saw lying around (I’m still not sure but I’d feel stupid asking) and a whole host of other tips and rules. My favourite was the take-home booklet I received on how to prevent data from being lost – better not forget that document on the bus, I thought.

When we got down to business, I was told that I had been assigned to the family section for the time being. I was introduced to the three members of the section: Kenneth, Diane and Leanne. Kenneth was the section’s fountain of all knowledge and, rather appropriately, I thought was a towering middle-aged man. Diane had been the section’s longest serving member having worked there for nearly forty years. Her story was in her pronounced facial expressions and in the way she moved around the office. Leanne was the youngest member of the team; her defining features were her mouth and hands. Unfortunately for the Ministry of Justice, rather than putting these features to use whilst on the phone and handling files, Leanne preferred to feed herself continuously. These weren’t all the members of the section. There were the same number of empty desks and I was assigned to one of them. My task for the day would be to deal with a backlog of divorce petitions that had to be put into the system.

This proved to be quite an informative exercise actually. My decision never to have chosen to study Family law seemed to be the right one for me because I find the whole area to be just one big soap opera. Divorces, custody disputes, non-molestation orders: its your average episode of Eastenders and I can’t stand it. I did get an enormous amount of pleasure, however, in reading the statements backing up the ground upon which divorce was being petitioned for. Especially the ones for behaviour and adultery – they really stood out from the more the more basic reason that the married couple had lived apart from each other for an extended period of time. My favourite was this 35 year old woman who was petitioning for divorce because she repetitively caught her husband on premium rate sex phone lines. Her statement detailed each and every way that she discovered her husband’s fetishes and the sort of compromises they came to try to make their marriage work. By the end of the statement, the wife had discovered that her husband had moved onto visiting local prostitutes. Ouch.

Before my day was over I had to pass Edward, the Court Usher, in order to leave the building. I had hoped that I would be able to pass without drawing attention to myself but the confines of the reception area and Edward’s watchfulness prevented me from doing so.
“End of the day for you, is it?” Edward asked.
“Yeah and I’m glad for it because I’m knackered” I replied, “How about yourself? When do you finish?”
“Oh, I’m always the last to leave the building.”
“Really, I thought they would have let you go earlier.”
“Who would let me go?” he demanded.
“Well….your boss…whoever is in charge of you”
Edward let out a laugh with his head tilted back and then became serious all at once. “Nobody is in charge of me, boy. I am the highest authority in this building” he said gravely.
“Really?” I remarked rhetorically.
“You bet. I am in control of everyone who comes into this building. Everyone from the judges to the employees at the bottom of the ladder”
“Well, that clears that up then. Goodnight.” With that still in the air, I turned my back and left the building after my first day as an employee at the County Court. Not yet a practising barrister and not even a flea on the Court Usher’s black jumper, I had been told.

Thursday, 12 February 2009

Just Bonuses!

I was discussing the topical issue of Bankers and their bonuses with a solicitor today who wanted to know my opinion based on my knowledge of contract law.

I caught most of the recent parliamentary committee meeting with the Bankers (the one where they all apologised) and I watched the Prime Minister before a different parliamentary committee this morning. I thought all of these hearings were pretty tedious and I can't see how much good could come out of it. I think the government could have done a better job of preparing for the current public disquiet over bonuses when it decided to bail them out.

One of the bankers before the committee informed the MPs that, having sought legal advice, they had been told that they were obliged to pay bonuses if they were stipulated in an employee's contract. With this in mind, I found one particular question by an MP quite surprising. This MP asked a banker whether he could appreciate the view of the wider public that these bankers should not be paid the bonuses they were promised in their employment contract and that surely they shouldn't be paying them out. I thought it was strange how this MP was being so callous in his analysis of an employee's right to be paid their due.

My conclusion is: the bankers aren't to be blamed in this respect. I think there is an inherent problem in the word 'Bonus'. By itself, it suggests that its something surplus to standard requirements; and, in a banking context, the wider public see it as something of an excessive windfall. Now, I acknowledge that, applied to certain bankers, this definition rings true. But it absolutely doesn't for certain bankers in the low-mid level of the profession.

If this issue was to be litigated before the courts, it seems to me that the word 'bonus' itself should be considered closely. For some employees, a bonus isn't a bonus in the real sense of the word but rather no more than their standard salary. The court's assessment should take into account the employee contract itself and what the employee has come to expect in practice in light of the work he does. If its clear that a windfall is being made where not a lot of work is being done, then they should not be rewarded.

Finally, the government is partially to blame for their failure to consider the Bonus issue at the time they bailed out the banks.

Thursday, 15 January 2009

The best form of defence is attack!

Apologies for the absence of recent posts on this blog.

I mentioned a while back that I got a job as an assistant at a local supermarket. The pay is good and the hours aren't too bad. Also I need to start saving now to pay off those expensive BVC fees I will be dealing with soon.

The job is quite enjoyable really. Most of the people I work with and serve are really intersted in my prospects of a legal career. You won't believe the number of people that have told me that they will be my first customer as soon as I start practising. Whilst this is a very nice thing to hear it always makes me think of the many mountains that I still need to climb to get where I want.

Others want their legal advice sorted out immediately. I recently spent an hour and a half talking to this one guy who wants to sue this 'large company' because he wasn't satisfied with the service he got. By the way, I'm not being intentionally simplistic in this description because of client confidentiality! This is literally all that he gave me to go on and he wanted an answer. I have absolutely no idea of what sort of services this company offers or what his complaint is. An hour and a half, can you believe that?!

More interesting, though, are the people who stop me to talk about topical legal issues. I've spoken to loads of people about the recent De Menezes court case. This required me to have more knowledge about court procedure, jury cases and coroner's direction than I knew. Initially I was satisfied just to guess and use a confident tone; however, I decided that that wasn't the best way to go about things, so I've been trying to get more informed and keep ahead. The best form of defence is attack.

Monday, 22 December 2008

There's No One as Irish as Barack Obama!

This is a very catchy song that I can't get out of my head. Watch it and sing along. Its great!

No one as Irish as Barack OBama O'Leary, O'Reilly, O'Hare and O'Hara There's no one as Irish as Barack O'Bama

You don't believe me, I hear you say But Barack's as Irish, as was JFK His granddaddy's daddy came from Moneygall A small Irish village, well known to you all

Toor a loo, toor a loo, toor a loo, toor a lama There's no one as Irish As Barack O'Bama

He's as Irish as bacon and cabbage and stew He's Hawaiian he's Kenyan American too He’s in the white house, He took his chance Now let’s see Barack do Riverdance

Toor a loo, toor a loo, toor a loo, toor a lama There's no one as Irish As Barack O'Bama

From Kerry and cork to old Donegal Let’s hear it for Barack from old moneygall From the lakes if Killarney to old Connemara There’s no one as Irish as Barack O’Bama

O'Leary, O'Reilly, O'Hare and O'Hara There's no one as Irish as Barack O'Bama From the old blarney stone to the great hill of Tara There's no one as Irish as Barack O'Bama

2008 the white house is green, their cheering in Mayo and in Skibereen. The Irish in Kenya, and in Yokahama, Are cheering for President Barack O’Bama

O'Leary, O'Reilly, O'Hare and O'Hara There's no one as Irish as Barack O'Bama

The Hockey Moms gone, and so is McCain They are cheering in Texas and in Borrisokane,

In Moneygall town, the greatest of drama, for our Famous president Barack o Bama

Toor a loo, toor a loo, toor a loo, toor a lama There's no one as Irish As Barack O'Bama

The great Stephen Neill, a great man of God, He proved that Barack was from the Auld Sod They came by bus and they came by car, to celebrate Barack in Ollie Hayes’s Bar

O'Leary, O'Reilly, O'Hare and O'Hara There's no one as Irish as Barack O'Bama

Sunday, 14 December 2008

Who is your favourite fiction writer?

I will be logging onto Amazon sometime soon and purchasing a fair few books. Some will be Christmas presents but mostly they will be for me. When it comes to Christmas presents and deciding what to get to someone, I always find it easiest to decide which book to buy for them (if that is the type of present I have chosen for them). I think this is because of two reasons. Firstly, because I love wandering about bookshops and perusing literary review articles and thinking whether I would enjoy a particular book. Secondly, because there is just so much to choose from and so you are bound to find something. The thing about books is, there may seem to be an awful lot of them but you can always find a good bookshop that sells all the books you could want to buy for someone under one roof.

Anyway, I thought it would be interesting to ask some blawgers what their favourite novels are and who their favourite literary writers are. Its just a point of interest for me really. I want to see whether I am surprised by anybody's choice. They don't necessarily have to be law-related i.e. the likes of Bleak House or To Kill a Mockingbird but if you want to state your favourite in that category, do so.

Finally I thought I would mention one novel that I will be re-reading over the Christmas period: Netherland by Joseph O'Neill. I read it shortly after it was long-listed for this year's Man Booker Prize. The reason that I will be re-reading it so soon is because its turned out to be on everybody's Christmas favourite list. I do remember feeling that the novel made me think a lot after I finished it but I can't, for the life of me, remember why. Joseph O'Neill by-the-bye was formerly a barrister practising in Ireland. The novel is about cricket a subject dear to about 95% of the barristers that I have come across; but, interestingly, the plot takes place in New York. So why do you suppose a novel about cricket in New York has turned out be so popular - read it and find out for yourself is my advice.

EDIT By the way, I can't explain why the front cover of Netherland has a picture of an ice-skater on it. I remember thinking that I didn't come across any ice-skating happening in the novel. The only explanation that I have is: if the front-cover had a batsman on it, it wouldn't be flying off the American bookshelves as it has been.