Tuesday, 26 August 2008


...for not posting on this blog for a while. I have been kept busy with my vacation placement at a commercial law firm which finishes at the end of this week. Readers of my blawg will be aware that this was my summer of reckoning - when I would finally decide whether to do the BVC or not. I do believe that I found my mini-pupillage infinitely better than the vacation scheme I am currently doing. My experience of the latter has not been that different to Android's experience at her new job.

I still haven't finished blawging about the final two days of the mini-pupillage I did earlier this Summer. I shall get round to that soon. In addition I will probably blawg about my experiences of working at an international commercial law firm; so you have all that to look forward to.

In terms of what I will be going next i.e. in September. I still don't know. I am still in touch with different BVC providers to see if they have any places that they can offer through clearing ('clearing', incidentally, is what it is actually called - its not something I just made up and just assumed to have always been there; I mention this because more prepared folk are unlikely to have heard of such a thing being available). Anyway, I am keeping my fingers crossed that something will come up.

What else? Well I have continued to maintain my interest in the American Presidential elections and in particular, the Democratic National Convention happening now in Denver. I absolutely love these Conventions - I think they are absolutely fantastic; really great to watch and Democracy in action. I enjoy the hair-raising speeches, the nomination process involving all the different States of the USA which are brought together. I have watched all of the first night speeches and thought it was great. Especially Michelle Obama; but also Ted Kennedy.

I must add that I am a little uncertain about Obama's choice of running-mate: Joe Biden. Admittedly, I am still learning a lot about him. My main problem is that I don't see how he can usefully help Obama win the Presidency in November. Recent polls back me up on this claim.

I have not been surprised at all that the race is becoming increasingly closer with Obama and McCain virtually neck-and-neck. McCain has benefited a lot through his negative T.V. adds against Obama. I think this just shows that he is running out of ideas. I think the closer we get to November, the less he is going to have to be negative about that he hasn't used already. Also, I am expecting that Obama's numbers are going to go through the roof when the Denver Convention is concluded and he emerges officially as the party's nominee. I don't believe that McCain will get a similar boost following his party's convention. And, if he picks Romney as his running-mate, I think he will have handed the race to Obama & Biden there and then. On the other hand, if he picks a very different kind of running-mate - the female kind - I think we could see something very different happening. I think that there are a lot of female voters that will turn to the Republicans and away from Obama and the Democrats. This will undoubtedly be costly to the Democrats in November. There are two groups of people without which any Democrat in the U.S. would not get elected to office without: Women voters and African-American voters.

I should add that I entirely understand why Obama didn't opt for a female running-mate. If he wins, his administration will already be ground-breaking: the first Black President. You can't staff a new administration or the Democratic ticket like an arc.

Friday, 8 August 2008

Mini-pupillage - Day Three

Spent all of the day three in a county court observing a family law case. I was shadowing a different barrister today called Peter. Peter had been with Chambers for about 10 years now. As with most of Chambers' members, he had established broad practice areas, including: criminal, family, civil and a few other more specialist areas. Peter is quite possibly the most-liked member around Chambers and amongst other barristers. I found him to be a really interesting guy that was good around other people - especially Chambers' most recent members.

Peter was representing a mother in her early thirties who was seeking a non-molestation order against a physically and verbally abusive partner. Prior to the arrival of both the applicant and the respondent at court, Peter took time to explain to me what the case was about and he showed me the bundle that he had been given about the case. On the face of it, it was an open-and-shut case - the non-molestation order could easily be granted because there was plenty of reasons for it being in place.

Peter then met with the applicant in one of the court's conference rooms. Also present were the applicant's instructing solicitors. The main issue that was being discussed was the actual details that would be contained in the non-molestation order. This was quite difficult. The applicant did not want, if possible, the respondent to be any where near the family home. However, she was also keen for her partner to be able to work, earn money and contribute to the mortgage they were paying off. In order to do this, her partner had to be able to work in the garage which was on the same land as the family home. This didn't seem to be much of a problem at first. OK: the respondent needed access to the house to use the toilet; but apart from that, there was no reason that he should have to interact with the applicant in any way. Things didn't turn out that way though. The applicant turned out to be a fairly compassionate person and had quite strong feelings towards her partner which she recognised that she shouldn't really have, having suffered physical abuse from him. Peter had the difficult task of trying to anticipate any problems that may arise and dealing with those; but also thinking about the applicant herself and explaining to her what her position would be if she was to her partner into the house willingly and then suffer harm from him.

When we first went before the judge he was mostly concerned with the children's safety and well-being. In one previous incident, the youngest child had sustained a bruise to his eye from the fighting between his parents. So the judge wanted a CAFFCASS representative to look over the case and advise him of the child's safety before he gave the green light to the non-molestation order drafted by Peter.

After a series of meetings with a CAFFCASS officer and long time waiting for him to interview the respective parties, we went back into court again with a slightly different non-molestation order which included changes recommended by CAFFCASS (but which was fundamentally the same in practice). He liked it and that was that.

By the time this all finished it was 16:00. Peter took me for some food and drinks and we had a very enjoyable conversation about some of his up-coming cases and major on-going cases in the news: Darwin the canoeist, Max Mosley and Robert Murat. He asked for my thoughts and shared his own. A very enjoyable end to day three.

Monday, 4 August 2008

Graduation is a beginning, not an end

I read a very interesting article in the Times today by Libby Purves: "The simple way to stop being uneducated".

Purves discusses various ways in which not having a University education isn't really an impediment to learning at all. The article is written after an interview that Keira Knightley gave to a magazine. Knightley states that she is "completely uneducated" because she did not go to university. Absent the point that nobody would notice whether Knightley attended university or not, Purves argues that she has been able to get a more meaningful education and through a better route.

Libby Purves writes: "The poor girl is currently wading through a biography of Albert Speer, a history of the Vietnam War, Mary Wollstonecraft, and Germaine Greer's hoard old Female Eunuch". With dyslexia, too. What a heroine. Meanwhile, innumerable men and women who have university degrees - and therefore no chips but a sense of 2:1 superiority - will be on the beach happily sinking themselves in moronic chick-lit and Jeremy Clarkson."

All very true, I thought. I go get the feeling that many students treat their university education as an end rather than as a beginning. But a university education should have a much greater role than just being another line on a curriculum vitae. The skills and interest levels in learning that students have acquired over 20+ years of education can surely be put to much better use. Moreover, if this doesn't happen soon after leaving university, surely the mind goes stale and you eventually lose all worth of your education.

It is difficult, I acknowledge, to find time to do whatever it is that you find interesting. There's always increasing pressure to find work and pay off debts whilst simultaneously acquiring lots of new responsibilities.

I have to say, though, that these things whilst being troublesome for me too, haven't thus far prevented me from doing the things I wanted to do. Primarily, this means that all those books that I kept thinking I would definitely read at some point in the future, I have now actually come back to. I shall omit reciting all the reading I have done this Summer (may be at some point on this blog I shall talk about the odd book that really caught my attention) but suffice to say: its been very pleasurable and I do believe that I am spending more time in books each day than I did during my time at university. At first, I found this quite disconcerting; but now, helped somewhat by this article, I feel pretty good!

Saturday, 2 August 2008

Mini-pupillage - Day Two

Visited a Crown Court today with a different barrister from Chambers: Nick. I was told to meet Nick at the Crown Court. Its been nearly five years since I last stepped foot in a Crown Court. On arrival, I was asked by the security staff whether I was a witness or something (can't remember what exactly; surely they didn't say 'defendant', did they?). "No", I replied emptying out my pockets before passing through a metal detector, "I'm shadowing a barrister who is expecting me here".

I ended up waiting for about twenty five minutes in the entrance area. A security guard had made it known to Nick that I had arrived after about five minutes. This was all getting very tiresome. There I was seated in the main entrance watching people come and go. Whilst checking out the court announcer each time she passed me by, I began playing guess-what-the-person-who-just-walked-through-the-metal-detectors-is-here-for. I found that with the younger unknown people who walked passed me, it was quite telling to see what their reaction was to me sitting there. If they smiled and wanted to high-five me, they were obviously a defendant. If there was a group of such people, the one that acted in either of the aforementioned ways was the defendant and the others were his family or friends. The people that ignored me, I believe I am correct in saying were witnesses. The people that came in groups in dazzling white shirts and flashing silver badges were constables. If they were over-forties and chatted politely with the security guards, they were witnesses. Then there was a sixteen year old in a suit wearing geeky glasses and carrying a notebook - the work experience student, of course!

Nick then suddenly turned up.

"Are you Lacklustre Lawyer?" Yes.
"Hi, I'm Nick."
"Nice to meet you." (shake hands)
"You too. Allow me to explain why I haven't been able to see you until now. I had this case thrust into my hands just this morning and I got called into court in short notice without having any opportunity to grab you".
"No problem", I replied, "I figured something like that must have happened".

Then we continued up the stairs to the advocate's suite.

"So what was the case about that you got given this morning?"
"....". I'm afraid I don't actually recall what he said at this point. I do remember it being quite interesting though.

So in the advocate's suite we talked about the cases that he would be in court for soon. They were mostly probation breaches in which he was prosecuting and only one in which he was for the defence. We had well over an hour before he was going to be back in court for these. During this time we talked to some of the other advocates there on topics including: the facts of the cases before them, changes to the criminal justice system, the usefulness of some defences in criminal law. I read some interesting case files of defendants my age doing things which are unpleasant: getting into fights, dealing drugs with the wrong people, committing criminal damage and so on. All very riveting to read, I might add.

Then we went into court. All the people that I had first encountered in the entrance to the court were there and were exactly who I thought they were. At this point I wondered whether any of them had been thinking what I was doing in the Court and, dare I say, they thought I was there as one of them. This me made smile uncontrollably.

That all took us to lunch time. I headed back to Chambers with Nick. At this point we began talking about pupillage, my career and the BVC. We stopped at a place where he bought me lunch - which was delicious. We talked some more about our extra-curricular interests and life at Chambers and as a barrister.

Then we headed back to Chambers. Nick had some interesting case-files for me to read. One was for a negligence claim and was conditional fee arrangement in which Nick had written guidance on the claimant's chances of success on two separate occasions. I should explain: the negligent act was the not keeping of a dog on his leash, the victim was an electrician doing work at the dog owner's house. The two guidance notes were written in between one favourable and one unfavourable medical report in which the medical practitioner had talked about causation - the dog's bite being the cause of the claimant's dizziness and prolonged headaches. Nick had asked me whether he should take the case or not. In other words: this is a CFA case - what chances have I got of winning before a judge and actually earning something. My initial answer was pedestrian somewhat. Nick said: "You're not answering a legal problem question in a university course" or words to that effect. I tightened up; tried to sound more interesting and complete; and succeeded, I think!

Aside from meeting some of Chambers' other members and doing some research in its library that was it for Day Two.