So, after a year of (fairly)(ish) hard work, I've finished the BPTC. Unless I've failed one of my exams (always a chance given the rumours going round about an 80% failure rate in the civil litigation paper), that's the end of my formal legal education.
I know I'll be learning new things every day once I start pupillage (yes, I know, if); but it's nice to know that my next step will be to swap the classroom for the courtroom.
In fourteen hours and two minutes I will have finished my BPTC.
At 11.50 tomorrow morning I will stride into room 4.x at BPP, skeleton argument, relevant authorities and pen in hand and I'll make a 12 minute submission about an abuse of process. And then I'll turn my back on formal education.
That's not strictly true, of course. There's always the possibility that I've buggered up one of the exams from earlier in the year, or that I might even (God forbid) decide to do a Master's of some sort when I am feeling particularly confused. So let me rephrase: this is the end of foreseeable, formal education.
I know so many people who have said they think the BPTC is a waste of time - and some of it is* - but on the whole I've found it an incredibly useful year, if only because it's actually made me concentrate on the law for the first time since my degree. I can honestly say that I feel more prepared for life at the Bar because of the BPTC, and not in spite of it.
Yes, I know that things will be really quite different when (if) I manage to con some poor Set into offering me pupillage, and I'm sure I'll be one of those people who looks back at the course and scoffs: "Dear me, what a waste of time that was, I had to relearn everything in my first six"; but I hope this post will remain as testament to the fact that now, 13 hours and 54 minutes until the course is over, I really enjoyed it.
I would, however, say that it seems to have very few transferable skills - if I don't get pupillage the course will, quite literally, have been a waste of sixteen grand; but we'll worry about that at some point in the future (and, hopefully, never).
*I won't say which parts are nonsense as I'm reliably informed that one of my teachers reads this blog now
On Monday evening I was at my 11th qualifying session at Inner Temple. My 12th, and last, session will be my Call Night - the night I formally become 'a barrister' (but one who is not allowed to practise as such).
During the obligatory drinks reception before dinner, I got chatting to a fellow student:
"Hi Mini, have you seen that new blog? The one called Mini Pupil?"
"Er, yeah, I think so."
"It's really cool, and one of my friends writes it!"
"Oh REALLY?! Who is it?"
"Oh, I can't tell you that, he wants to remain anonymous."
Now, I'm no fan of Chelsea Football Club - far be it from me any such indulgence. I do, however, always back the "English" team (irrespective of the nationalities of the players on the pitch) in European football. So, I was particularly pleased last weekend when Chelsea beat Bayern Munich on penalties in the Champions League Final.
Now, our good friend Sepp Blatter (yes, the same one who said that "women footballers should wear tighter shorts and low cut tops to create a more female aesthetic" - such a charmer), has once more ventured into public waving his ideas around like a toddler holding a shotgun. This time he's decided that penalties are a 'tragedy' and need to be replaced as a means of deciding the outcome of drawn football matches. These thoughts, obviously, didn't enter his mind when the English national team was knocked out of major tournaments in 1990, 1996, 1998 or 2004; but now that an English team has triumphed against Bayern Munich from the spot, there's something wrong with them.
He's appointed Franz Beckenbauer to investigate an alternative. Yes, the same Mr Beckenbauer who is President of Bayern Munich.
Friends of mine have come up with all manner of ridiculous ideas to replace penalties ("take the keepers off the pitch, 5 balls, first to 20 wins" etc etc).
More relevant to this blog, though, it got me thinking about pupillage. Many people decry that current pupillage selection methods are unfair, that they're not transparent, that application forms and academic results are not proper ways of assessing someone's potential for the Bar. Taking inspiration from Mr Blatter, I have appointed myself head of the "Pupillage Task Force 2012", to identify new, and better, ways to select pupils. Here are my initial findings:
1) The Rabbit Method
Blindfolded candidates are brought into a room 20 at a time. A rabbit is released into the room. The candidate who catches the rabbit goes through to the next round (in the second round you have to catch a badger). Attention to detail is rewarded, and valued, because at no point are the candidates told they can't take their blindfolds off.
2) The Spartacus Method
All 200 candidates are placed in a room and told to sit down. They are told to wait and amuse themselves. At a random point three actors hired especially for this purpose will stand up in turn and boldly shout: "I'm Spartacus" (I'm told you can find actors quite cheaply). This will, hopefully, cause a chain reaction with all of the Candidates standing and joining in with the chorus (no one likes to be left out). Anyone who remains seated after the initial clamour is over is through to the next round for displaying independence of thought.
3) The Alan Sugar Method
Head of Chambers starts shouting "You're fired!" at candidates. First person to say: "YOU DON'T ACTUALLY EMPLOY ME, SO YOU CAN'T FIRE ME YOU SMUG TWAT", gets the pupillage, for displaying gumption.
4) The Blue Peter Tracy Island Method
In the early 1990s I was addicted to Blue Peter. One of the big events that I remember was their creation, over a number of weeks, of a papier mache Tracy Island from the Thunderbirds. It was an incredible piece of work and took the combined arts and crafts skills of Leonardo Da Vinci and Michaelangelo (coincidentally, also two of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles). Anyhow, give the candidates the required materials and the, very badly written, instructions and whoever gets nearest to the intended item gets the pupillage for displaying organisational skills and creativity.
5) The Kafka Method
200 random members of the public are rounded up from Basildon High Street. Everyone is given cake.
6) The Civil Service Method
The most surreal of all - eight selection rounds, five of which are badly written online personality tests. No one is sure if they are recruiting barristers or solicitors.
So, in a previous post I mentioned that I wasted much of my university life on theatre instead of my law degree.
A happy consequence of this is that some of university friends are starting to make their west end debuts.
Anyhow, one friend made her debut this evening, and her co-star was John MacMillan - devious, plotting junior clerk in Silk. He of 'trying to get rid of Billy' fame.
So, post show drinks being a bit of a tradition I'm now stood in the King's Head in Islington and have been introduced to the man himself. I'm having a complete nerdgasm. Apparently I'm the first Silk fan he's ever met.
I'm very pleased to announce my new partnership with the Pupillage Pages.
As many of you will know, TPP are an invaluable source of information for those of us seeking pupillage - you can find a directory of Sets, the latest legal news and (in my opinion, the best of all) the "Have You Heard?" forum. You can look up any Chambers in the UK in the forum and find out if anyone else has had any good news - a great way of keeping yourself sane.
Recently TPP has been expanding - they've recruited a new managing editor and they're in the process of finding sector-specific editors to run their legal news and interview advice sections. They've also recruited me.
So, on top of the regular updates on here, I'll also be writing brand new, exclusive content for their new blog: "The Pupillage Hunt".
In the blog you'll be able to follow me every step of the way, every interview (if I get any!), every rejection, everything. There's also a "Progress" section which will allow you to see, at a glance, how far I've got with each Set I've applied to.
As I said above, this blog will still be main my project. However, so you don't get too bored of reading similar posts on both websites, I'll be expanding the focus of this blog into legal news I find interesting, the odd court report (I'm going to try to get to court once a week) and a few opinion pieces, like the one I uploaded over the weekend about Morris Dancers.
If you've got any thoughts or suggestions please comment on any post, or tweet or email me.
Last Saturday morning, a friend of mine (my future Best Man, in fact) called me because he wanted someone to go suit shopping with. It was all very Sex and the City.
Anyhow, on the way to meet him, I was walking along the Strand when I came across this truly magnificent sight:
Yes. Morris dancers.
For those of you who have not yet had the chance to experience this epically English phenomenon, it is the perfect combination of bells, handkerchiefs and sticks - all meant to be a representative of war. The New Zealanders have the Hakka. We have Morris Dancers. I think we know who wins.
Anyhow, this post isn't a simple 'little Englander', tear in the eye, moment of reminiscence. No, instead, for those of you that know the Strand you'll see that the picture above was taken just outside the Zimbabwean High Commission. If you've ever been past the ZHC, you'll know that every single day you will find a group of 20 to 30 Zimbabweans protesting Mugabe and the horrific acts to which he subjects his people. Indeed, in another picture I took you can see the Morris Dancers are right next to a sign protesting "Murder, Rape and Torture":
And to so the point of my post.
Ladyfemale absolutely loves Morris Dancers. Her parents are both native New Yorkers who moved here about 30 years ago, so despite being born here I think her American blood still finds an otherworldly charm in the jingle-belled-nutters. Her father saw them for the first time in Stratford a couple of years ago and, apparently, laughed for two hours.
So, knowing her attachment to the handkerchief-waving-spry-ankled-real-ale-drinking-folk-dancers, if I see them I always stop to film them in the hope of entertaining her when I get home.
After about 5 minutes, something genuinely amazing started to happen - the Zimbabweans joined in. At the weekends, the protesters always seem to have drums and other instruments with them, and so they added their own sounds to the bells, accordions and stick clashes of the Morris Men. It was brilliantly entertaining. And, honestly, I felt myself well up.
You see, it was the perfect, perfect example of what I love about this country - our age-old traditions merging with new developments from other cultures, resulting in something truly new and exciting. Moreover, it was an excellent metaphor for the tolerance inbuilt in our constitution and traditions which we exemplify when we are at our best.
You might be wondering about the relevance of this post to my quest for pupillage. Well, it's more relevant to the role of barristers in general. As barristers, we're expected to uphold the law, in fact we have an overriding duty to the court. More than that, though, friends of mine at the Bar see their role as upholding not just the law, but its traditions, our constitution and all the conventions and principles that are included therein.
The Morris Dance/Zimbabwean mash up was a perfect example of our tolerance for others, our acceptance of new cultures and the way we actually include those traditions in with our own practices - as I said earlier, a perfect metaphor for what, I believe, makes this nation great.
I can't wait to become a barrister, and become part of the important, constant, struggle against those who would have us abandon our traditions of inclusion and tolerance and respect for the rule of law.
I am nothing if not an individual, so have joined twitter.
To start with I'll be using the account to tweet about new posts, that sort of thing; however, if you want to follow me and have a chat, it'll be good to hear from you. Click the big blue button below to find me.
It's now more than three weeks since I sent my 12 applications off into the big wide world. Now, as I've been at pains to express, the pupillage application process isn't fun. It's a vital experience though, something you have to go through so you can be happier in the future. Like neutering your favourite dog. The worst thing about it, though, is that it turns otherwise rational, sensible people into slobbering idiots.
I am, of course, one of those slobbering idiots. Worse than that, I appear to have turned into one of those stereotypical teenage girls in particularly badly written American sitcoms whose constant refrain is "WHY HASN'T HE CALLED?"
I KNOW that Sets aren't yet ready to get in touch with people and invite them for interview; but I don't act like it.
Luckily for me, the Pupillage Pages has got hold of a list of OLPAS criminal chambers, and when they sent out responses, from last year. It won't be entirely accurate for this year, most Sets are a law unto themselves and will change their timetables just to spite me, but it will at the very least be a helpful indication of when I can truly let me crazy side out.
The table can be found at this link, but as I'm interested in the criminal law and know absolutely nothing about copyright*, I assume it's entirely appropriate for me to steal it and post it here:
Now, going by the list above, 2 Hare Court responded from 17 May last year. Which means that in two days time it will be entirely rational for me to act like an irrational loon. What a glorious contradiction.
Luckily, my friend called me to tell me that he was feeling terribly unwell and so couldn't make our plans. I know this sounds particularly callous, but this meant I got to see Silk...
...and what a different show it is this time around. The whole show seems much darker, and the themes are more complex. There was also a lot more 'legal-talk', I feel sorry for people who haven't studied legal procedure.
Having said that, court room dramas are never perfect representations of the Law, but Silk gets much of it right. Well done them.
Last night I made some predictions about what might happen - let's see how I did.
1. Clive will fail, yet again, to gain the two magical letters he so desperately desires. We can't know this yet, let's wait til the end of the series.
2. One of the pupils will still be at Shoe Lane (probably Nick), the other will still be in the series but perhaps at another Set. Both gone! Incredible scenes. I still reckon we might see at least one of them again, though.
3. Martha obviously can't have a new pupil (as she's now a QC), and Clive will refuse to take a new pupil on. Looks about right so far.
4. Billy will get dodgier. Obviously. Done and done and done again. Silly, silly Billy.
5. Martha will, at some point, bite off more than she can chew and get absolutely hammered in a case. She'll come back stronger. It looks like Lady Macbeth is going to be her big rival in this one. Martha won today, but I'm sure there's still a big fall ahead.
6. Martha will find love. Clive won't. Poor Clive. Well, Lady Macbeth seems to have come on to her already, but Martha prefers boys. Let's see how that transpires. Clive and his new instructing solicitor George are getting well - the 'Fancy a quick ****. I mean drink. Drink' moment was priceless.
7. There will be a new baby-barrister. God knows who, or what they'll be like. No new baby-barrister, but we do have a new baby-clerk. Expect to see LOTS more of her. I reckon she's going to be remarkably competent.
Let's see how many of them are right come the end of the series.
...until an event so exciting I am likely to explode in anticipation.
Yes, dear friends, I refer to series 2 of Silk - the equivalent of career-porn for baby barristers. In the last series, the red-lipsticked-convertible-driving-Goddess Martha Costello took silk, despite the machinations and plots of her colleague (and former lover) Clive Reader.
See?! It's a perfectly accurate representation of life at the Bar. Ish.
If you didn't see the last series, and are considering a career at the Bar, it's absolutely compulsory viewing. I lied before, as far as I can tell it's nothing at all like the Bar (although it would be a far more exciting career were that not the case).
I have a few predictions for the next series:
1. Clive will fail, yet again, to gain the two magical letters he so desperately desires.
2. One of the pupils will still be at Shoe Lane (probably Nick), the other will still be in the series but perhaps at another Set.
3. Martha obviously can't have a new pupil (as she's now a QC), and Clive will refuse to take a new pupil on.
4. Billy will get dodgier. Obviously.
5. Martha will, at some point, bite off more than she can chew and get absolutely hammered in a case. She'll come back stronger.
6. Martha will find love. Clive won't. Poor Clive.
7. There will be a new baby-barrister. God knows who, or what they'll be like.
Last night I uploaded this post that I wrote back in March about the results of my pupillage applications last year.
Over night I have received a number of emails and a few comments on the post urging me to name and shame the Set involved and to make a formal complaint to the BSB.
I have receive this advice from a number of people in the last year, and I've had plenty of time to think about it. On reflection, naming them, or complaining about them, doesn't seem the wisest move.
Firstly, they never actually outright offered me the pupillage. No contracts, etc, we're exchanged. The head of the pupillage committee was always pleasant to me and was clear in saying that any offer was 'subject to confirmation from the finance committee'. I genuinely believe that they wanted to offer me the pupillage, the rug was just pulled from underneath them by the tricky issue of finance.
We all know that money is getting tighter and tighter at the junior end of the criminal bar, and I assume it's this pressure that Set 3 was responding to. Realistically the blame should go to successive governments who seem intent on destroying Legal Aid. People get up in arms about benefits being cut, as they want to protect their income. People get up in arms about the NHS being cut, as they want to protect their health. No one seems to care about the other, important, pillar of the welfare state - legal aid. No one seems to want to protect their rights and liberties. But I digress.
Set 3 did behave badly in their treatment of me, but I have absolutely no complaints about them not offering me a pupillage - I just wish they had had the balls to call me up and tell me so.
Secondly, I must reference this post that I wrote back in February. Although I'm prodigiously gifted in the area, I'm told that indiscretion isn't necessarily a highly sought after quality at the Bar. Naming and shaming Set 3 would no doubt get back to them, and they will obviously know who I am. Although I've not applied to them this year, they will of course have friends in the Sets I have applied to. I have no wish to become the known as a trouble maker, and naming Set 3 seems the perfect way of getting that reputation.
Thirdly, and lastly: my own politics and outlook on life. I am a liberal in both senses of the word - socially and economically. I believe that society functions at its best when people are given the freedom to run their lives how they see fit, engaging with a free market and taking responsibility for their own successes and failures. It's one of the reasons I so desperately wish to be a self-employed barrister. Complaining to the BSB, the almighty regulator, would seem to go against many of my stated principles. Instead, my preferred approach would be to deal with those causing me difficulties directly (if we were in the 1800s I'd write "as men" here). I appreciate that a regulator can prove valuable in certain situations, especially with regard to disputes between professionals and client; but I just don't see the BSB's role as soothing the ego of slighted applicants like me. They have far better things to be doing.
Set 3, in a free market, had every right to reject me, and not call me. Yes, I'm annoyed. Yes, I wish they had treated me slightly more kindly; but, in a free market, I also have to right apply elsewhere this year - and I have exercised that right.
I spend a lot of time in court. Not just on mini-pupillages and other organised visits. Ladyfemale lives within a 5 minute walk of both Tower Bridge Mags (insufferable place) and Southwark CC (sufferable), so I try to pop along as often as possible to watch the quality of the advocacy and to learn from those who actually do the job I want.
Sadly, I've picked up some bad habits.
Yesterday, in the Cross Examination Assessment, at one point I found the assessor staring daggers at me. I looked down at myself and realised I was leaning on my right elbow, slumped over the lectern, left hand deposited firmly in my pocket, as if I was some particularly arrogant silk of 30 years call. Sadly, for me, that means I lose at least one mark for a conduct violation - akin (apparently) to swigging from a bottle or displaying the 'triangle of shame' (your belly, apparently judges don't like to see too much of your shirt around your midriff - wear a waistcoat or do up your jacket).
Just got out of Advocacy 3. Because of rules governing unfair exam practices I, sadly, can't talk about is content.
I can, however, talk about some of the surrounding issues.
For all of these assessments, as I mentioned last week, BPP hires actors to come along and play witnesses and clients. In the Conference examination, for instance, an actor will be given lots of information, and it's your job to get it out of them.
In Advocacy 2 (Examination in Chief - helping your witness along) and Advocacy 3 (Cross Examination - destroying the souls of all those that oppose you), the actors play the witnesses. My witness was a lovely chap. Funnily, though, this is now the third time I've dealt with him. In the various assessments and mocks that I've seen him he's been an accountant, a kebab van owner and a photographer. When I chatted with him in November he said he's also been on "The Bill". EVERYONE has been on "The Bill". It's been funny watching him try to pull off all these different character for 12 minutes at a time, poor dear.
There is also the issue of typos. Every single exam we've done this year has had some form of serious typo in it. In this case some of the typos actually went to the heart of the matter and affected the defence case. What fun!
As I mentioned previously, when you're waiting to hear back from pupillage applications, every time your phone buzzes with a new email your heart skips several beats. I'm fairly sure that, on a number of occasions last year, I technically suffered a cardiac arrest.
The bast majority of the time it's a mailshot from some ridiculous website you signed up to in a particularly weak moment. Rarely, very rarely, it's about pupillage.
When it's about pupillage, every email starts the same:
Thank you for applying to our set. This year we had over [insert unreasonably large number here] applications, and we have spent a great deal of time and effort going through each one to ensure that every candidate is properly assessed. The quality has been exceptionally high."
Standard opening. The next few words then either crush your dreams entirely, or make you do a cartwheel.
Game over. Cheers chap. Seeya next year.
"I am delighted..."
HOORAY THE WORLD IS AWESOME. BY GOD, HAVE YOU SEEN THE MOON TONIGHT, IT'S SO ROUND!!
Today, I was sitting in Southwark Crown Court, crime geek that I am, watching a serious fraud trial. Just for fun. (shoot me now). I felt a buzz in my pocket. I tried to be rational, "it's only a few days since the portal closed, they can't possibly be responding to applications now - I'll ignore it".
When the trial adjourned for lunch I checked my email. It was from QEB Hollis Whiteman. One of the top criminal sets; a set I have applied to.
Bla Bla Bla, 271 Applicants, high quality, etc etc etc."
But there was no unfortunately. No delighted. No, well, no ANYTHING. Just an explanation of how their system works, and how they hope to assess candidates.
Of course, being informed is lovely, but DON'T THEY KNOW THEY'VE JUST GIVEN 271 PEOPLE A HEART ATTACK?!
If I had died I am absolutely certain that Ladyfemale would have had some form of grounds for unlawful killing. She'd have made millions.
Of course, I'm being silly. Frankly, the reason QEB's email had such an effect on me (and others I have spoken to) is because no other set has ever shown that kind of courtesy. The pupillage season is a time of being ignored, or rejections by silence, and of a constant sense of dread. If more Sets took the time to write to their applicants in this way, setting out a time table, explaining how the process was to operate, we would have several thousand law students and graduates exemplifying a level of sanity not previously seen between the months of April and August. Well done QEB!
...that my posts in the last 6 weeks or so have not been appearing here. Technical cluster-bugger on my part, and posts have been appearing elsewhere. In the coming days I hope to transfer the old posts across to here, and will continue to post to keep you up to date.