Thursday, 2 August 2012

Dream Set!

I'm delighted to announce that I just accepted an offer from Dream Set. Am mad with joy.

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

Honestly, too nervous to write

Yes. I've been terrible over the last 3 or 4 weeks. Pupillage interviews, a new temp job, the olympics - all sorts of excuses not to blog, and I am actually sorry about that. The support on this blog, from comments, tweets, emails, all of it, it's made this whole process go much, much more easily than it could have done. I owe you all a great deal of thanks.

So how do things stand? I'm still in the running in three Sets - including 'Dream Set'. Dream Set is like that girl who used to sit at the back of the classroom at school. She never looked at you, she never showed any interest in you - and yet you dared to dream. So, getting a first round interview with Dream Set was like that girl agreeing to go on a date with you. Getting a second round interview was like her actually turning up. Getting an offer would be a 'proper kiss' goodnight. Reserve list would be a peck on the cheek. Rejection would be her reacting badly to the food and vomiting in my lap - all that work to actually get a chance, and throwing it all away at the last moment.

Do I think I'll get an offer with Dream Set? No. But by God I'd love it if that would happen.

Anyhow, some time after 9am tomorrow I'll find out. For now I'll sit here, watching the olympics, too nervous to do very much at all, too nervous to sleep - daring to daydream about some good new tomorrow.

It's like Christmas Eve, but knowing that there's a strong possibility that when I wake up I'll discover that Santa has in fact robbed my house.

Pupillage Eve

So, some time after 9am tomorrow I find out whether I have a pupillage. I've been terrible at updating this log in recent weeks - this evening I hope to sit down, write a few posts and get you all caught up with the state of play.

Thursday, 5 July 2012

No takers...

Sadly no one came to find me at 7.04. Well, Ladyfemale did but she was one minute late so no money for her.

D-Day results

On Monday I posted that I was expecting news on a number of second rounds. Well, I got lots of news, and all of it was bad. 4 post-interview rejections in the space of a few hours.

I'm not going to lie, I felt pretty low for a while, but got cheered up no end when I got a phone call from my dream Set offering me a second round. I'm petrified, but if I fail I'll go down fighting.

I owe you, dear readers, a tenner

BPTC results came out today. Considering how much I've moaned an whined in anticipation of failing, I feel quite embarrassed. You see, miraculously (and only God knows how) I managed to get an Outstanding.

In my last post I made the Internet a wager, stating that I'd failed civil. Obviously, I didn't, and apologise for my melodrama.

I will be at an undisclosed location at 7.04pm this evening. If you find me and ask for your tenner, I shall give it to you. At 7.05pm, all bets are off.

Monday, 2 July 2012

D-Day (well, the first of many)

Due to hear back from at least 5 first rounds today.

Already had two post-interview rejections this morning. Feeling completely inadequate, but we survive and grow stronger.

Results for the BPTC on Thursday. Tenner says I've failed civil.

Sunday, 1 July 2012

Three interviews down

Just got out of interview 3. I turned up 20 mins early for it hoping to use time in the waiting room to write about interview 2 but (ridiculously) they were running ahead of schedule and asked me to go in early. Mad scenes.

Anyhow, I could not have been made to feel more welcome ahead of interview 2. They offered me tea, chocolate cake, all sorts. Incredibly friendly Set both in the waiting area and in the interview. I'm glad I got to meet them.

Interview 3 saw my first advocacy exercise of the year, followed by some general chat. Again, friendly Set and I knew a couple of people on the panel as they appeared in front o my judge when I was Marshalling. The advocacy went well but not sure I performed perfectly in the questions.

All in all, a knackering morning, constantly on edge for three hours. Yes, I know that's the career. I look forward to developing a coffee and adrenaline addiction in coming years.

Saturday, 30 June 2012

One interview down

Half an hour of topical and ethical questions. Nothing about me at all. Lots of fighting with the panel. Lots of 'pauses to think'.

Probably got the ethical questions wrong. Boo hiss.

Good God, how do I survive another 2 of these in the next 2 hours?

Friday, 29 June 2012

Super Saturday

During the Primaries before the Presidential elections in the US, where the various parties select their candidates, one day is called 'Super Tuesday'. Super Tuesday is a crazy phenomenon. Historically, the States with the most influence on the selection of candidates were either the big States (California, New York, Texas) or the States that held their Primary really early in the process, and helped generate momentum (New Hampshire). Thus, to increase their own importance States started shifting their Primaries earlier and earlier (known as front-loading).

And then Super Tuesday was born - a load of smaller States got together and decided to hold their Primaries on the same day, thus meaning that a huge proportion of the votes available to candidates were available on the same day. Those States that were involved in Super Tuesday were suddenly very, very important.

In 2008, for instance, 24 States held their Primary on February 5th - 52% of the votes were available on that day. Craziness.

But why this (very badly delivered) lesson on American politics?

Because tomorrow marks Super Saturday - 3 interviews in 3 hours. 3 out of 8 the interviews that I've secured. Last year I only did 3 interviews over the whole bloody summer.

Basically, my performance between 9 and 12 tomorrow morning will decide a significant proportion of my applications - and with it, potentially, my future. If I have my 'game face' on tomorrow morning, I could seriously improve my chances of pupillage, if I buckle under the pressure, I could put a Titanic hole in my side.

Let's hope that I come out fighting.

Thursday, 28 June 2012

The 'Dream Set'

I think everyone has a dream Set - the place they'd love to get pupillage and spend their career. It's not always the biggest, most successful or most famous Set in any given practice area - everyone has their own reasons.

I interviewed at my dream Set last night, and I genuinely think I cocked it up completely. I mean, I think I handle the general "this is who I am chat fairly well, but then there was an ethical question.

I thought I'd heard all the tricky ethical questions that interviewers love to pull out, but this one completely threw me.

I'm pretty sure I flubbed the answer completely and (at least in part) came to the wrong conclusion.

Ah well, as Marlon Brando once moaned: "I coulda been a contender".

We shall see.

The Prince and the Pauper

I know I moan every time I go, but on Monday I went back to Tower Bridge Mags to watch another afternoon of depression, “justice” and petty-crime. I’m not going to be able to get along to court much in the coming months as I’ve been lucky enough to find a job which should tide me over til the autumn, so this will be the last court report for a while.

I’ve written a couple of lines every now and then over the last few months about the Legal Aid reforms. I haven’t gone into the reforms in depth – I’d rather leave that to better minds than mine – but one of the more convincing arguments, in my opinion, is the risk of an increased number of unrepresented defendants. In a previous post I wrote about Eddie’s struggles with an unrepresented defendant back in February; on Monday I saw yet more evidence of how badly things can go when people are left to face the State on their own.

The case was regarding an alleged benefits fraud, specifically housing benefit. There were problems with Legal Aid in the case, and the defendant had no representation at all. She had previously retained a solicitor but she couldn’t afford to pay them any more. The allegation was that the defendant was not a ‘commercial tenant’ and so should not have claimed over £8,000 in housing benefit as housing benefit is apparently only to be paid to commercial tenants. There are a number of tests that council’s use to decide whether a lease is a commercial lease or not (and it’s worth noting here that ‘commercial’ here doesn’t refer to ‘commercial property’, like a shop, instead it refers to the purpose of the lease – is the landlord letting it on the market for an income/profit or are they doing it at mates’ rates?). There are many factors to take into account such as whether or not there is a written agreement, whether the rent is always paid, what happens if the rent is not paid, whether there is an existing relationship (of any kind) between the landlord and tenant, and so on. It is perfectly possible for a son to be a commercial tenant of his father without a written agreement; likewise you could have a full written agreement with a complete stranger but the council might decide that it is not a commercial agreement. Effectively, these things can be fairly subjective.

In this case the council wanted their money back. The defendant had been going through rough times and so the landlord had let her off rent for 4 or 5 months while she got back on her feet, had paid some of her bills for her and had become quite good friends with her. The council said that housing benefit is to be used for rent ONLY, and the landlord allowing her to spend it on other things is an abuse of that benefit, and actually amounted to fraud on the part of the tenant.

I’d never come across a similar case before, and struggled to get to grips with the law. The defendant had absolutely no idea. The case was prosecuted by the DWP and their in-house lawyer did a good job of explaining the case to the Magistrate. His examination in chief of the council’s benefits officer was pretty clear, and then up stepped the defendant.

Her cross was, understandably, shocking from beginning to end. It was exactly as you would expect a person with no training, no experience, and no understanding to be – unstructured, incoherent and damaging (to her own case). I could see what she was getting at, though:

The DWP’s witness said that housing benefit is only to be paid for rent, and should never be spent on bills. The defendant tried to make a point along the lines of: “But surely there’s a grey area? Sometimes rent will include some bills, sometimes it won’t. It’s surely impossible to say that housing benefit can never legitimately be spent on anything other than rent?” The magistrate tried to help her out as well (as he is bound to do), but instead we ended up with the defendant screaming about mandatory water charges in certain blocks of flats, and then bursting into tears.

The defendant soon abandoned that route and accused the witness of offering a plea bargain at the last hearing. Except the witness wasn’t at the last hearing. The defendant’s response? “Well, it was a short fat man, just like you, and it was easy to make a mistake”. The point won me over, at least.

The prosecution case closed, and the defendant started giving her own evidence. I have seen more coherent things written in faeces on the walls of grotty public toilets. But, the defendant can’t be blamed – she was in an incredibly frightening situation: the government is accusing you of a crime, there is no one to support you, no one to advise you, no one in your corner. It’s hard enough representing someone else, when you’re not emotionally invested in the case – imagine your liberty is on the line.

I must confess, I couldn’t hack listening to it any more. More and more, I wanted to get involved, to provide some kind of advice or representation – but as we all know, I’m just not qualified to do so, yet. So I had to leave the court. I was, frankly, angry at the way this poor woman was struggling.

So I went upstairs to Court 2 to watch the railway prosecutions (a mainstay at Tower Bridge Mags). The list was full of absent defendants – so I was going to watch the court deal, administratively, with 40 or 50 cases in a row, with the same result each time (found guilty in absence, fine, costs, victim surcharge, cost of the ticket that was avoided). I hoped that the simple humdrum repetitiveness would chill me out somewhat. It worked for 20 minutes or so – the magistrate thought I was a nutter for sitting down and watching something so mundane – but then a defendant actually showed up.

In these cases, the prosecutions are brought privately by the railway companies – the prosecutor is normally some office functionary who reads out their version of the facts – there’s no defendant to worry about, magistrate finds in their favour, everyone goes home.

When a defendant actually showed up, I could (almost literally) see the fear in the ‘prosecutor’s’ eyes. He wasn’t cut out for this. He was just an admin guy in a stripey jumper. Nonetheless, he pulled himself together and read out his version of the facts (on this occasion is was a bus service operated by the railway company). The judge asked the defendant to respond:

“Sir, I’m a law student at King’s College London. I was indeed travelling on the 171 Bus to Aldwych. I tapped my Oyster but didn’t see if the greenlight flashed or not. I also did not hear the beep as I was listening to my mp3 player. The driver did not stop me or point out to me in any way that my Oyster card had failed to validate. I naturally assumed all was okay, and got on with my journey. Ticket inspectors got on the bus at Elephant and Castle and said that I had not validated my Oyster, and I did argue with them. I offered to try validating it again but they did not let me do so. They asked for my name and address and said I would receive a court summons. I received the summons, and wrote to the company and asked them to disclose their CCTV for my inspection, so that I could prove that I did indeed attempt to validate the Oyster, and that I lacked the intent to avoid paying my fare. They did not respond and have not been willing to engage with me in any further discussion. So here I am today, and I’m happy to answer any questions you might have.”

The ‘prosecutor’ looked like he was going to die and asked for an adjournment. He went outside, and the defendant followed him. Two minutes later he came back in and said to the Magistrate:

“Sir, I have accepted payment of £1.35 in cash from the defendant, and now abandon this prosecution.”

Yes, all very funny – but I’d be willing to bet that the vast, vast majority of self-represented defendants act more like the first lady, than the second.

Sunday, 24 June 2012

More fun with Eddie

Firstly, apologies for not updating in a week, no excuses other than laziness and interview preparation.

Secondly, the return of Eddie. As I said in my last post, on Monday I popped down to Kingston Crown Court to spend another day with the big man himself.

From the start Eddie promised me a boring, and short day, he had two hearings: a bail app and a sentence. In both cases he was acting for the Crown.

The bail app was due to be held at 10am, and the sentence at 11.30. All over and done with by 1pm, and then a quick lunch and a good chat.

Things never quite work out. The defence barrister in the bail app was suffering a family crisis and couldn't get to court before 11. The judge hearing the bail app was due to continue a part-heard trial as soon as the bail app was over. The defendant in the bail app had previously been refused bail because he lived too close to the complainant, and had spent the last few weeks in prison waiting for his family to find somewhere else for him to stay. If they didn't have the bail app, the defendant would remain in prison. Eddie's job? Despite acting for the Crown, to ask the judge to take a mid-morning break from his trial once the defence barrister turned up, as it would be in the interests of justice to hear a bail application for the defendant - even though it was the Crown's position that (irrespective of the address) bail should not be granted.

The judge granted the adjournment.

We now had to wait, both for the other barrister to turn up and for Eddie's other matter (the sentence) to be called on.

Can you guess what happened next? That's right. The other barrister turned up at 11.30. Eddie was called into the sentence and the bail app at the same time. Eek,

Luckily, the clerk in the sentencing court was understanding, called on another matter and gave Eddie breathing space to get the bail app out of the way. The bail app was simple enough, a new address was suggested, the owner of the property answered some questions from the judge, and even before Eddie had said anything, bail was granted.

So, off to the sentencing - a simple matter, a domestic burglary, two defendants caught leaving the front door of the property. Actually, no. Not simple.

Both defendants were represented by the same solicitors, and the solicitors had only instructed one barrister to represent both of them. Their previous instructions had highlighted no conflicts, so joint instruction seemed appropriate.

The problem, however, was that the pre-sentence reports had not been provided until the morning of the hearing, and they created a problem: for one of the defendants it recommended a community order, for the other, 18 months imprisonment. Also, it recommended a psychiatric report for one of the defendants (the one for whom imprisonment was recommended). Why the vast disparity in recommendations? One defendant had dozens of previous convictions, the other was of otherwise good character.

The PSRs also exposed a conflict between the two: although the defendants had made bare, guilty pleas, in their PSRs they blamed each other for the robberies. They both accepted that they were there, but both also said it was NOT a joint enterprise and that they led astray by the other. Thus, their barrister could not effectively mitigate for either of them.

A tricky situation.

The barrister was about to declare himself embarrassed and withdraw from the case completely, but Eddie offered him another way out. Eddie would request an adjournment to ensure the psychiatric report could be carried out, and the defence barrister could then sort out the conflict away from the eyes of the court.

Hooray for Eddie.

We were still out of court by 12.15, but it had been a much crazier morning than Eddie had been expecting. I learned a big lesson: even the most minor mention/hearing can cause problems.

Eddie and I headed into Kingston for our lunch, and had a good chat setting the world to rights. He even offered to buy me lunch, but knowing that Criminal Barristers live on 50p a day I just couldn't bring myself to accept.

Sunday, 17 June 2012

The Return of Eddie

Going along to Kingston tomorrow to watch Eddie in action again. Looking forward to more of the 'coffee' in the robing room.

Saturday, 16 June 2012

Apologies to the Republicans

But, my God, I've enjoyed all the patriotic flumpery over the last couple of weeks.

And now, we've got the utterly majestic Trooping the Colour. This is almost as good as the Morris Dancers a few weeks ago.

Better yet, the BBC has given us the option to turn off their utter-drivel- commentary via the red button. License fee well spent!

Interview Number 1, and superstitions

In about 3 minutes I'll be getting off the bus. In 5 minutes I'll be walking up Fleet Street. In 10 minutes I'll be  knocking on the door of my first interview. In 20 minutes (or so), that interview will probably be over.

In my interviews last year I developed a superstition: before interviews I ate a KitKat Dream, a Bourneville dark chocolate, and drank a bottle of orange Lucozade.

My superstition is not healthy. The sugar content alone could bring down a mammoth. The superstition developed because, on the way to one of my first rounds last year, I felt as if I desperately needed sugar. These things happen. So I bought the first things I saw. After the interview, I was invited to a second round, and my insanity was born.

All week ladyfemale has been trying to dissuade me from "this nonsense". She's lucked out: this early in the morning I really don't think I can force myself to eat a week's worth of sugar.

Further, I realised how ridiculous hanging on to a superstition from last year is: last year everything went wrong because of the horrendous "Set 3". Why on earth would I follow a pattern hoping to emulate that?

Once I'm out of the interview, I'll stick a post up on the Pupillage Pages about how it went.

Wish me luck!

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Who's naughty, who's nice?

In my post this morning, I wrote about how rare it is for Sets to actually keep candidates informed, and I used QEB Hollis Whiteman as an example of one Chambers that is getting it right.

In the comments, a couple of other Sets were also applauded for their efforts.

So, I've started a new project - at the top of the blog, just underneath the title, you'll see a new menu bar - so far with only two items:

1) Blog (self explanatory)

I've started "Praiseworthy Chambers" as a way of recognising those Sets that actually go out of their way to make things easier for applicants. I don't mean Sets that send out rejections, that should be the very minimum standard; I mean Sets that do something a little bit more than the bare minimum.

So far three Sets make an appearance, if you want to nominate any more please do email me, tweet me or comment on the new page.

And no, before you ask, I will not be creating a 'Wall of Shame' for Sets that do even less than the bare minimum - that will get me into trouble!

Another heart-attack thanks to QEB

QEB Hollis Whiteman, star of this post from a month ago, have once again sent out a "we'll be in touch soon" email. Once again, spying the email titile: "Pupillage Interviews QEBHW", my heart began to beat at a prodigiously rapid rate.

Now over the shock, I have nothing but praise for their efforts at keeping candidates informed. No other Set that I have applied to has made such efforts to try to put applicants at ease, and no other Set has been so willing to offer such detailed information on their timetable - speaking to friends applying to non-criminal Sets, their experience is largely the same: Sets just don't communicate about pupillage. Many Sets don't even bother to tell you if you've been rejected (despite being able to do so with just a couple of clicks on the Pupillage Portal).

So, what this means is that people in my position get used to Sets being beyond useless, and we expect nothing. Thus, when Chambers like QEB actually go out of their way to contact us, it comes as such a shock that we become a couple of years closer to our graves.

Irrespective of the news Sets send me, I only hope that they might all, one day, emulate QEB in the way they communicate that news.

Monday, 11 June 2012

Ceiling patterns

Unlike most people in my position, it is not the quest for pupillage that keeps me up at night, staring mindlessly at the ceiling while Ladyfemale dozes next to me, merrily giggling to herself as a result of some insane dream. Don't get me wrong, pupillage applications are worrying enough to keep even the most serene of people awake until 2am - but, for me, there is a darker shadow looming just this side of the horizon that I just can't ignore:

The results of the Civil Litigation Exam from my BPTC.

In the days following the exam, there was a lot of chat online - there seemed to be a groundswell of support for the idea that the Civil Exam was 'unfair' or 'not fit for purpose'. The complaints have been well rehearsed in all the usual places, but a good summary can be found on the excellent Legal Cheek blog in this post.

As you can see in the linked post, there were various concerns about the exams that were centrally set by the BSB (Civil, Crime, Ethics), and those concerns resulted in a student petition signed by many hundreds of students. I wasn't one of them - firstly because I thought it was appallingly written, and secondly because I didn't agree with many of the complaints. My only cause for concern was that I found the Civil exam difficult, which was to be expected.

However, in the weeks and months since my concern has grown - there have been a number of rumours flying around, and a few hints from tutors at various law schools, which have caused my minor quibbles to grow into a state which can best be described as 'the brink of panic'.

BPTC students who participate in, or simply look at, various online fora and networking sites will be no stranger to the rumours that 80% of BPTC students nationwide have failed the Civil Exam. Now, I'd normally ignore this kind of rumour, but it's appeared from so many different sources that it's managed to seep into my psyche.

There are, however, two versions of the rumour: a) flat out, 80% of people have failed; b) 80% of people failed according to the mark scheme, but [insert any number of solutions here] has happened, so now that figure is markedly reduced.

The second cause of worry ties into rumour "b" above - the supposed rigidity of the BSB mark scheme, and the fact that markers from individual providers have no discretion to award marks. On the last day of the course, BPP hosted an end of year drinks party (much fun), and some of the tutors were slightly more loose-tongued than normal.

I challenged 2 or 3 tutors with the 80% statistic and the response was pretty uniform: "That is definitely NOT the case at BPP", but all of them did (whether through word, or subtle deed) seem to confirm that there were some worries about the rigidity of the mark scheme. My understanding is that the BSB has prescribed very a very specific form of words to use in each of the questions, and if those exact words aren't used, marks can't be awarded. Which is petrifying.

Now, I also know that BPP, and all the other law schools have been consulting with the BSB over the last couple of months, and have been trying to make things a little bit more fair. 

From my other results to date, achieving an Outstanding is genuinely within my reach. Sadly, one failure, any failure, irrespective of the exam, means you can't be awarded the Outstanding, even if your average mark is above the 85% mark. Also, it'll be pretty tricky explaining to various Chambers why I can't give them my final results after 5 July if I have indeed joined the massed throng of Civil failures. 

So here I am, wondering whether my original answers were in line with the mark scheme; if they weren't in line with the mark scheme has the mark scheme been adjusted; if it hasn't been adjusted, have I failed, if I've failed have I buggered up my pupillage chances? And that, dear friends, is why I find the ceiling so incredibly interesting at 2am.

A particular set of skills

In my most recent post at the Pupillage Pages (I've submitted it, but I don't think it's up yet) I quoted the film 300 as my title. In this post, you get Liam Neeson's masterpiece (my words, not his): Taken.

I say "masterpiece", what I actually mean is: it's got one very cool speech during a phone call, and then Liam Neeson chasing some nasty Europeans. Hooray for him. Anyhow, I quote this film not because of anything directly relevant to the Bar, but because of a conversation I had with an American friend of mine based entirely upon a very simple, probably very common, misunderstanding for Barristers, and Baby-Barristers like me.

I met up with a few friends at lunchtime last Thursday, one of whom (Jerry) is an American chap who was only in town for a few days. I don't know Jerry that well, he's more of a friend of a friend, and our only chance at catching up is the odd brief chat every couple of years when he's in town. Nonetheless, he's pleasant company and I enjoy seeing him. Our conversation went thus:

"Mini, what are you up to now? Still working in the House of Commons?"
"No, I left there a couple of years ago to finish qualifying as a Barrister - I finished last Friday, in fact"
"It took you two years to qualify? I thought it'd be much quicker than that"
"Yeah, I've had to do a couple of courses"
"That's quite a change from what you were doing before"
"Well, yeah, I suppose so - instead of writing speeches for other people I get to work for myself now"
"Like freelancing?"
"Yeah, most Barristers in England are self-employed"
"Really? In the States most of them are directly employed"
"Yep, the thought is it gives you a certain independence, so you can provide a better service"
"I wouldn't have thought it would have mattered that much. I don't care if someone's independent, just get on with it. So, when you're training, if you're self employed, who provides the equipment"
"Well, you don't really need to dress up for the training stage, that comes once you're qualified, and the training provider gives you all the books."
"I see. It's probably good you don't need to carry around all your own equipment"
"Yeah, lots of qualified Barristers have wheeled suitcases and things. But yeah, for now, it's largely a skills based course, it's just a case of learning, and then thinking on your feet if you ever get a job"
"Thinking on your feet? In the States they just take their orders and get on with it"
"You'd be surprised - although you do have to follow instructions, there is a bit of leeway in how you present things. You also don't have to follow plainly mad instructions."
"Like super-skinny-double-shot-wet-mocha-caramel-latte-with-extra-resentment?"
"You know, ludicrous coffee orders"
"Why would I be making coffee?"

Barrister/Barista. Whatever.

Thursday, 7 June 2012


As you might have seen in my other blog over on the pupillage pages, last Friday I got some good news: my first pupillage interview.

Well, in an unexpected turn of events, this morning I woke up to an email with yet more good news - sent at 5 minutes to midnight last night. Do these barristers have nothing better to do with their evenings than email people that want to steal their work from underneath them?

Anyhow, that leaves my statistics at 1 rejection, 2 interviews, 13 to hear from.

I am still utterly pessimistic, though.

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

And now for something completely different...

After the black hole of charisma this morning I thought I'd wander along the river to Tower Bridge mags.

Silly me. The magistrates sat at 2pm, by 2.05 both trials listed for this afternoon in Court 1 had collapsed.

Magical scenes.

In my respectful submission

I'm sat in Court 3 at Southwark Crown Court and am witnessing the world's worst attempt at a Voir Dire (hearing on what evidence can be included/excluded). The prosecution advocate is a CPS Solicitor Advocate and she's beyond dreadful. Every single sentence begins: "and, your honour, in my respectful submission...".

Every bloody sentence. Lesson number one at Bar School is: 'if you say 'respectfully' it means you think your judge is an idiot'.

The defence counsel (probably no more than 4 or 5 years call herself) is just playing with her. Every application has gone her way and half the prosecution evidence has been excluded.

In my irrelevant opinion, advocacy should be, at the very least, engaging. The quality of prosecution today makes me want to hide under a rock until it all goes away.

Thursday, 31 May 2012

BPTC: Completed

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.

Now all I have to do is get a bloody pupillage.

Wednesday, 30 May 2012

The Edge of Glory(ish)

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

Tuesday, 29 May 2012

An interesting meeting

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."
"Oh I see, well, tell him he's doing a good job"

I'm not bitter. Honest.

Sunday, 27 May 2012

Sepp Blatter: Penalties and Pupillages

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.

Monday, 21 May 2012

Oh my God, John MacMillan

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 so excited I could spit.

An Exciting Announcemnent

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.

Friday, 18 May 2012

Extreme patriotism (but the good kind)

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.

Thursday, 17 May 2012

A year ago today...

...I was invited to my first interview, with Set 1.

I've reapplied there this year, so let's see if I get lucky again.

Wednesday, 16 May 2012


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.

I just saw...

...someone reading this blog in the BPP library. I feel like a celebrity.

The good kind, not the wearing short skirts and vomiting on taxi drivers kind.

Then again, the person soon started watching footage of an under-dressed, under-fed pop star singing something or other, so I'm not exactly in illustrious company.

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

The waiting game

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.

*Ignorance of the law is a defence, right?

Silk predictions - the results

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.

Monday, 14 May 2012

It's all going wrong

About an hour ago a friend called me, said he had a free evening going spare, and asked if I fancied a trip to the cinema.

Before I knew what I was doing my idiot, idiot mouth was agreeing to go to the local World of Cine to see Johnny Depp pretend to be a vampire.*


During Silk.

Martha and Clive are never going to forgive me.

*[interestingly, in the first draft of this post I freudian-slip-typed "campire"]

24 hours to go...

...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.

I will be wrong on almost every one, I'm sure!

In defence of Set 3

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.

Sunday, 13 May 2012


Someone emailed asking if I can turn on anonymous comments. I didn't even realise they were off! Now you can comment freely using whichever name you want. Hurrah for us all.

Friday, 11 May 2012

The good news... that apparently putting your hand in your pocket is not an automatic points deduction - you only lose points if you address the judge in such a manner. Small mercies, eh?

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Professional Conduct

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).

Silly me.

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Advocacy 3 - Cross Examination

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!

Friday, 4 May 2012

Heart-stopping moments

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:

"Dear Mini

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.

Option 1


Game over. Cheers chap. Seeya next year.

Option 2

"I am delighted..."


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.

"Dear Mini

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!

Thursday, 3 May 2012

It turns out...

...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.


Friday, 13 April 2012

The Brain Trust

...have been in touch with their comments on the first draft of the form.

One of the more interesting things was how differently each of them approached the task of tearing me a new one.

The Oxbridge Shark tore into every single sentence with detail - perhaps my favourite of his comments was: "Seriously mate, this form makes it look as if you're lost the capacity to function as a human". Dare I say it, but all of his comments were spot on. The original version of my form was littered with exclamations (although without exclamation marks, obviously) along the lines of: "Simply, I believe being a barrister to be the best job on earth". Ignore the alliteration. That was not taken straight from my form, but it might as well have been. The overriding tone of the first draft was: "I DON'T HAVE MUCH OF A BRAIN BUT I REALLY REALLY WANT TO BE A BARRISTER, I'M DESPERATE". The Oxbridge Shark recommended that I keep the passion for the criminal Bar in the form, but not at the expense of my actual abilities.

Ladyfemale's dad was also a bit of a demon, although thankfully didn't reduce the size of the dowry. His approach was to actually focus in on the fine detail of the questions, and my responses. His conclusion was that I wasn't actually answering the questions half of the time - and where I was answering the questions, I was doing so implicitly. He was right. Reading it back, I'd answered the questions in a way that suited me - as a springboard to write down whatever I wanted. Future-FIL's point was that barristers, with about two minutes per form, aren't going to care about the content if it doesn't answer the question.

The practising barristers who read my form had an entirely different approach. Their responses were invariably a maximum of three lines long and sent to me two days later than promised - and some of the time they seemed to be referring to a different person's form entirely. They proved helpful, though, if only to illustrate just how little time I'll have when I'm a proper-grown-up-baby-barrister.

The Judge replied: "Looks fine to me". Which was, at least, reassuring.

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Which Sets shall I apply to?

One of the toughest aspects of applying for pupillage is deciding which 12 Sets you're actually going to be applying to, out of the myriad available.

To assist me in the decision, a couple of months ago I created a giant spreadsheet of every criminal, or part-criminal, Set in Greater London and recorded the break down of their work, which circuits they operate on, whether they use OLPAS or not, what their deadline for applications is, their website, their award, what year they're offering pupillage, their ranking in Legal 500 and C&P and other bits and pieces of useful information.

When the spreadsheet was finished I found I had over 80 Sets to sort through.

Firstly, I removed Set 3.

My second step was to remove every Set which seemed to have less than 50% crime, or (if figures weren't available) seemed to promote their civil work above their criminal work.

This removed more than half of the Sets.

Next, I removed all the Sets I had promised I would not apply to - basically the Sets where my Brain Trust were on the pupillage committee.

Next, I removed any Set which, in its criminal work, only defends or only prosecutes - 4 more Sets gone.

I was left with about 20 Sets. I removed Sets where I had absolutely no hope due to personal factors (I am not am marxist, so it would be pointless to apply to Tooks).

And I was left with 16 Sets.

These 16:

187 Fleet St
2 Bedford Row
2 Harcourt (Atkinson Bevan)
2 Hare Court
23 Essex Street
3 Temple Gardens
4 Breams Buildings
5 Paper Buildings
5 St Andrew's Hill
9-12 Bell Yard
QEB Hollis Whiteman
Three Raymond Buildings

I'm writing applications to all 16, and am leaving the decision of which 4 to cut to another day.

Thursday, 5 April 2012

Assessment Results

I'm over the moon.

I've just received the results for Advocacy 1 (submissions), Conference (having a chat with a client) and REDOC (beyond pointless).

I've, very luckily, been awarded Outstanding in both Advocacy and Conference, and a VC in REDOC. I also received the highest Conference mark awarded by BPP this year, from about 400 candidates, which was nice.

This will be the last time I post something quite so self-congratulatory. I apologise, I'm just very excited.

Monday, 2 April 2012

This year's plan

Having experienced the disappointment of coming so close to pupillage last year, I resolved to come back a stronger, more prepared, candidate. I sat down in January and made a list of things I could and would do in order to increase my chance of getting interviews.

Now, I write this while the Portal is still open, my mind may change between now and April 26th. Further, as someone very obviously without pupillage, my advice means absolutely nothing - please don't rely on anything I write here - but it may, at least, prove interesting. This is not a post about "how to write an application form", rather I prefer to think of it as "how to prepare yourself for writing your application form".

1) Conduct a post-mortem

As I've said previously, last year I was invited to interview at 3 Sets. Looking them up at Legal 500 and Chambers and Partners, there was nothing the Sets had in common. One of the Sets was absolutely at the top of the rankings, one was middle-tier and was was completely unrated.

My instant reaction was: well, in that case if I'm getting offers from across the spectrum, then surely the biggest determining factor is luck.

Considering there will be dozens of broadly similar candidates, with broadly similar results and broadly similar backgrounds, there's no surprise that luck will play a part. If luck is the major factor, you might as well write your form and keep your fingers crossed.

However, I decided to delve deeper - I looked at the selection process of the 12 chambers I applied to.

Although ever pupillage committee will have their own little quirks there seem to be two broad approaches - the objective and the subjective.

The objective approach is called the 'grid system' by some Sets. This isn't exactly how it works, but effectively, a mark scheme is designed by the members of the pupillage committee, and application forms are scrutinised purely in line with its contents. For instance (and I'm inventing this criteria, I have no inside track) you might get 10 points for a First, 6 for Two:One and 3 for Two:Two. You might get an extra couple of marks for going to a Russell Group University. Maybe 5 if you went to Oxbridge. You might get 5 points for conducting cases at the FRU and the same for winning a mooting competition.

Of course individual checkers will have their own interpretations of what you've written, but by placing a distinct 'mark' next to a candidate's name, the idea is that there is a more transparent system for selecting interviewees, with the top 10% (or whatever) getting invited to come meet the panel.

The subjective approach places a great emphasis on intuition. The idea is that experienced barristers know what to look for in pupils, and they can get a general 'feel' for candidates after reading their form. The result of scrutiny is usually a simple 'yes' or 'no'.

Despite the potential for it to be an unfair system, I actually do prefer the subjective system - I think it improves access to the Bar. In my opinion, it is much more likely that a candidate with a Two:Two will be invited for interview under the subjective system as those checking the form will have the opportunity to read between the lines and spot something truly special. The mark scheme in the objective test is, obviously, designed subjectively (!) by someone, somewhere, so all it does is remove an element of discretion.

Now, I'm lucky in that I have friends at 10 out of 12 of the Sets I applied to last year. And here's where the post-mortem begins:

It turns out that at ALL three sets where I was invited to interview they used the objective system. In ALL of the seven other Sets (all of whom neglected to invite me for interview) they used the subjective system. What does this mean?

The simple conclusion is that all of the necessary information is in my form. When it gets 5 points for this and 5 points for that, it comes out fairly well, because the pupillage committees are looking for it, finding it, and putting a tick in a box. However, when they have discretion under the subjective system, there was obviously something about my form that meant I wasn't getting the credit I feel I deserved.

The information in my form was obviously flawed in some way - either it wasn't clear, wasn't interesting or wasn't appropriate. Having reviewed last year's form I've identified various areas that I want to improve - I want my form this year to have more character (last year it was fairly anodyne, bland and tautologous), I want to put less emphasis on what I now consider to be irrelevant extra-curriculars (heavy emphasis on theatre, etc, far too much emphasis) and I want to sign-post the form to a greater extent (ensure skills are brought to the fore, highlight the themes in various sections).

I found going back through the form, trying to work out why it might have worked for some Sets but not others, helped me in two ways. Mainly, it allowed me to design a better approach to the form this year, but it also allowed me to relive some of the experiences and put some of my demons to rest.

2) Rewrite last year's form

Yes, I know that this year's questions are identical to those from 12 months ago, but we only discovered that last week.

A month ago I decided to take an empty copy of last year's form and fill it in completely from scratch. My reasons?

Although we didn't know this year's questions, there are only so many things a pupillage form can ask. I know that friends who apply to both OLPAS and non-OLPAS sets find every form they complete slightly easier than the last as they are 'getting their eye in'.

I suppose the simple answer is: 'practice'. I sat down wanting to get my head into pupillage-application-mode, and a fresh look at last year's form seemed to be as good a way as any.

The happy side effect, of course, was that when I discovered the form was an identical copy of last year's I had a head start.

3) Assemble your Brain Trust

For me, I think this could be the difference between success and failure. I mentioned in a previous post that friends last year were kind enough to have a quick glance over my form, rip me to shreds and rebuild me into a better candidate.

This year I have been putting together a group of 15 or 20 people who will all be looking over my form - all of whom, hopefully, will be able to suggest improvements.

My Trust, so far, consists of:

5 barristers (3 of whom are on pupillage panels at Sets I have promised not to apply to)
4 BPP Tutors (all still in part time practice)
2 current Pupils at Sets I'm applying to
The Oxbridge Shark (who has now secured Pupillage at a top commercial set)
2 friends who work in recruitment
2 future parents-in-law

I am, of course, most worried about the comments from the parents-in-law ("WHY ON EARTH ARE WE LETTING THIS IDIOT MARRY OUR DAUGHTER?!?!??!?!?!?"), but I'm sure overall the group all know me well enough to be able to tell me when I'm being an idiot, and when I've got something right.

Sadly, the only downside is that if I get pupillage I will owe all of them a bottle of something expensive

4) Give yourself time off

When undertaking written work, I'm not the idiot who leaves everything to the very last minute. Neither am I the studious sort who will have everything ready two weeks before a deadline, happy to bask in the resulting free time. I usually find myself submitting work 2 or 3 days before a deadline.

However, I also find myself going back to the work a week later, having had my mind on other things. When returning to work it often feels like it was written by someone else entirely, and I can spot dozens of things that I would have liked to have improved. I don't mean typos or grammatical issues - although this blog is littered with nonsense, when I'm in 'work mode' I actually concentrate - I mean turns of phrase, and nuances of language, that I would like to adjust and refine.

What does this mean for my pupillage form?

Well, as I would ideally like to submit 3 or 4 days before the deadline to avoid the inevitable server meltdown, it means I need a very-nearly-final draft ready 10 days before the deadline. So, if I have a version of the form ready for the 16th April (two weeks from today), I can then forget about it for 5 days or so, and then come back to it with fresh eyes, ready to tear myself apart.

This might not work for everyone, but perhaps even the act of creating an artificial (nearer) deadline might spur you on?

Thursday, 29 March 2012

Into the gaping jaws of my doom

As I write this, the Portal has been open for about an hour.

As far as I can see, ALL of the questions are exactly the same as last year. Even the word limits are identical. A man more brazen than I would be tempted to merely tinker with the responses from last year. Sadly, I'm meek and so feel the need to start from scratch. To be honest, it will probably result in a better application, so I can't moan.

As far as I can see, only four criminal Sets have taken the opportunity to upload their own question. Thus, at the very least eight of my applications will be on the minimal, bog standard application form.

The extra questions I've found so far are:

1) 187 Fleet Street - Please argue both for and against the proposition that Social networking websites and the internet are rendering fair trial by jury impossible (500 words)

2) 4 Breams Buildings - Please give examples of things you have done which demonstrate an interest in criminal law and advocay or puplic speaking (750 words - the two major typos are NOT my own, they are as submitted by the Set)

3) Three Raymond Buildings - Your pupil supervisor gives some advice in conference which in the light of your research you think is just wrong. What do you do and why? (150 words)

4) 25 Bedford Row - What do you see as the key challenge facing the criminal Bar and how would you propose the Bar meets this challenge? (I neglected to record the word limit as they're a defence-only set, so didn't pay them much attention)

Four perfectly answerable questions - but how many people will be put off from applying to these Sets, just because of the extra question?

I've previously written about some of the mistakes I made in my applications last year, my next post will detail some of the steps I've taken to give myself a fighting chance this year.

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Tomorrow is a Big Day

Capital B and D very much deserved.

Tomorrow morning I get to investigate this year's Pupillage Portal and see what the new questions are. Exciting times.

Monday, 26 March 2012

Professional Ethics

Today was the first centrally set exam of the BPTC. This year the BSB has taken responsibility for drafting the Ethics exam, alongside Civil and Crime. It was tough. Really tough, actually.

I was expecting the exam to be a mixture of realistic ethical dilemmas. Instead there were some very tightly drafted, overly specific, questions from minor parts of the Bar Code of Conduct and its associated appendices. I can't moan, though, there was nothing outside of the syllabus, it was just drafted in a way I wasn't expecting.

Here's hoping that on July 5th my results will show that I've done enough.

Sunday, 25 March 2012

Last year - Part 3 - The results

So, in the last few days I've had the joy of sitting nearly eight hours of opinion writing and drafting exams. I'd never sat down and hand-written a full opinion under exam conditions before, so this was a brand new experience for me. Believe me when I say that I have never been more sure that Chancery and Tax are not for me.

And now for the results of my pupillage endeavours last year. If you've been reading this blog from the beginning you'll know I wasn't successful - now seems as good a time as any to fill in the gaps.

As I said last time, by the 2nd August I had been rejected outright by eight sets, three sets had offered me a first round interview, and one set seemed to be trying desperately to ignore that I exist. Of the three interviews, in two cases I wasn't offered a second round, but at the fabled "Set 3" I was called back for the final 5. The second round seemed to go pretty well, so I was just waiting for results day to find out my fate.
Results day is a horrible, horrible time.
I have previously alluded to a few webpages that I found particularly useful:
First up is the "The Pupillage Interview/Acceptance/Rejection Thread 20xx" on the "Student Rooms" discussion board. Last year's thread is 238 pages of hope, triumph and despair. The thread seems to be the place that applicants for pupillage will hang out to discuss where they are applying, interviews, application forms and anything and everything in and around the whole process. On results day, from 9am, the place goes nuts. There is a complete vacuum of information - people are desperately trying to find out if they're still in the game. There is a steady stream of questions and announcements, and the constant refrain of: "Well, I haven't heard anything yet, so I guess it's not my year." You can quite literally watch people's dreams being crushed in real time. It must be like catnip to sadists. This year's thread can be found here - at the moment it's still in the post-application euphoria stage. Soon it will become a barren wasteland.

Next up are "The Pupillage Pages". They run a forum called "Have You Heard?" which has a separate page for every Set. You can click on the name of your chosen Chambers and find out how excited everyone else is to be getting called to interview while you're sat there feeling glum. Like the Pupillage Thread, it can be a place of misery on results day.

Lastly, you have the Pupillage Portal itself. It can be a great source of information to see how far you've got, and whether or not any given set has yet rejected you (if they've not bothered to email you), so on results day I'm sure applicants check it every few minutes.

Last year, on the night before the Big Day, I tried to get some sleep. I couldn't sleep. I hoped that I might sleep through til 9 or 10 and thus not be a complete wreck all day. Well, that didn't work either. At 8am I found myself sat in front of my computer, all three websites above open, desperately searching for information on Set 3.

And I found nothing. At all.

No one was discussing Set 3, no one had any information to share. My phone didn't ring all day, and I was descending into lunacy. At about 4pm I received an email informing me that I had a private message over at the Student Rooms. It was one of the final five from Set 3 telling me that she had been rejected the day after the interviews.  Her assumption was that this meant good news for me, as I hadn't heard anything. After a day of constantly decreasing hope, I finally allowed myself to think that maybe, just maybe, I might get some good news.

At 5pm the phone rang.

"Hi, is that Mini?"
"Hi, it's soandso from Set 3, can you talk?"
"Of course"
"Okay, here's the situation. Two weeks ago we rejected three candidates, leaving you and one other person. The original plan was to offer both of you pupillages. Last week the finance committee decided that we would only offer one pupillage this year, and this morning we offered it to the other candidate. You are the first, and only, reserve. The other guy has two other offers, so you've got a good chance of being lucky - I'll be in touch".
"Oh, great, thanks."

And then the waiting began.

I heard absolutely nothing from the Set for a week. In the end I bit the bullet and called them.

"Any news?"
"Yes! The other chap turned us down so, subject to sign off from the finance committee, the pupillage is yours. It shouldn't take too long, just dot some proverbials"
"That's great news, thanks so much - I accept, of course, so just let me know when you need me to come in"
"Will do, speak soon"

And then the waiting began.

A week later I'd heard nothing more, so called them again.

"Any news?"
"Still nothing, sorry, won't be long now"

And then the waiting began.

A few days later I tried calling again, but the head of the pupillage committee was never available, and he didn't return my calls. As we reached mid-September I was trying every other day, but it became obvious that the head of the pupillage committee didn't want to speak to me. In the end, the clerks gave me his mobile number. I left a couple of messages, and he never called back.

On the pupillage portal website your application status is listed next to every chambers. There are a number of versions: Under Consideration, Invited to First Round, Offered Pupillage, Rejected, etc. Before sets can offer a pupillage your status moves from "Invited to Final Round" back to "Under Consideration". This means that the next move will either be "Rejected" or "Offered Pupillage". The Pupillage Portal keeps an archive of your status from last year. My applications still show as "Rejected" (eleven times) and "Under Consideration" at Set 3. They didn't even bother updating the status on the website. 2 or 3 mouse clicks.

The end of September marks the end of the window for offering pupillage. For the last couple of days I was trying desperately to get hold of someone, anyone, to put me out of my misery. And no one ever called. The deadline passed, the Portal closed, and I knew I was without pupillage.

It was a truly, truly horrible experience - frankly I'd rather get 12 rejections pre-interview rather than go through something similar again. Suffice to say, I won't be reapplying to Set 3 when the Portal opens again on Thursday.

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Last year - Part 2 - Interviews

Tomorrow morning I have the pleasure and delight of sitting down for nearly 5 hours, and knocking out a hand-written opinion. In celebration of the fact that we're not allowed to use computers, I thought there was no better preparation than typing up a blog post on last year's pupillage interviews.

After submitting your applications, the wait is almost unbearable. Whenever you are alerted to any kind of communication (whether the postman, an email or a phone call) your heart skips a beat. After a couple of weeks, though, you learn to calm down a bit. And then you get your first pupillage email. I recently rewatched Godfather III, and never before has Michael Coreleone's anguished: "Just when I thought I was out of the water, they pulled me back in!" been more appropriate. Just as you're getting over it, they get you all excited again. Worse still, the first email I received was a positive email inviting me for interview.

"But this is a good thing!" I hear you cry. No. No it's not. They get you all excited, they get you feeling all positive about your chances, and then they hit you with seven rejections in a row. If I fall over, I want to fall over when I'm firmly on the ground. Falling off a ladder hurts more. Getting a positive response puts you on a ladder.

My first pupillage interview was horrendous. When I arrived in the waiting room, there was already another candidate there ahead of me. I made a huge mistake by speaking to him. He was a 35 year old Army Major, with a first from Oxford, who had been working the last 5 years on Courts-Martial and had the quiet, softly spoken authority of someone born for the Bar. I immediately felt like a child in a fight with Mike Tyson.

Things went from bad to worse when I got into the interview room. A man on the other side of the table said: "So, I see you used to work at the Financial Ombudsman Service, that seems like a complete waste of time. Please do take a seat." The rest of the interview didn't go particularly well. I tied myself in knots over a question about the recent death of Osama bin Laden. Basically, I was completely unprepared for the whole thing. Interviews in the past were pleasant experiences: I was asked questions, I answered them, I got the job. Pupillage interviews are war. You are being tested by men and women who spend all day, every day, exposing lies and half-truths. Charm is pointless as they see straight through it. I, quite literally, had no idea what to do.

I hadn't taken up opportunities to have mock interviews, I hadn't listened to stories from others. I felt, honestly, like a complete amateur - and I was right.

At this stage, I must give some advice in the strongest possible terms: Even if you don't think you are yet in a position to win pupillage, apply anyway. You will get practice at filling in the forms, and, should you manage to scrape an interview, you will get invaluable experience of interviewing with barristers. With every interview I attended last year, I became better at it.

So far I had received one interview followed by seven rejections. Emails nine and ten were invitations to interview.

Interview number two was my first experience of an advocacy exercise. Half an hour before my interview slot, I was given a bundle of papers and told that I would be making a bail application. In my mini-pupillages the longest bail-application I'd seen was defence counsel saying: "Your honour, can I assume that bail is to continue under the same terms?", and then receiving a positive reply.

I had no idea what I was doing. Luckily, the set did give us some guidance (commission of further offences, interfering with witnesses and failing to surrender), but I was still woeful.

I made a better stab of the the second half of the interview (questions about me and my form), but I wasn't hopeful of getting a second round interview.

In response to the advocacy exercise, I went to a local magistrates' court for two days and watched dozens of full bail applications and pleas in mitigation (defence counsel attempting to reduce sentence). Having the opportunity to see how it was done in practice made me feel much more comfortable about the possibility of it coming up in interview.

And so on to interview number three. Yet again, there was an advocacy exercise, and it was again a bail application. This time, I knew I was doing well. 'd seen how it was done in practice and I was able to bring those experiences with me into the interview. I'd also learned to fight back against interviewers. They don't want you to doff your cap and act the deferential serf - they want people who will state their case, stick to their guns and defend a position. As I said earlier, pupillage interviews are war - panels seem to want someone who will fearlessly represent their client, but also someone who may be worth sharing a pint with.

I felt as if the interview had gone well, and I was quietly confident of getting through to the second round.

My predictions, in both cases were correct - Set 2 said no, Set 3 asked me to come back. So, I was in the final 5, competing for 2 pupillages. My chances had risen from 0.5% (1 in 200) to 40%. Good times.

And so, in late July (having received a rejection from set number 11), I turned up for the second, and final round, at chambers number 3. I was told in advance that there was going to be a plea in mitigation, some general ethical questions and there would be an interview panel of NINE people. Nine, all sitting round a table staring at me. Lovely.

I arrived at the set, was given my brief and started my preparation. I was the last up and it was approaching 9pm, so I was worried that the panel would already be tired and bored of seeing idiot-candidates. However, they could not have been more welcoming. they cracked open a bottle of wine, offered me a glass, and we got on with a bit of a chat. The plea in mit seemed to go well and we all got along swimmingly - certain members of the panel even ridiculed me for my choice of football team. Lucky me.

I came out of the interview feeling good, and not entirely depressed about my chances when the results were to be announced on August 2nd.