Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Mini-pupillages - an Introduction

Last week I was lucky enough to secure an 'unofficial' mini-pupillage with a barrister I've got to know over the last couple of years.

Before I get into what happened, where and why I thought I should do a bit of an introduction for those that have absolutely no idea what I'm talking about.

I'm sure I'll talk more about the qualification process to get to the Bar at length in the future, but for now it will suffice to say that the last bit is a one year slog called 'Pupillage' - this is where you work with and among other barristers, learning from them, following them around, sharpening your skills ready for practice. If you impress during pupillage you might get 'tenancy' - you're now a big grown up barrister in your own right.

Long before getting to pupillage, while in education, or perhaps while working in a different field trying to decide if the Bar is for you, you might be lucky enough to do a 'mini-pupillage', which (like Ronseal) does exactly what it says on the tin. A shortened period (normally a week) of following barristers round, helping with their case preparation, sitting with them in court, going to the cells to watch discussions with clients... You're never actively involved in the case (you're not a lawyer yet!) so you're very much an observer, but in my experience barristers will try to make you feel involved - discussing the case with you, asking advice (and never following it), asking you to lend them 2 quid to buy a coffee as the CPS still owes them ten grand... that sort of thing.

The brilliance of it is that you develop a real understanding of life at the Bar, its glories and its sorrows, and the pressures placed on its members - literally it helps you decide if the profession is for you.

But that's not all. Moreover, if you have already made that decision, it helps you decide if certain areas of law are for you (I hated a mini that I once secured at a commercial set, but fell in love with the criminal bar on day 1). Once you decide on your area, it also helps you to make contacts and (god I hate this word) 'network'.

You see, one of the highlights of every mini I've been on has been time in the advocates' room (often called the robing room). There, you will find every sort of barrister and advocate, all dotted around the room either doing their best to ignore distractions and mug up on their latest instructions, or else trying to distract others because they're bored and feel like being mischievous.

As a mini-pupil this is an absolute gold mine. If you're a bolshy sort (like me) and find yourself abandoned by your supervisor, you can, quite happily, wander up to some lonely looking advocate, introduce yourself and ask them about their day. The response will be one of five options:

1) they welcome the distraction and are delighted to chat to someone looking to come to the Bar
2) they resent the distraction but feel they have to talk to you out of courtesy
3) they pretend to be deaf and stare intently at their crossword
4) they welcome the distraction because they can't afford to eat (see the point above about the CPS) and hope to trade pupillages for food
5) they're too busy to talk to you, and apologise

ALWAYS avoid type 4.

Luckily for me, I've always seemed to bump into type 1. If I've found someone particularly pleasant I always try to secure contact details, and try to follow up.

Over the last year I kept bumping into the same chap almost everywhere I went. I started asking him about mini-pupillages at his set (sadly they didn't offer them) but he said he'd happily have me tag along during Reading Week for a few days, so last Monday I set off for Wimbledon Magistrates to watch a superstar prosecutor in action.

My next few posts will be a summary of last week, and I hope to capture a little bit of what 'minis' are about.

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