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An Invitation

TheFishFootmanDeliveringAnInvitationToTheDuchessIllustrationFromAliceInWonderlandByLewisCarroll18329I got a pingback from Charon’s blog and went to look. I discovered that my ears should have been burning, although, oddly they weren’t. Bang goes that theory then.

What was said was this (all quotes include exact spelling and punctuation):

I discussed my views last night with other members of Chambers. One person called SM’s blog an as arrogance and always putting the Bar down; another person said (without any prodding from me) SM by posting an attack on Chambers is being defamtory, bringing the Bar into disrepute and shows an extreme lack of judgement. I posted some time ago SM always puts the Bar down this is just another example of it.

Maybe you will get off the student bandwagon of it is everbodies  fault but mine that I can’t get a pupillage and reconsider your stance.

“The debate needs to happen and it will”. Where? On a blog with anonymous posts from anonymous disatisfies students who cant find a pupillage and want to blame everyone but themselves. And where do you think your so called “debate” will end up and what do you think will be the end result of your “debate”? This isn’t a debate – it is a bunch of grumbling students who as I said blame everybody but temselves for their failure. Of interest is that when in your “debate” one student resorts to swearing to which you seek to mimic.

I want to make a number of points clear:

  1. The above was not posted on my blog and no one has emailed me with it either. That is inimical to real debate and, to my mind, suggests other motives.
  2. An objective look at the Blog – perhaps starting with the post ‘Why I Want to be a Barrister’ (which is the most viewed post on the Blog) will, I think, demonstrate clearly that I love the Bar and being a barrister, and believe that we perform a vital function in a free society. Nor, by the way, do I remotely agree that this is like any other job when sometimes you like it and sometimes you don’t. I regard it as a vocation and I have never – in 23 years –  woken up and thought I didn’t like what I do.
  3. It is not putting anything down to give a view which encompasses the good and the bad. If you really love something there is no need to pretend that things are other than they really are.
  4. Everyone is entitled to their own view of the value of the Blog and what I post. This is a profession where you have to back your own judgement on a daily basis. There is nothing official about the Blog: I don’t ask what I can say and I don’t seek guidance. If anyone really feels it brings the Bar into disrepute, the usual channels are available to them.
  5. I would welcome competition. I get nothing from this – I refuse advertising and commercial link-ups. The Bar has been good to me: a huge number of people at the Bar have helped me throughout my career, and continue to help me when they did not, and do not, have to. This is what I do to honour that behaviour. That there is no competition is just how things are – but criticism about what I write might fairly be looked at in that context.
  6. I detect no bandwagon of students complaining. On the contrary: the number of pupillages has gone down; the number of applicants have gone up; the cost has gone up. That formula should logically lead to resentment and frustration. What is noticeable is the extent to which it has not. The complaints voiced here (and elsewhere) are about particular behaviour. They can be – and they deserve to be – treated on their merits, rather than being made the subject of a non-particularised attack aimed at diminishing all of them.
  7. That a confident profession wishing to inspire public trust would be prepared to debate its use to society in public is something I take as a given. We are nothing if we are not trusted by our end users and potential end users. This debate merely extends that principle to our own behaviour to aspirants. It is neither a new departure nor a particularly remarkable thing.
  8. Where I do depart from regular debate is in permitting anonymity. That, of course, is open to abuse, which is why the post identifying particular Chambers makes it clear that these are subjective views and offers a right of reply (which no one has yet asked for). I take the view that people are more likely to express themselves freely when granted the right to be anonymous. Looking at what has been said by the various contributors it appears that I am correct in that assumption… I rely on the reader to sort the wheat from the chaff.
  9. It is important that aspirants do express themselves freely, because the nature of the system under which they formally labour is that they cannot really do so. I believe that the Bar thereby misses important feedback, which would assist it to be more responsive and even fairer than it currently is. The risk of damaged egos is less important. The risk of unfairness and duplicity is offset by the right to reply.
  10. Because it is difficult to assess the value of anonymous comment it is entirely conceivable that the Chambers named by particular commentators might simply ignore what has been said. Equally, they might chose to think about whether anything said could be justified. It is up to them.

The invitation referred to in the title is to those who wish me to think about what they say. Unlike student applicants they are in a position where they need not be concerned about what anyone thinks of them: they have already made it. And they have the best interests of the Bar at heart.

I invite them, therefore, to the conclusion that they should email me with their comments about the way in which the profession should treat applicants, the best way to deal with the sort of perceived (or, perish the thought, actual) problems that have been expressed below, and the value to the profession of not discussing these difficulties but simply leaving them to fester. Those emails should, of course, be in the real names of the people who have these concerns. I will publish – uncut – what I receive. Then everyone can judge for themselves.

All barristers are familiar with the issue of whether they will put their name to a particular submission. If they won’t it can be safely assumed that the submission is a poor one.

42 thoughts on “An Invitation

  1. Simon

    I perhaps didn’t help things – but I genuinely felt there may have been a bit of a wind up going on with TB.

    TB and I had a bit of spat – I was accused of eulogising you and doing a podcast with all the punch of a Richard & Judy or This Morning interview.

    I thought that was quite funny.

    For the record – and I did say this in my own comments section

    1. I do think your blog is a valuable resource for prospective bar students – I have said so for some years.

    2. There aren’t that many barristers out there giving quite so much help for free (I appreciate that some do it on a personal basis when they meet prospective barristers at dinners or interviews and the like)

    3. I can’t for the life of me see why you should not encourage prospective barristers to give feedback on their experiences. I think it perfectly reasonable for you to work on the premise that commenters on your blog will be hionest in appraising the Chambers experience they had – good or back. If they aren’t then I can’t really see much point in their continuing in the profession.

    4. I have no problem with affording anonymity to those who wish to give feedback. There are some superb financial blogs where the writers are anonymous. If they were outed they would not be able to write about financial markets and we would be the poorrer. The same is / may be true for law blogs.

    5. I cannot see how the Bar could possibly object to honest and reasonable feedback. The truth of the matter is that even the very best of organisations mess up, get their admin wrong from the best universities to the smallest law firms. It may be that Chambers had a bad day, the barrister just didn’t attend to the admin. This happens. If it is systemic then I would have thought, for the benefit of chambers, that this free feedback would be valuable in sorting the problem out.

    I can certainly see no point in personal slanging matches, however amusing they may be, of continuing to blur the rather more important issue of the pupillage interview process.

    It was not my intention to blur things even faster and my jest about digging was meant as a bit of gentle humour…

    I’ll get my coat!

    By the way – I have absolutely no problem being courteous and polite to all my podcastees – the idea behind my podcasts is to provide a different format for information and allow the podcastee time to explore the issues.

    I do not see podcasts as some crazed forum for Paxo style antics… even the OTC chap I was polite to, if a little bit more skeptical about his activities.

    I shall not do any more cartoons on this topic … for the present 🙂

    And.. another thing… at the risk of sounding like your official roman orator…. I raise a glass to what you are doing to give objective, honest and direct advice.


  2. I should add.. for the avoidance of doubt, that the section you extracted in your post came from a comment posted on my blog by Troubled Barrister.

    Forgive the typos in last post – mildly hungover. Well.. the cricket was good yesterday and a blogger has to have a few drinks after a long day…

  3. All hail Gaius Iulius Myerson – who does everything for the good of the common student. Who asks for nothing and wishes to live his life as a simple private citizen but feels his calling in service of the students (for who else can there be to protect them from the other crazed wicked Barristers). Once he has conquered them he will give up his consulship and become a private man once again.

    Comrade Myerson is always right.

    1. That’s a little snide isn’t it? I mean, you could actually take me up on this if you believe you have something of value to contribute. I wonder, did you deal with those who tried to help you in the same way that you deal with those who try to help others?

    2. He seems to me to be taking an interest in the future of the profession, in the finest traditions of the bar. If we don’t do so, particularly in the current climate, then we will kill our profession.
      You have every right to make substantive points in opposition: those you have attempted to make so far I find utterly unconvincing – potentially libellous? I await the issue of claim forms with fascination.

  4. Is there ANY objective quality in either bitterness, OR Sarcasm?
    Perhaps, being a mere aspirant, I am too resentful to appreciate it.

  5. This is my first blog comment ever, but my interest was piqued by this thread as it is really very funny.

    Simon I occassionally enjoy reading your blog but it does tend to follow a bit of a pattern ie Students are all a bit Mona McWhinger and theres generally a too much moral crusading for my liking. Anyway my points are as follows:

    1) Firstly I agree with TB’s main point. Being recently called to the bar myself I’m well aware of Students’ skill in being able to slag of barristers and/or chambers without being able to look at the reasons that they might not have presented themselves attractively as applicants. I fear the anonymous thing will encourage a big old slag-off fest, providing a forum for not only the highly ‘mature’ bloggers but the disgruntled masses.

    2) I also think that TB’s cloak of anonymity is somewhat hypocritical but he is primarily criticising the comments anonymous individuals (try to ignore the criticisms of Simon…) but alls fair in love and war

    3) I love how narky this is getting. Keep it up. It’s amazing how seriously bloggers can take themselves.

    4) Please don’t judge me on my poor grammar and spelling and attempt to discredit everything I say on this basis. You may want to consider that limited time at a Thai internet cafe does not encourage accuracy.

    Over and out

  6. (Also commented to the “Invitation” posting)

    I think that Simon and charonqc have nothing whatsoever to answer for. It is to their credit that they have been so careful to offer the right to reply to critics, and to scrupulously address even the ill-made criticisms made.

    It is a shame that the snide, anonymous cowards (plural now that “Me” has also unleashed his torrent of gravy) have taken up the time of those who seek to help others. It is a shame that taking the high road (as Simon and CQC are doing) has such a cost.

    Tell us, TB and Me: what have you ever done for anyone, ever? And why do you (correctly) feel that if your real names were put to your words, it would be bad for you? Do you not understand that this means you are wrong, wrong, wrong?

  7. guys (in the non sexually-differentiated sense), we really do have better things to do: us whingey students have to go and fail to get pupillage and blame other people; simon apparently has to further whatever world-domination exercise he is being accused of (and he hasn’t even holed himself up in a subterranean complex on some uninhabited caribbean island yet); ed has to hang out with baloo; tb has to relate to his own curious version of reality with its own special ‘facts’; ‘me’ presumably has thai girls to observe playing a very peculiar version of ping pong (no disrespect, ‘me’, it’s the only thai reference i can come up with); and charon has to see whether it is physically possible to stick his shovel in a new and interesting place.

    briefly amusing tho the vitriol was, we haven’t moved it on and my (biased of course) view is that it will end up as the ‘whingers’ taking random pops at tb. simon’s blog will not be closed down by the thought police and some will think that’s a good thing and others will not. we really aren’t gong to agree. and does it matter? hardly – chambers can look and see what people have said if they want to; the action in defamation recommended by ‘someone’ at tb’s chambers is really quite unlikely to materialise (simon can stop quaking in those bar-hating boots).

    have a beer for dogssake.

  8. sorry – i couldn’t resist another one. i just love the way every time ed posts a comment, tb has to follow it with a ‘i’m really not talking to him, you know!’ comment. i can see the folded arms and pursed lips.

    actually, maybe there is life in this thread yet.

  9. A few have done it but never me. Sure I could be the first defamation litigant in person in chambers (the Senior Clerk would be ecstatic).

    Can I say this (SM has asked me directly what did you do in the “Great War”) – I am not a religious person but wasn’t it said blessed are those who give and do not say?

    Some of you might be suprised by what I have done for students; but no intention of boasting about it.

  10. Gordon Bennett.

    Mr Myerson, I think points 6 and 8 of your post are most pertinent. I’m amazed that the Wall of Shame has attracted such criticism. Some of the comments – such as the person calling for chambers to publish dates when they intend to interview – amounted to wish-thinking. However, in the main, most people were expressing frustration at the treatment they have received during the application process. Few, if any, that I noticed, complained about not getting pupillage. We aspirants are well aware of difficulty of getting one.

    On the subject of anonymous posting, surely those reading have the discernment to judge which posts are reasoned and salient and which are simply risible or frivolous? I don’t see a problem with anonymity unless and until personal accusations are being made about particular individuals.

    Troubled Barrister, I hope you take greater care in the drafting of skeletons than you do in composing your comments. If the quoted passages are verbatim then there’s hope for me yet.

  11. I don’t see the relevance to the debate. To me this isn’t about what I do; but rather it is on whether is it proper to allow anonymous students to “slag off” chambers and individuals on a pretty well known senior barrister’s blog.

    I don’t see any difference in asking people to anonymously post how they found their solicitor and/or barrister. Such behaviour I believe was the subject of litigation in Ireland.

  12. Troubled Barrister, point me to an example of a post that you think is unacceptable.

    Most of the posts are in the categories of “X chambers failed to do what it said it would” and “X chambers did not conform to even a basic level of courtesy when it declined my application”

    Perhaps the answer is for chambers to invite feedback from applicants. There seems to be little or no opportunity to do so. Which leaves the impression that either chambers think they are without exception doing an excellent job or they don’t care whether they are or not.

  13. I write only to lend support to Simon’s Blog. I have followed it on and off for a number of years; from my undergraduate days to post-BVC days.

    In a nutshell, I find his blog (and Charon QC’s) very useful. I have posted on it anonymously once or twice, and would not feel comfortable leaving my name for fear of a prospective recruiter finding me naming and shaming others. I have never posted in an attempt to humiliate a particular Chambers, if anything, it is nice to compare experiences with others.

    I have been through the pupillage application process a couple of times, as many others have, and it is a very arbitrary process. There is absolutely nothing wrong with people sharing views of their experiences – last time I checked we lived in a democracy.

    I have many friends at the Bar, most empathise with the grueling process we all have to go through nowadays, however, none offer (or are able to offer) the support that Simon does.

    I feel deeply offended for Simon that TB has feels able (and equipped) to criticise him.

  14. It strikes me as more than a little amusing that TB is concerned about ‘whether it is proper to allow anonymous students to “slag off” chambers and individuals’ on this blog, when his primary daytime activity appears to be slagging off all and sundry, under an anonymous pseudonym, on any blog he can find.

    The weight of evidence identifying TB as a troll is, at this point, overwhelming. I suggest we all follow the advice often given when attempting to get rid of something unpleasant: if you ignore him, he will go away.

  15. I hate flame wars, so I’ll leave everyone alone, but the way I see the issue is this. Should chambers aspire to the same recruitment procedures as everyone else?

    In between being a solicitor and moving to the bar I was a ‘consultant’ who set up more than a few recruitment procedures for small employers, and refereed the odd dispute from applicants about perceived unfairness.

    Standard HR practice would seem to call for the following:
    1) A clear timescale – when are the interview dates? Can you pick your preferred date? What date will decisions be notified?
    2) Assessment – mechanism. How will I be assessed? Interview? Asssessment day? Practical excercises? What time do I need to turn up? What do I need to bring with me? Do I need special help because of a disability?
    3) Assessment – decision. What skills / competencies / technical abilities are chambers looking for? In what weighting? How are the points decided? Who is / are the decision maker(s)?
    4) Feedback – it needn’t be automatic for everyone, but it should be supplied asap when asked for. What scores did I get under (2)? How can I raise a complaint? Who to?

    Those are really just off the top of my head while I have five minutes, but apply for any FTSE100 job, or with a bank or decent law firm or with any competently organised employer and all of the above will be in place.

    HR hasn’t created these standards just to create an industry for itself, pre-announced procedures and standards encourage applications, fairness, correct decision-making, and avoidance of prejudice (or the appearance of it). When stories like this:

    Professions reserved for rich

    are the news headline today, barristers have to ask “Why are we different?”, “Why should the same practices everyone else uses to avoid allegations of nepotism, prejudice and elitism not apply to us?”

    The lazy reason why many chambers don’t think they should bother is that they receive so many applicants for every post that it’s an employer’s market. This is a very dangerous short term view.

    The most obvious answer is that your barristers will be worse quality. I’ve met a couple of really crap new barristers recently, and I’ve heard good anecdotal evidence of some smaller chambers, faced with 200 application forms, just interviewing the six with the best degree results, or even that happened to be at the top of the pile.

    The Bar as an institution has more threats to it than from its entrants, and the perception that it is for the privileged continues then negative PR like this will have real consequences as our legal institutions and professions change over the next couple of decades.

    Civil servants are already wondering whether in ten years they’ll be able to just tender all their legal aid advocacy to Capita or Serco, like they do everything else, and if they feel they can do it and purport to strike a blow for social equality it’ll be all the easier for them.

    1. That all takes huge amounts of time. HR departments are paid. Pupillage committees are not, moreover they are giving up time that they could use either to do chargeable work or to have a life. And we aren’t employers. Bar the odd bit of devilling a pupil won’t be earning me money, on the contrary while they are a pupil I’ll be spending potentially chargeable time looking after them in my capacity as pupilmaster; once they are a tenant they’ll be taking work from me…
      I’m not lining myself up with TB but any attempt to address the huge problem we undoubtedly have has to take those points into account.

  16. Oh, and I’m not anonymous any more if you visit my blog, so I’m squeaky clean! But if I was on here as an applicant for pupillage I wouldn’t yield up my name for love or money. Maybe money.

  17. Usefully,

    I don’t think you can call it an ’employers’ market’ when those recruitng are self-employed and have a limited financial interest in the succes of those who are hired.

  18. The Bar, in the balance of power between it and applicants, has all the power. And the professional stage is an employment relationship both in law and in fact. Therefore, it is an employers’ market.

  19. I meant it simply by analogy as to it being a buyer’s market when prices are low, and a seller’s market when prices are high. Given that there are so many BVC graduates per pupillage vacancy, chambers can be fairly slapdash and still get someone ‘good enough’.

  20. Stands to reason that something has to give – either decrease the numbers completing the BVC ( not considered good) or increase the number of pupillages, perhaps through central funding ( also not considered good).
    Either way, and despite the latest protestations that the law is something of a privilaged closed shop, the situation will, and always will, remain NOT GOOD.
    I despair.

  21. It’s not the huge task it initially seems – and here the Bar Council could provide huge support by doing a sample set of procedures / template recruitment documents that chambers can either use as they are or tinker with, or ignore completely.

    I don’t think anyone knows the answer to the problem of applicants versus pupillages, as Liadnan says you can’t artificially increase the number of pupillages because it won’t increase the number of tenancies. I’m sure my chambers would offer additional pupillages with central funding, but we’re not about to offer someone a tenancy if there’s no work for them.

    What you can do is make the procedure as professional and streamlined as you can. More central pupil “HR” support is a valid thing for the Bar Council to do centrally.

    1. Well, I guess we all could. “Yes, you can be a tenant. That will be 1k a quarter’s rent. Work? Oh, ask the clerks, I’m sure there’s the odd charging order application out there for 50 quid a pop.”

  22. How about letting pupils go off to set up practice after successful completion of pupillage as per the new style “partnerships” vaunted by the LSA? Might have a chance then of catching some of the work Solicitor Colleagues get, and Chambers wouldnt be troubled by the extra numbers……..

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