I toyed with the idea of calling this post ‘Wall of Shame Redux’ and inviting posts on the topic of interviews and feedback, rather than the accusations which have bedevilled the last post. However, I thought I ought to make my position clear where it can be seen by all. Please, please do post your experiences of interview and feedback on the Post below. As I did last year, I will collate them in due course and publish the results. It is helpful to those who come next.
Now for the vexed topic of appropriate behaviour.
I started this blog because the website which preceded it (and which I began largely to amuse myself and to try to assemble a FAQ for pupillage) produced so much correspondence. I am a dreadful hoarder of correspondence, but when I cleaned out my inbox recently – as I think one should when it exceeds 15,000 emails – I discovered to my shock that in the last 10 years (my records go no further) I have received over 800 emails about pupillage and associated topics, of which I was able to answer about 630 (my apologies to those to whom I could not reply). That suggests a need for information.
When writing I express my view and no one else’s. The Bar rarely has a party line anyway. I have disclosed my involvement with the BSB and, although I acknowledge the danger of a separate regulator (ask most solicitors for their views of the SRA), it seems to me that the Spanish practices which passed without comment in the previous generation (including those which assisted me to get my own pupillage) need to be eliminated. If it is to survive, the Bar needs the best people it can attract. It also needs to be responsive to developments in the way people think and behave (essential in a referral profession of advocates) and to accommodate complaints. The days when people deferred to their social betters are now over, and thank the Lord for that. Accordingly, I have happily published criticism and challenge and I have never moderated comments; still less deleted a comment which was not spam, unless its maker requested it.
I have proceeded on the basis that most readers here are, or have at least some thought of becoming, a barrister. After all, you would have to be slightly deranged to come here otherwise. That being so it seemed to me that I could expect a particular approach from people who wished to respond to what I wrote. It seems now that it may be necessary to spell that out in slightly greater detail.
- I have never asked people to identify themselves. The reason should be obvious but it may help to set it out. It is so that any question can be asked and any comment made without risk (real or perceived) to the maker. Anonymity goes only to weight. However, the privilege of anonymity is not granted so that accusations of professional misconduct can be made. If a reader has a concern about misconduct they are free to contact me directly. As a number of you can testify, I do not require identities and I do not pass them to anyone else without express permission from the person who has contacted me. An anonymous accusation permits the accuser to claim a knowledge they may not have on the basis of facts about themselves which cannot be checked. It is impossible for anyone to respond to such accusations. This is not about preventing criticism, but about being fair and acting with integrity. If you cannot accept that position then the best advice I can give you is to find another job, because your own moral code does not equip you for this one.
- Rudeness is discouraged. You are entitled to argue your corner and to point out deficiencies in what others are saying: punch pulling is not required. Occasionally, rudeness is justified (never in Court) and occasionally it is funny. I treasure the moment I heard a colleague say – to another barrister who had been appallingly and unjustifiably rude and who had then sought to make amends by issuing an invitation to dinner – ‘I am sorry but I have a subsequent engagement’. And I admire the man who said of someone considerably senior to him and most unpleasant – ‘There’s only two things I dislike about X: his face’. But unless it is in that category and unless it is aimed at someone more powerful than you, there is to be no rudeness. If you are rude to me I will not delete it, but neither should you expect an indulgent pat on the head. If you feel a need to be cheeky to the teacher then give up ideas of the Bar until you have grown up.
- I do not prevent anyone taking out their frustrations at the pupillage process and their own difficulties. The pupillage process is frustrating and good candidates – who would make good barristers – do fail. Sometimes Chambers do not pick the best candidates and sometimes that fact is obvious to the student body. And sometimes there is a reason for the pick which goes beyond cock-up. But not often. There must never be an assumption that what a particular person or group of people regard as a bad or odd pick is an abuse of the system. To make such an assumption is to begin from the belief that the profession is corrupt. If you really think that, then you know nothing about Barristers and you are at risk of falling into the trap of deluding yourself that your own failures are not down to your own imperfections. That way madness lies.
- This blog is not here for you to indulge yourself about your own failure to become a barrister by laying it at the door of an unfeeling profession, to which you voluntarily applied; a nepotistic pupillage committee, to which you voluntarily submitted yourself; or a determination on the part of an Oxbridge elite to perpetuate itself if your CV is distinctly average, as are your academic results. This ties in with what I have said about anonymity. If you are on the verge of making such an accusation then ask yourself whether your most critical tutor would support it: if not then why should anyone else? If your answer is that your tutors hate you then that is, I suggest, a clue to the real problem. Sometimes mistakes are made: if mistakes only happen to other people then you aren’t fit for the job.
- No flame wars and no ad hominem attacks. This is not just about rudeness. This is a blog for aspiring barristers. If you can’t argue it in a convincing way or without attacking the person you disagree with, shut up please. And if you could do it but can’t be bothered, then comment when you can be bothered.
These are not rules and they are not an attempt to limit your freedom. I do ban racist, sexist, homophobic, ageist and other such comments, with which I have not troubled to deal above. The reason for this Post is that I cannot run the blog if my assumptions about how people will respond are not to be fulfilled in very large part.
There are good reasons for this. Firstly, I am a Barrister. I love my profession, I admire my colleagues and I am certain that the work we do is vital to the proper and fair functioning of this country and the wellbeing of its citizens. I am not interested in hosting a blog where disgruntled applicants can trash the job I do for no better reason than that their self-esteem requires them to assert that their own failings are the fault of someone else – preferably lots of other people all conspiring together. People who are not in that position would normally contact me privately before posting damaging information and certainly when asked to do so.
Secondly, this blog – for better or worse – is widely read by law students and BPTC students. I am well aware that rumours circulate like a forest fire. People are put off applying to decent sets of Chambers where they would have a chance. Other sets of Chambers then receive more applicants, thereby lessening the chances for all. The reputation of Chambers and individuals within those Chambers suffer from such rumours, without affording the people involved the slightest chance to defend themselves or confront their accusers so that they can test the evidence. That is unjust and the injustice is amplified by its happening within a profession dedicated to the elimination of injustice. I am not interested in hosting an opportunity for that injustice.
Thirdly, such behaviour allows a few unpleasant and bellicose commentators to dominate the comments. That, in turn may deter people from asking questions and sharing information which would assist them and others.
Finally I want to make it clear that I have ensured that I have no involvement with pupillage in my own Chambers. I promote no candidates, recommend no one other than on the basis of a mini-pupillage spent with me, offer no mini-pupillages based on comments on the blog and write no recommendations which I cannot back up with personal experience. You can say what you like here and it will neither help nor hinder you, save and insofar as you learn something that assists. The reasons I want professional behaviour are transparently and fully set out above.