Life at the Bar · Recommended Reading

This May Help You Pass


Apologies for the clickbait title, but anyone taking an exam (BPTC or Recorder) may well be asked about joint enterprise, now that Lord N has agreed that the law has taken a wrong turn. The correction manoeuvre has only taken 31 years, which for the UK is equivalent to Ferrari-like handling.

On the other hand, it’s not so much a wrong turn as a slight diversion. Will it make a lot of difference? I don’t believe so. The reality is that almost every defendant to whom this issue relates has not given evidence (including Mr Jogee himself – see §104). The issue is thus transformed from whether an accused foresaw that a murder might take place to whether an accused had an intention to inflict violence (really serious harm for murder, violence for manslaughter). Knowledge of a weapon and its type (previously used to prove foresight) is now merely evidence of intention. Its sensible. It’s not earth-shaking.

What I think this will do is impose even more pressure on an accused to give evidence. A direction might go like this:

Members of the jury, in considering whether Mr X intended to inflict really serious harm you must consider his case separately from that of Mr Y who is alleged to have stabbed the deceased. What evidence might there be to establish whether  he had that intention? Well, first consider whether he knew that Y had a knife. Then the circumstances in which the knife was produced. Then anything Mr X has said about his own knowledge and intention. You will note that he did not give an account to the police or give evidence. You are thus unable to rely upon anything he has said. The prosecution assert that the fact of the knife being taken to the scene, being produced in full sight before it was used, and being commonly spoken about by these accused in text messages and Facebook posts, all provide a basis upon which you can be sure that Mr X knew there was a knife and that it was likely to be used. From that conclusion, say the prosecution, you can be sure that Mr X intended that the knife be used. There is no evidence that he intended merely to scare the deceased. If you are sure the accused went to the house intending violence then it is open to you to conclude that the violence intended was serious.

As against that the defence argue that there is no evidence that Mr X intended anything. Well, of course, to the extent that Mr X has chosen not to respond to the questions put to him, nor to give evidence, that is correct. But it is open to you to draw inferences from the facts as you find them to be. If you are sure that Mr X knew that Mr Y had a knife, that he may – if circumstances required it – use it, then you are entitled to conclude that Mr X himself intended that the person upon whom the knife was used should suffer at least some injury. If so then Mr X is at least guilty of manslaughter. If you are also sure that he intended the injury to be really serious, then the proper verdict is guilty of murder.

It’s a more interesting question as to whether Mr X is guilty of murder if he intends only really serious harm via, say a baseball bat, and then Mr Y pulls out a gun. On the basis of today’s decision Mr X would again be guilty of murder. However, I would have thought (hope) that a decision to kill with a weapon that one accused knew nothing about would mean that an intention to commit gbh would not be enough, even though it is the requisite intention for murder.

What all these factual issues have in common is that, to be acquitted, defendants should give evidence. In gang cases that is usually impossible unless everyone is running a cut-throat defence. What we advise our clients is about to get very interesting…

Interviews · Other Sites · Recommended Reading · Routes to the Bar

New Kid on the Block


I want to introduce you to a new site called The Pupillage Pages. It has been added to the Useful Links list below. The site is run by two pupils to be (that is to say, they have secured pupillages and start in due course). I’ve reviewed the information and advice they provide and it is solidly reliable. For those of you applying this year it should be of assistance.

The site is super-duper up to date and makes me feel old and tired. It includes live fora, the development of which I shall watch with interest. It also includes a space for people to keep each other up to date on applications and progress. I would like to think that everyone will contribute to that part of the site in a careful and constructive way, focussing on disseminating knowledge to their peers: as trying to get barristers to agree is commonly compared to herding cats, that might be slightly optimistic but I live in hope. For those feeling bilious, the Wall of Shame will be open here for business as usual.

The authors are open to advertising. Although I have mixed feelings about this, I know that they have invested in the development of the site and I trust them to declare any conflicts of interest. It seems to me that they are unlikely to go in for quite the same amount of expression of opinion as I do, so the issues are not as tricky. Certainly, what is currently up there is trustworthy. It is also better, more focussed and more in depth than the Bar Council’s new “Become a Barrister” website. I say that with some regret, because the very fact that the Bar Council has produced such a site is good news and one which would have been unthinkable 10 years ago. The difficulty is that professional bodies have to keep it to information only and the site is thus a bit vanilla (if this site is – as I hope it is – chilli, then The Pupillage Pages is, say, saffron. Any competing spice analogies gratefully received below). The authors are also anonymous. I have urged them to out themselves, because it seems to me that when a site offers information, those wondering whether to use that information are entitled to know the background of the person offering it. They have, perfectly reasonably, said they would like to discuss that with their Chambers. I very much hope their Chambers support the endeavour. For the time being I am prepared to say that the authors know what they are talking about.

I am excited, because the site seems to me to potentially fulfil a real need. Some of its content is covered here as well, and that has the advantage of allowing you either two opinions, or the comfort of agreement. Some of it will, hopefully, consist of information which I frankly doubt I would be given – information directly from Chambers for example – because I wish to retain the right to criticise and suggest improvements. Some of it consists of basic information which I am too idle to put up because it is available elsewhere, but there are distinct advantages to gathering it all together in one place. Go and have a look and let me – and them – know what you think.

Life at the Bar · Recommended Reading

A Quick Link


Firstly my apologies for the silence. I am simply terribly busy. I hope that, within the next couple of weeks the pace will be slightly slower and I can post again. I have not given the blog up!

Secondly, although I don’t normally do advertising, Claire at Hammicks has contacted me and asked me to remind you that for Pupils and those up to 3 years call, there is a Bar Council/Hammicks scheme for cheap books. The link is here – http://barcouncil.hammickslegal.com/live/vhost_pages/Pupillage_Discounts.asp?user_id=840f47baaae179bec8730dea23a7fb95

This is obviously a good deal. I have asked Claire about extending something of the kind to BVC students. These are practitioner texts, and expensive, but people could share them. She is working on it. Until then please note that BVC students can get BCrimP, BCivP and BEmpP with 31% off, the Green Book at 60% discount and Stone’s Justices’ Manual (new on last week) for 60% off. I am sure you knew this already, but just in case…

Interviews · Mature Entrants · Recommended Reading · Routes to the Bar · Which Chambers?

The Path to Pupillage


3259575881_d6bfaf2fb3You will all have bought this, of course. If not, it is available here – http://www.amazon.co.uk/Path-Pupillage-Guide-Aspiring-Barrister/dp/1847034012.

However, if you have not bought it and you have a little time to go, then you may want to hold off for a while because the authors are planning a second edition. Having both been taken on (Vol 2 – The Trials of Tenancy?), and put on their respective pupillage committees, they would like to know what you would like to know. If you have an idea to contribute please email them at pathtopupillage@gmail.com which is an address created specifically for the purpose.

The new edition will be updated and will have additional chapters dealing with how to convert from being a solicitor, the bar as a second career, how to deal with more than one offer (I assume this is not only about getting ecstatically drunk and losing all your friends), third sixes and alternative careers. If you can think of anything else you would like to know about, email and tell the authors. The same applies if there are people from whom you would like to hear – the book has a number of quotes from practitioners and the judiciary. Whose words of wisdom would assist you?

I don’t normally do puffs, but this is a genuinely useful book and if you are thinking of the Bar then you should read it. You can help make it even more useful. My own two pennorth is that I would like to hear from two people, both of  whom had a standard degree and a standard CV and one of whom got a pupillage. Was it just luck that made the difference, or is there something that can be done to make every applicant stand out to the right Chambers? I would also like to hear from people who didn’t make it and who would not now go through the process, about why they didn’t stop when the odds were so obviously against them (I don’t simply mean numerically speaking). There are a lot of you out there saying something like, “I know I haven’t really got the grades or the CV but I’m sure that it will come right for me”. Most of the time, I’m afraid, it won’t. When those people have spent £12,000 and 3 years of their lives and are not barristers, what advice would they have given their younger, more optimistic, selves?

Finally, given the debate that has been raging here, I would like a Chapter about how to make the most of modern application procedures. Chambers may not adopt them, but I wonder if, even so, a candidate could make more of themselves by utilising the latest knowledge. There must be professionals out there who would be willing to be quoted.

Alex and George tell me that they will update the Chapter on OLPAS and the PP. I advise the printers to use acid proof paper.

Recommended Reading · This Blog

Miscellany-at-Law


Sorry for being so quiet but three things are happening simultaneously. Firstly, I am really busy and I am finding the work particularly difficult (I had hoped this would stop but it seems not). I also have a lecture to give next week – the detail was late arriving and, when it came, seemed to envisage that I had nothing to do for the next week but research one talk. Not so. Secondly, it is coming up the Jewish New Year and I am trying to get myself sorted out. As it is primarily a spiritual rather than a social event, this is actually quite demanding – I ask myself, is it possible to have too much prayer? Thirdly, I can’t really think of anything to say so have not said anything. This follows advice from my pupil master who used to tell me ‘when you’ve finished, stop’.

However, a glance at my bulging in-tray prompts me to recommend a magazine called Counsel. Aggravatingly, Counsel does not have a website, but it is published by Lexis-Nexis and is available to students for half price – i.e.£36 per annum. I have to say that this still seems expensive so I suggest either that a group of you club together, or that you demand that your institution purchases it.

If you already have access to it then do read it. It is not that it is a marvellous literary endeavour, but it gives you a real sense of the issues concerning the profession both great and small. For example, the section in the middle (known as Bar News which used to be a separate publication) this month gives guidance about clerks signing papers for barristers. This is also a job regularly given to pupils. With a bit of wit it should be possible to work that into an interview and thus demonstrate an easy familiarity with the day-to-day issues and a keeness to be up-to-date on professional matters; both of which speak of mini-pupillages closely observed and well spent (but don’t overdo it – it is the dressing, not the main course).

This is the time of year at which I am supposed to repent my failings (it may be possible to understand why I have been so busy). Accordingly, if I have unwittingly upset or insulted anyone in either a post or a comment I apologise. If I was slightly brutal, it was motivated by an anxiety to communicate a point I really wanted to make, rather than a wish to be nasty (even you TB). I am genuinely concerned that you are not put off by this blog unless it is because you have made an honest and independent assessment, for whatever reason, that the Bar is not for you. Also, thank you to those of you who have said nice things – it is genuinely encouraging to be told that this blog helps.

Finally, along the same lines as reading Counsel, a list of legal books which have nothing to do with substantive courses but which can be casually dropped into conversation in order to demonstrate a keeness for the law which, strangely, Chambers seem to like. Most of these will have to be obtained at second hand bookshops…

  • The Novels of Henry Cecil. These are slightly outmoded but good on how the Bar was and to an extent still is. Certainly, your interviewers will wish it was still this way. They are also humorous if not laugh out loud.
  • Forensic Fables by O (not, please, to be confused with the pornographic author of the same initial). Think Aesop for lawyers. Even your interviewers may not have heard of these but they are excellent and for the cognoscenti.
  • The Irish RM, and if you can’t get the book try the video as it was made into a TV series by (I think) the BBC a few years ago.
  • The Novels of Cyril Hare. These are crime thrillers written by a barrister. They aren’t particularly my thing, but they do portray the Bar with accuracy.
  • Rumpole. These always make me slightly depressed – no one I know is this cynical. But the Bar is portrayed relatively realistically providing you allow for an exaggeration factor of 500%.
  • May It Please Your Lordship by ES Turner. This is a potted history of various appalling Judges and will make you feel better about your first Crown Court/County Court appearance, whatever it is.
  • Miscellany-at-Law by Robert Megarry. Three collections of the weird and wonderful.
  • The Little World of Don Camillo. This has nothing to do with the law at all but I am currently rereading it for about the 95th time and it is so lovely that I feel like giving it a mention.

There are also books by David Pannick and Geoffrey Robertson which I would be reading if applying to Doughty Street or Blackstone Chambers. However they are more textbooks than light relaxing reads.

Of course, none of you have any spare time. Hah.

Mini-Pupillage · Recommended Reading

All Beginnings Are Difficult


I have been reflecting on when you might first seek a mini-pupillage and whether any one time is better than any other. This is prompted by judging a moot in which neither of the winners had yet done a mini-pupillage, although both were certain about going to the Bar.

Most Chambers draw a sharp distinction between students and school-children. Just check the number of websites which make it clear that work experience isn’t available. Most Chambers, as far as I can tell, draw no distinction between either law students and non-law students or University students and BVC students. Nor is much, if any, distinction made between first years and third years.

That means that Chambers have a basic expectation that the mini-pupil will be interested in the Bar and have some knowledge of the law. That is on a par with a barrister’s basic beliefs – namely that what they do is a) fascinating; and b) vital. You may not share this view…

In which case the best advice I can give is to chose a set for that first mini-pupillage (you know, the one where you’re just sussing out whether you can ever be old enough or farty enough to do the job) which you are likely never to want to go to again, even as the office junior. And also not to ask basic questions but to look it up instead. There are two really good books for this purpose – both I fear may be out of print but second hand bookshops should be able to help.

The first is Henry Cecil’s ‘Brief to Counsel’. This was written over 50 years ago and much of the detail is out of date. However, it is still outstanding for the tone which accurately reflects the way that barristers think (and should think in my view). Cecil – actually the pseudonym of HH Judge Leon – also wrote some amusingish legal novels. The second is Glanville-Williams ‘Learning the Law’ which is an easily assimilated basic introduction to legal concepts. If you do not find it fairly easy and you are over 19 then think again about the law.

Those two books should stop you making a complete fool of yourself and may even give you that veneer of knowledge that makes you an attractive candidate. Remember that barristers expect you to know the law – that’s why you have paid a fortune for your education. The ‘added value’ is the ability to talk with a degree of confidence and knowledge about how the profession operates – how Judges take to people who only take good points; how clients like business minded advice. Add a mini-pupillage to that mix and you should be able to head for the sets you want to join with some confidence. But it’s a hell of a risk to head for the dream place first, especially as most Chambers will only let you have one mini-pupillage in total.

Most sets book early and allocate on a first come first served basis. So I would apply at Christmas in my first year and expect to do my first mini-pupillage in the summer. Then you have time to assimilate the experience, get some more law under your belt, decide if the Bar is really for you, do your research and apply for the mini-pupillages that really matter in your second year and onwards.

If you convert then the timetable is necessarily shorter. But I would still be looking for a mini-pupillage in my third year and I would still read Glanville-Williams’ book (at least) before I started. By the stage I am discussing, you must know you want to try for the law and you must be wondering about the Bar. It isn’t exactly unfair to expect you to have done a little reading up.

I know that this sounds incredibly basic, but it is astonishing how many people do not do these things. Most barristers are very happy to have people tagging along with them – at the very least a student is likely to take them at their own valuation for a day or so and this is deeply satisfying – but the pleasure quickly dissipates when the mini-pupil asks, ‘Please could you tell me who the person all on his own on that big bench up there is?’ Especially if you are cross-examining at the time. And especially as the mini-pupil has used a preposition to end a sentence with (more on grammar another time).

Very occasionally someone like this makes it and becomes a member of a Chambers. Invariably they feel that asking obvious questions has served them well, and they keep doing it. I remember the outstanding question ‘What is it about this incident that you least remember?’ being asked by one such person. The witness, unsurprisingly, was stuck for an answer – a fact treated as a triumph by the barrister concerned.

Another such example, who was anxious to tell all and sundry that he did ‘mainly civil and mainly big-value commercial work’ was persuaded by the boys and girls at the criminal bar that, just as the County Court Practice was called ‘The Green Book (because it was green) and the Supreme Court Practice was called ‘The White Book’ (because it was white – are we barristers logical or what?), Archbold (the bible of the criminal practitioner) should be called The Red Book (because it was, with elegant inevitability, red). In fact Archbold is called (Criminal Barristers being simple souls) ‘Archbold’. Court was crowded to watch the results…

The point is that mini-pupillage is a time for you to assess your own reaction to the job. If the thought of doing the preliminary spade-work fills you with revulsion or you don’t quite see what is wrong with the above stories then it might really be better to do something else.