Friday, 4 November 2011

Gosh.........

.......has it really been that long? May have to post something again soon!

Friday, 22 January 2010

Monday, 30 November 2009

Christmas stockings or sackings...?

Greetings all revellers, it is been almost one year since our last post. Gosh, can it really be as long as that!

The ability to rant at will over things that irk and irritate has been much missed, and to compensate, I propose a little rant (but more may be on the way - I have been storing them up!). Today, I want to rant about beefeaters, sacked beefeaters, particularly sacked beefeaters who think they might have an unfair dismissal claim...NOT.

The story seems to run something like this...

ONCE UPON A TIME a Scottish lass turned up to work at a place that had hitherto been regarded as a 'male bastion'. Some of the chaps there appear to have forgotten that these days us girlies are entitled to EARN a living (instead of, you know, just marrying it) in the same way that these chaps have always been entitled to do without question. This little tit-bit of information seems to have been completely lost on said chaps who proceeded to exclude, marginalise, not talk to, swear excessively at, and deface the property of said lass. She starts to exhibit the symptoms of stress (alopecia). Tower investigates and sacks said beefeaters for gross misconduct. One of the said beefeaters claims that HE is the one that is being victimised for being 'a man', tells the Daily Mail (who else?) and says that he will sue.

If said beefeater is reading this post, DO NOT WASTE YOUR TIME OR MONEY...YOU HAVE NO CASE! If I had been your employer, not only would I have done exactly the same thing, I would be well within my legal rights to do so. I *might* have been minded to give you a stiff formal warning if you had been minded to accept responsibility for your behaviour, apologise and ensure that said conduct would not reoccur, but you were not willing to do so. You have made my decision for me.

I understand that this chap is going to appeal his dismissal. If he grovels suitably, they might change their minds, and after having gone to the press, they might bung him a few quid to shut him up. However, if I were his former employer, I would be inclined to tell him to 'go away' and go ahead and take his chances at the ET if he seriously thinks he has a runner...

Planet?...ZOG


Tuesday, 23 December 2008

Merry Christmas...

to all dedicated bloggers (and the erm...not so dedicated) ... and a happy New Year!

Monday, 24 November 2008

The Barristers [Part 2]

There is a danger in reviewing the first and second part of a four part series: people may very well expect that you will review parts three and four too. I can't promise I'll get that far but, for what it's worth, here's my take on the second episode...

I confess to being a little disappointed that the programme was, once again, quite so student-centric. Iqbal surprised us all with his offer of a pupillage at a very good set in Birmingham. At the end of last week's programme he appeared to be one of the weakest candidates. However, he came across much better in this week's programme and, whilst we know very little of his academic background, he is proof, if indeed it were needed, that a competent grade on the BVC is no bar (no pun intended) to getting pupillage.

Anna has now passed her Civ Lit resit and has been fortunate enough to have a number of interviews (3 in one day was a bit of a feat), albeit without success so far. The footage of her interview feedback was very helpful but should not be taken as representative of common practice. I do not personally know of anyone who has ever received such constructive and comprehensive feedback following an unsuccessful pupillage interview. I do, however, know of a good many people who have never received any feedback at all, despite requests!

Then we have Cat. Of all the pupillage candidates featured in the series so far she is the one I find myself rooting for the most. I think it's just because she is arguably the least savvy of them all. One does have to wonder at her having wasted precious applications on chambers like Blackstone when a cursory glance at their most recent tenants is enough to deduce that a 2:1 (albeit from Oxbridge) and nothing more is never going to even get her little toe through the door. Well, thanks to "Mr Construction QC", now she knows.

As for Jo who we know had secured a pupillage before the end of the last programme, we have seen no more of her. It will be a shame if the moment we see a candidate secure pupillage they then disappear from the programme. I would like to have seen some footage of "life as a pupil" and I have no doubt there are plenty of others out there who would have found it interesting too, if only to convince those who are still pursuing pupillage that it's not necessarily all that it's cracked up to be!

I was left wondering whether over the course of the four episodes we will eventually see all four of the featured students secure a pupillage. Whilst that would seem a just reward for each of the students who have been brave enough to lay bare their trials and tribulations throughout the process of searching for pupillage, it would, if it were to transpire, be a very artificial view of the reality and brutality which culminates in the majority of Bar hopefuls being sorely disappointed. We'll see...

As for the coverage of those in practice I found this week's episode more engaging. Maybe it's because we were, in my view, given more information about the nature of the work, and the particular cases featured, so as to provide a better insight into the reality of practice at the Bar. I enjoyed that aspect of the programme much more.

The pomp and circumstance was toned down a little this week which was no bad thing. Of course, the dinner which Iqbal attended really did portray the tradition and ceremony of the Bar at its most decadent. However, I didn't get to the end of the programme feeling that any non-barrister watching would come away with a sense that it was a world so far removed from Joe Public's perception of reality so as to be a profession to which no sensible and grounded person could relate. The balance between ceremony and reality was much more appropriately apportioned.

My final verdict on episode 2? Better, but nothing to write home about just yet. If the remaining episodes simply follow the format adopted so far with a disproportionate amount of time spent contemplating the plight of the BVC student and not so much time focussing on all of the good that is achieved by the profession, then I fear it will have failed to deliver its message to the public at large. If the point of the programme is to demystify the profession then it needs to adopt a broader approach to content. I live in hope...

Sunday, 16 November 2008

The Barristers

Oh dear. The Barristers, the first episode of which was screened on BBC2 on Friday evening, was intended to demystify the profession and demonstrate to lay people that it wasn't a profession laden with toffs and impenetrable to ordinary folk. As I say, oh dear. Opening scenes in the grand surroundings of Cumberland Lodge and cameras flitting (rather annoyingly I found) around the Dickensian surroundings of Middle Temple. Dinners being put on in the Middle Temple hall with an apparent lavishness that the majority of people will never experience in their lifetime. Lots of stuffy (albeit no doubt very nice) old men poncing around in gowns and adhering to the most alien of customs, including processing in to dinner following a man who bashes a large stick on the floor. It may as well have been a programme about men on mars, so divorced was it from most people's understanding of normality. That's fine, except that this programme was meant, I thought, to portray to the public an impression of the profession which was contrary to the stereotypical impression of stuffyness and elitism.

We were introduced during the first episode to 4 BVC students. One imagines they were chosen to illustrate the diversity of students studying for the Bar. Perhaps the public are expected to be left with the impression that these people are future barristers and that the profession is therefore made up of a diverse cross section of people who everyone can relate to. Let's look at each of them in turn.

We have Cat, the northern lass with a lovely smile, who, incidentally, is an Oxford graduate, albeit with a 2:1. Cat, of course, recognised that most of the tenants at the chambers she was interested in had Oxbridge firsts, masters degrees from anywhere that is anywhere, and had copious amounts of work experience with every worthy organisation on the planet. We see that she gets a VC, which is great, but she is without a pupillage. So, what this tells us is that to date, no chambers has thought that she, an Oxford graduate with a 2:1, is sufficiently inspiring to warrant offering her a place. So she is clearly not typical of the profession then.

Next we have Anna. Bright, bubbly, rather posh. But, she has failed something on her BVC and is unable to be called. She has had at least one pupillage interview but has no pupillage. We do not know what degree she has or from where, except that she did the GDL so she has a first degree in a different discipline. Given her failure of her Civ Lit paper on the BVC and her delay in call, she is clearly no further forward in her pursuit of a career at the Bar. So she, it seems, is not a typical barrister as she hasn't yet got in.

Then we have Iqbal. Again, a bright, enthusiatic chap, and less posh this time. We don't know what degree he has or from where. We do, however, know that he did not win his moot at Middle Temple and that he only got a Competent on the BVC. His prospects are looking less bright. He doesn't yet have a pupillage so he has not yet broken into the profession. So is he typical of the majority of barristers? No.

We'll come to Jo in a minute who is the only one of the four featured students to have secured a pupillage. But first, what of the prospects of the three students already mentioned? Honestly, Cat's prospects of getting into a top commercial set with her qualifications are pretty slim. She'll need a damn good helping of luck if she's going to pull that one off. She'll struggle to get herself through the door and I suspect that even if she does manage to get herself in front of a pupillage committee, she'll probably come across as being significantly less polished than her contemporaries. She'd be better off lowering her horizons and going for a general common law set or heading for a good set in the provinces. The other two? Anna's failed Civ Lit and Iqbal's Competent (without knowing more about their other qualifications) could well present huge obstacles to their future careers at the independent Bar.

Now there's Jo. A 32 year old career changer who has secured a pupillage. We don't know anything of her academics but we do know she won her moot at Middle Temple and she got a VC. She was also the most earnest and aloof of the students featured and perhaps the one who most fitted the stereotypical impression of what a barrister would be like. I don't mean this as a criticism of her. She is clearly a very determined and driven individual and has done incredibly well to achieve what she has. However, she is much more in the typical mould of a barrister anyway, whereas the other three are not. Of the four students featured Jo is the one who it is least surprising has succeeded in obtaining a pupillage. The really interesting exercise would be to see all of the BVC graduates who did get pupillage offers that year and see if they conformed to the stereotypes with which the Bar is so commonly associated.

So, has this series done anything to alter the public's perception of the Bar? I rather doubt it. If anything I suspect it may well have re-inforced it. There are lots of other aspects of the programme I could talk about, but it's Sunday morning and I have stuff to do. However, I would just note that whilst the other more senior barristers featured were again, not necessarily conforming to the "Etonian" stereotype, they did little to disabuse the lay viewer of the notion that the Bar is an exclusive little world which admits only limited people. I am hoping that the remaining episodes will do more to counteract this impression, but the reality is that they can only portray what is there to portray. Oh dear...

Monday, 10 November 2008

Privacy, Freedom of Expression, Sado-Masochistic Sex Orgies & The Daily Mail

It's been quiet around here lately but I have been sufficiently incensed by the irrational outpourings of The Daily Mail's Editor-In-Chief to emerge from my state of blogging semi-retirement to vent my spleen. As I drove to work this morning I had to listen not only to the attack launched at Eady J by Paul Dacre, but was then subjected to the most inarticulate defence of Paul Dacre's position by Managing Editor of The Sun, Graham Dudman, that I would have thought possible from someone for whom the English language constitutes the tools of his trade. Both men betrayed their complete lack of understanding of the complete and complex range of relevant issues (rather than just the narrow, self-interested issue concerning the right of the press to print anything they like) in a fit of pique at the fact that when the press were found to have overstepped the mark by publishing details of Max Mosley's sexual exploits they were fined for having breached his right to privacy, thereby giving rise, they say, to judge made privacy laws by the back door (as opposed to doing so through the parliamentary process).

Dacre said of Max Mosley's exploits "most people would consider such activities to be perverted, depraved, the very abrogation of civilised behaviour of which the law is supposed to be the safeguard". That's as may be, Mr Dacre, but that doesn't give you the inalienable right to publish details of it - you are not custos morum. He bemoaned the earlier decision of Eady J in which a man was prevented from publishing his story about a sporting celebrity having seduced his wife. Eady J was concerned about the effect such publication would have had on the celebrity's wife. Dacre commented "the judge, in an unashamed reversal of centuries of moral and social thinking, placed the rights of the adulterer above society's age-old beilef that adultery should be condemned". Well actually, no, he did not. An age-old belief that adultery should be condemned does not translate into an unqualified right for the press to print the detail of such adultery for the information, entertainment and edification of the public at large. The judge put the interests of an innocent party, the adulterer's wife, above the interest of the press who sought simply to make money from naming and shaming a celebrity in pursuit of their own aim: selling newspapers. It is quite clear from such remarks that the likes of the Editor of The Daily Mail are simply not sufficiently sophisticated in their understanding of the proper balance between the right to privacy and the right for the press to express themselves freely for the judgement as to when publication is appropriate to be left to them.

Dacre said that if the government wanted a privacy law it would be required to pass legislation through both Houses of Parliament. He concluded that "now, thanks to the wretched Human Rights Act, one judge with a subjective and highly relativist moral sense can do the same with the stroke of his pen". Well, I have some rather surprising news for Mr Dacre - the Human Rights Act, the one that incorporates the Article 8 right to private and family life into English Law, did in fact pass through both Houses of Parliament! His reference to the Human Rights Act being wretched rather betrays his opinion of the protection afforded to our individual human rights by this particular piece of legislation, at least when it prevents him from printing scandal-mongering nonsense in his newspaper.

The stance adopted by Dacre, and by Dunham as evidenced by his comments to the Today programme this morning, fails to recognise the nature of the rights conferred under the ECHR. Article 8 provides that everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and correspondence. This right can only be derogated from in the circumstances prescribed in Article 8(2). Article 10, in contrast, provides that everyone has the right to freedom of expression. The two rights are often found to be in conflict and a careful balancing exercise must be undertaken. However, Article 10 is qualified to a greater extent than Article 8, not least because the provision recognises that with the right to freedom of expression come duties and responsibilities. Article 10 rights can be subject to such restrictions as are necessary for, inter alia, the protection of the reputation or rights of others. In light of such a qualification on what basis can the press justify publishing intimate details of someone's private life which has no bearing on their capacity or ability to carry out any obligations which the public has a right to expect them to carry out?

It is quite clear that the attitude displayed by the abovementioned parties in respect of any curtailmant of the right of the press to publish anything they please regardless of whose interests are trampled along the way completely justifies the need for the judiciary to take a robust approach to the question of what is and what is not acceptable subject matter for publication. Any overly liberal judicial approach to this question might well set a precedent which the media would no doubt freely abuse. As long as editors display such a comprehensive lack of understanding about the lives they damage by publishing their sensational stories of sex orgies and the like, and consider themselves entirely justified in doing so because of some imagined public entitlement to know about it, it is clear to me that the last thing the judiciary should do, in this context, is give them an inch. For all their bleating and huffing and puffing, when it comes to the curtailment of the press to print nonsense about the sexual exploits of third rate celebrities, they only have themselves to blame. The truth is that people need protection from what the press might well otherwise regard as a freedom to print anything they like in the interests, they say, of democracy. They justify this, it seems, on the strength that whilst stories like those mentioned here are not directly related to participation in the democratic process, such scandalous stories sell papers, and the people that buy those papers then have access to the extensive reporting and analysis of public affairs, which in turn keeps them well informed and able to participate in the democratic purpose. So, if this rhetoric is to be believed it would seem that the publication of people's sordid sex lives is central, nay crucial, to the democratic process - there's logic for you. Nice try Mr Dacre. However, this lady is not for turning. You talk utter nonsense. Bah...

Tuesday, 19 August 2008

Tenancy: The Ultimate Prize...

My last post was intended to highlight the fact that even once pupillage has been obtained, that by no means signifies the end of the competitive process. The year long slog that is pupillage towards an uncertain end will culminate in disappointment for a few more hopefuls before the game is finally up. But for those who do against all the odds succeed, what then? The glorious life of a barrister? What is that exactly?

I read somewhere (on a blog, but can't recall where or by whom) a comment from someone whose preference for the Bar was concerned, at least in part, with the flexibility that self employment offers. I can certainly recall having the 'personal autonomy' argument being put before me when deciding which way to jump (not that there was ever any doubt in my mind). There are plenty of other reasons for choosing the Bar too, of course. The thrill of court room battle, of the opportunity to display one's intellectual prowess with sophisticated legal arguments which kill your opponent's arguments stone dead, and, naturally, the fun of dressing up to boot. If, having determined that the Bar is one's destiny, one gets as far as the BVC, a whole year can be spent being educated and even entertained by practising barristers, some of whom enjoy nothing more than to trot out amusing anecdote after amusing anecdote for the edification of their captive and suitably impressed audience.

One can't help being left with the impression that there is something just a little bit glamorous about life at the Bar. Even when being told that life as a barrister can sometimes involve receiving papers at the last minute (better than not at all!) or being in court in some far flung part of the country the following morning which involves 5 hours travel and three train changes, for some reason the actual reality of it all just doesn't really sink in!

So what can a newly qualified junior tenant look forward to? It is difficult to try and paint an accurate picture because different chambers and different areas of practice will naturally influence what the future holds. However, the first myth which ought to be dispelled is the idea that one is truly (or even vaguely) autonomous. Any notion that one can pick and choose when and where they work because they technically work for themselves is, as far as I can see, entirely fallacious. Chambers do not want tenants who are not busy - all of the time. Clerks make a living by allocating work to members of chambers for which those members get paid, the clerks taking a cut along the way. The last thing they want is to be told that it is impossible for you to attend a hearing in Carlisle at 10.00 am tomorrow because you have a hair appointment, or it's little Tommy's school play, or that you're doubled over in pain and think you might have acute appendicitis. In the event of any of the above you will simply have to postpone in order to make yourself available to get on the 5 am train to Carlisle. If you can put off your appendix bursting until you are on your way home, you will have done your job admirably. Solicitors (AKA your clients - the people to whom you owe a debt of gratitude for your continuing practice) too tend not to be impressed when told that you are unavailable unless there really is a very good reason, like you're already booked to attend court on another of their cases. The reality is that life at the Bar does not provide you with the flexibility to work when you like and not when you don't. The more likely scenario is that you will work when you like AND when you don't. Family holidays, evenings with friends, family get togethers; they all take second place to your practice, in my experience at least. There: myth debunked.

What kind of work will you get? Will you be arguing the finer points of the law in front of an esteemed high court judge? Probably not. The answer to this question really is very dependent upon the type of work your chambers attracts, but if you are in a mixed common law set you can probably expect simple matters like infant settlements, bail hearings, road traffic offences, and so on. Complex law? Hardly. These hearings can take as little as 5 minutes which can be mildly frustrating if you had, in your eagerness, spent two hours of your previous evening reading the papers which were given to you at 5.30pm that afternoon, two hours on the road the following morning getting to the court and then paid £10 (out of your own pocket, don't forget) to park your car! In chancery and commercial sets pupils and very junior tenants will often cut their teeth on possessions and bankruptcy petitions. This work is no more glamorous and equally mundane. Whatever their area of practice all chambers will have work of this nature and complexity (or lack of it) for distribution amongst their most junior tenants.

After you have been in practice for a year or two (or maybe sooner if you're really lucky) you may begin to get some small trials and from there the work will become progressively more interesting. However, even once you have been in practice for a few years, some of your time will still be consumed with low level and frequently uninteresting work. If you get lucky you may find yourself instructed as a junior, most likely where one of your more senior members of chambers is already involved. This provides an opportunity to (a) be involved in some more interesting and perhaps more technically difficult work; and (b) to demonstrate that your capabilities extend beyond doing the run of the mill work which is the staple diet of the junior tenant, hopefully leading to more of the same in the future. The downside is that you will inevitably end up doing the least exciting jobs, you will not be the one to stand up in court and argue the case which you may very well have constructed from scratch, and any control you may think you had over your own time will disintegrate even more rapidly.

Ahhh, the joys of life at the junior Bar. Bet you can't wait...

Tuesday, 12 August 2008

Barbaric Darwinism & Chocolate Cake...

The Oxford English Dictionary's definition of barbaric is (1) savagely cruel (2) primitive; unsophisticated. For those of you who are unfamiliar with Darwinism you need do no more than watch the current Channel 4 series The Genius of Charles Darwin being presented by the fabulous Richard Dawkins. Darwin was, of course, a key proponent of the theory of evolution (in contrast to creationism). The theory of evolution embraces the notion of natural selection, culminating ultimately in the survival of the fittest.

It has struck me that the process of becoming a barrister is, in itself, a micro-manifestation of Darwin's theory of evolution, and a pretty barbaric one at that. There has been an inevitable glut of discussion on the law blogs of late about the search for pupillage. There have been triumphs (numerous invitations to interview) and disappointments (the pupillage that got away). It is natural that the quest for pupillage should attract so much attention because it is the point at which the largest number of Bar hopefuls begin to lose hope, some quite properly, and some despite their obvious deservedness.

The process of obtaining pupillage is, in short, barbaric. It is savagely cruel because it gives bright, intelligent, determined and deserving applicants the false impression that they are not good enough when, in fact, they are - more than good enough. There are simply not enough places to go around. The process is also quite primitive and unsophisticated because the method of application does not enable non-conventional applicants (of whom there are a growing number) to paint a positive, or even a full and accurate picture of themselves. The unsophisticated and primitive nature of the process continues to cause detriment to those who are perhaps less conventional, the initial sift upon receipt of applications by individual chambers often requiring quite arbitrary criteria to be applied in the initial de-selection process simply to whittle the remaining number of applications for closer scrutiny down to a manageable number.

Amidst all this unsurprising furore over acquiring pupillage, little attention is focussed on the fact that even once pupillage is obtained, the competitive and uncertain nature of the ongoing quest for tenancy, and therefore ultimate success, subsists. The process of selection continues and the fittest (ie those who will survive) have not yet been identified. Of the five people who left my BVC with a pupillage one has been kept on, one has not, one has chosen not to stay on and two are still waiting for the nod, or not, as the case may be. The tension, the uncertainty and the ongoing scrutiny, for some, continues. Some of those affected are mature pupils, with large mortgages and families to support. The idea that they can wait until the week before the end of their pupillage to be told whether they can stay or must pack their bags is worse than barbaric; it is morally and humanely inconceivable. I can think of no other profession which would embrace without conscience such a discriminatory process to qualification. You can tell, it makes me a bit cross...

And now, to the chocolate cake. (Occasional) co-blogger (I'll get a dig for that one!), Lexy, thought it a good idea to introduce a light hearted "foodie" theme upon which to conclude her last post, so in collaborative spirit and as a fellow food lover I thought I'd follow suit. Whenever my emotional equilibrium is out of sync (because I am cross, ecstatic, irritated, tired, frustrated, etc, etc) I find that chocolate cake makes me feel alot better! You'll not be surprised to learn that I eat an awful lot of chocolate cake and have done for some years now, probably since I was struck by the idea that I might like to become a barrister!. Do you think I could pursue the Bar Council for damages to recover the losses sustained to my bank balance for having to replace my entire wardrobe every time I go up a dress size? Hmmmm, that sounds like a plan for revenge...

Saturday, 26 July 2008

Degree inflation, sexism in academia and fajitas...

Well, I thought I'd end on something a little light-hearted...

After being duly (and quite properly) chastised by my co-blogger for my lack of contribution on the post front, I make amends with something of a controversial effort. Degree inflation is something of a hot topic in many institutions. In relation to law, this blog has emerged and compares the allocation of Firsts, Upper and Lower Seconds in various institutions. What is less obvious however is the manner in which universities make decisions regarding what exactly a student has to achieve in order to attain a particular classification. There appears to be a general move to employ more discretion in the way that classifications are awarded, so that students do not have to attain a particular classification numerically in order to attain a particular grade of degree overall. This is not new, although not all universities use discretion in their determination of class. Some of us attended universities where no discretion (or minimal amounts of it) were used. Other institutions use quite a lot - some would say an inappropriate amount. Given the vast number (largely erroneous) assumptions that are made about the quality of degrees from particular institutions, the way that universities award class should be something that is far more readily digestible than is the case at the moment and taken into account in determining the progress of various applications.

My second topic is more delicate still. Let me reproduce for readers a conversation that I had with a Law colleague (whose own academic background might raise an eyebrow or two amongst the more puritan) over dinner one night. The conversation gravitated toward the numbers of women in academia, and the following was said:

Colleague: "So, how long do you think it will be before there are as many women as men in [...this particular institution]?"

Me: "About 30 years"

Colleague: "That dumb are they?"

Me: "No, but I suspect that you might be..."

And there is more. Lots of it...

On a more positive note, I have just consumed an excessive number of fajitas and am feeling rather pleased with my temporary descent into gluttony.