Each month one of our pupils will reflect on their experience as a pupil barrister.
The final question in the interview that secured my pupillage at St Ives was: “You haven’t mentioned Crime in your application at all. Would you accept instructions in Crime?”. My answer was a firm “yes”.
The question arose because my background is entirely in civil proceedings, and my Master’s degree is in Commercial Law. It would have been more than a little disingenuous to have tried to persuade the panel that I had harboured the dream of being a leading criminal practitioner since I was a little boy. But despite that, my answer at interview was – of course – entirely truthful.
First, it would be ridiculous for me to dismiss out of hand an area of law where I have no experience. Second, Crime is interesting in a way that the minutiae of leasehold covenants never can be. Third, and most important as far as my pupillage is concerned, advocacy in the criminal courts is an art in itself and will improve my skills in a way that small claims never could.
It is with that in mind that January was Crime month. I was placed under the tutelage of one of our experienced juniors whose practice is almost entirely Crime.
It was an eye-opening month. I experienced a wide range of the serious criminal matters that members of Chambers regularly prosecute and defend in the Crown Court. For that reason the material has made for much darker reading than, say, a report on a faulty vehicle, and it has been the first time in my career that I have come across such cases.
In common with the rest of our criminal practitioners, my supervisor has demonstrated great aptitude for presenting clear and coherent cases to a lay audience. My civil background gives me the insight to know that shifts in both style and approach are necessary if you are addressing a jury rather than a judge. There is also a great degree of skill in presenting a flawed case with confidence in order that the positive aspects are amplified and the negatives are quietly swept away. Unflappability cannot be taught; but strategic marshalling of witnesses can, and seeing this in action has been invaluable.
The month has ended with an advocacy exercise involving both witness handling and jury speeches. My own approach to receiving feedback is not to write down the good, and to focus instead on that which can be improved. These advocacy exercises have been of great benefit: not too often will there be future opportunities to practise with a safety net. After my month in Crime I have the confidence to undertake work in an area of law I have spent little time in. With a little more experience and a little more practise, perhaps I will even have the opportunity to challenge my supervisor’s record of having been the most junior pupil in our set to have represented a defendant in a jury trial.
Prior to being called to the Bar in 2016, and commencing pupillage in 2017, I worked as an investigative officer within a local authority Trading Standards Department. It was during a lengthy Crown Court trial, prosecuting a complex timeshare fraud case, that my interest in joining the Bar was ignited.
I initially found the transition from full-time employment to pupil barrister to be a steep learning curve. As each day of my first six passes, I try to absorb as much as I can from this unique opportunity where I am surrounded by experienced advocates. I have found the collegiate atmosphere at the Criminal Bar to be a great benefit, as senior and junior barristers alike are willing to share their knowledge and expertise with me. I receive immense support from my pupil supervisor, who takes time from her own busy practice to ensure I am always learning, whether it be matters of law, etiquette or professional ethics.
Having spent the last three months following barristers in the Criminal Team, I feel certain that the decision to retrain as a barrister was the right one, and eagerly await the commencement of my second six where I will be ‘on my feet.’
By Eleanor Lake
Nearly two months have passed since I began pupillage in October. The stand-out takeaway has been that I have begun a steep learning curve, and this is notwithstanding the fact that I had an extensive practice as a county court advocate practising in civil matters prior to commencing pupillage.
In my first few weeks I have been exposed to a number of practice areas that I have never experienced before. Social housing and children matters (public and private) have been standard fayre, because these are the key areas of practice for my supervisor. But I have also undertaken a large amount of paperwork for personal injury matters, and I have been exposed to Crime for the first time. My work commitments have been challenging but manageable through a combination of my own time management and my supervisor’s attempts to ensure that I am not completely deluged with work falling due on the same deadlines.
Above all, though, I feel that I have been able to take a front-row seat watching exceptional advocates ply their trade. My supervisor demonstrates skills in advocacy that I had not seen before during my time in the small claims courts across the Midland Circuit; boxing witnesses into a corner as a series of undeniable propositions led to inescapable conclusions. I had the opportunity to see one of our most experienced practitioners give a closing speech for the Prosecution in a case where I had heard none of the evidence and yet could picture the scene vividly. Surely enough, conviction followed.
I feel that I am slowly absorbing sufficient knowledge and skill that I will eventually be ready to be on my feet in a little over four months’ time. I know that I have the support and assistance of all of my colleagues in chambers, and I know that help is only an email or phone call away. My application to undertake pupillage at St Ives Chambers was predicated on the basis that I would learn from barristers who are outstanding in their fields, and that is exactly what is happening.