Tuesday, 15 December 2009
And when I fail, I like to fail with flair.
So, now that the Christmas horror is upon us, I intend to return to this venture with renewed gusto, and hopefully some will carry on to the next term.
Since my last post, much has happened. In fact, the majority of the first term has slipped by with an alarming speed. There has been much rumbling in the criminal world too, and Labour's intended bills for the coming year will no doubt have attracted some attention to those interested. I will hopefully post on some of the highlights of the last few weeks that caught my eye n due course. I have also finished another mini, and will post up my idle ramblings shortly on mini's.
For now however, a few thoughts on the first term of the BVC...
Term 1 has been, for the most part, enjoyable. It is however, a mountain of work from week to week. I think it can perhaps best be described as 'relentless'. That is not to say that it isn't manageable, and spending a working week in the library means that it can more or less be done without eating into weekends or evenings. Unfortunately, I failed to be quite so organised after a few weeks, and soon slipped back into the student ways of slipping off for coffee (ahem, beer) at lunchtime with friends similarly inclined.
The abhorrent legal research in particular drove many to the early stages of alcoholism. For any pre-BVC students reading these ramblings, I should warn you now of the horrors of legal research. Being asked to produce the answer to a legal problem is, in itself, interesting. However, being forced to provide along with it upwards of 20 pages of "research trail" is mind numbing to say this least. What is this "research trail" I hear you cry? Is it a fun foray into the woods of knowledge? By calling it a trail, it sounds almost like a weekend activity for the under 12s at Butlins, complete with kendle mint cake, a compass that you won't use and green wellies half a size too big.
No such joy. It is, in short, cutting and pasting from the material you find. Worse still, proof of hardcopy research means that you have to copy verbatim text from hard sources, and edit to show that you can do so. Of course, photocopying the relevant passage and highlighting is not acceptable! It does not show the required editing. Apparently. Most infuriating of all, is the fact that the question is stolen wholesale from a real case. Many, like myself, quickly found the case and were therefore painfully aware that despite knowing the answer, the correct authority, and everything you need to answer the question, that you then had to spend several days slumped in front of the computer producing the trail of hell. Propped up on coffee, and gibbering slightly to myself, I did hand the answer in, complete with its research trail, loving crafted from a range of sources despite knowing the relevant ones within 10 minutes.
Adding salt to the wound, we were informed that we were to be the last year to suffer this task set by beelzebub himself. So, if this prediction comes true, then I state for the record that you are all lucky, lucky people.
Whilst mostly enjoyable, I have found the course incredibly frustrating. The questions often prevent thinking outside the box, the subjective nature of the marking of the oral skills can drive one to distraction, and the penchant for leaving students blundering in the dark is nothing short of infuriating. It is the last which is the most painful. On many occasions, we were tasked with something for advocacy and would then proceed to give it our (collective) best stab. We would then be criticised for having done X or Y wrong, and have it explained how it should be tackled. Often, we would have a lecture after the week's seminars explaining how our esteemed provided want said blunder to be approached or even a seminar in a separate skills subject covering it. The worst was the assessment. Required to edit a draft order for an interim injunction, I found myself fumbling inanely as to the best way of editing their provided version. My wild stab in the dark complete, I handed it in on time. The following day, we had a drafting seminar on how best to produce draft orders for interim injunction which was, most painfully of all, on almost an identical topic. This left myself, along with a fair few others, seething and ultimately left unable to do anything but await our fate in the marks apportioned for this with the assessment still a week away.
For now, I shall return to the laborious task of cleaning the detritus of a terms chaos. Negotiating the treacherous path from my desk to the kitchen is still of labyrinthine difficulty, and is a minefield of papers, cups of half drunk tea and notes that look like the inept scrawling of the insane.
Let the holiday begin.
Sunday, 18 October 2009
There is always much controversy about the police, and abuse of their powers. As a general rule, this focuses around stop and search powers, and expansion under various pieces of terrorism legislation.
Today however, I am not focusing on this. I am instead looking at, in brief, S 5 Public Order Act 1986. In my opinion one of the most abused pieces of legislation under the expanding belt of police powers. I have always thought this is legislation which can be both defended and attacked depending on how it is used.
Of course, reading the act gives us the impression that it is intended to stop severely reprehensible behaviour in public that occurs “within the hearing or sight of a person likely to be caused harassment, alarm or distress”. In other words, it should be used to stop the public being unduly concerned in their day by actions that go against that which is publically acceptable. A bit draconian, one might argue, but at least defensible in some respects.
However, my quibble is that it is used in such as a way as to be inconsistent with this. My annoyance has always been sparked whenever I have seen those appalling excuses for popular television that pass for cop shows. Police are frequently shown portraying a role of dealing (badly) with ASB in the public by going round and arresting drunkards on a Friday night in town centers.
I had the misfortune to catch one of these shows, and it neatly demonstrated why my anger at this is justified. I will recount what I saw:
A provocatively dressed young man (his jacket emblazoned with the intelligent slogan “fuck off”) broke up with his girlfriend in public, and, in an ill considered move played a quick round of fisticuffs with a wall. Marquis of Queensbury rules, naturally. No member of the public displayed any concern whatsoever.
An office then walked up to him, from behind, and grabbed his elbow. In response, the gent spun around and said “don’t fucking touch me”. The second officer restrained him forcibly, and they removed him from the train station. After a brief discussion where by the clearly dangerous youth (cough cough) asked politely what was going on, and was clear that he was just uptight due to his split from his now erstwhile girlfriend. His outburst he put as the result of being grabbed by surprise.
Frankly, the young man, despite his provocative dress, was intelligent and eloquent. He declined the penalty and was hauled off to the station. On route the police were forced to ignore a more serious call of a fight with one man being knocked out.
However, the crowning turd in the water pipe was this: he asked why he had been arrested, and the answer was (and I quote) “backchatting” as they drove to the station.
Now, I am pretty sure, “backchatting” doesn’t appear in the statue. Nope, it doesn’t. This is what infuriates me; it’s not an offence to annoy an officer by questioning what they are doing, provided it doesn’t stretch into the realms of obstruction. To be honest, using the power for this is clear abuse. The officer involved here ought to be disciplined, and very harshly. The statute has a legitimate public order aim, but arresting any individual you do not like is appalling. I was genuinely angered by this demonstration of police action, and continue to be infuriated by this statute’s public exercise. This needs a strong guideline on use, and police need to be forced away from doing this. I would go so far as to say current police practices are undermining the legitimacy of the police, as well as the legislation. Worse still, it wastes time and public money dealing with trivial issues that would have deflated had they been left well alone.
Not only this, but given that the words “fuck off” on his jacket were not sufficient to cause the offence, then surely him merely saying it an a manner audible only to his friends isn’t sufficient. Unless, of course, the officers were “person(s) likely to be caused harassment, alarm or distress” by the expletive? Seems unlikely. In fact, I would say they can fuck off. Swearing does not really offend the public in most cases. Where a circle of people who regularly swear as a matter of course, to the extent that it is ingrained language, and no one else can hear, it must not be an offence. Therefore swearing in front of the officer is not an offence either, unless they fall under said category. Given that most policemen I have met swear like sailors, I find it unlikely.
If I was grabbed from behind on a Friday night, my response would have been along the same lines. In all honesty I would have responded more viciously as a matter of instinct, and suffered the consequences as a result. That aside, I seriously question the use of this legislation for behavior such as this.
What is worse is the fact this can lead to an on the spot fixed penalty notice. The police get to act as the judiciary as well, even where they may very well be in the wrong as to the application of the power. Given that this event is on film, including the abhorrent “backchat” moment, I am sure a competent barrister would have made a meal out of this. Yet most people will no doubt take the fine rather than be required to waste a day at the Mags court. But that is a whole other kettle of fish, for another day.
My point here is that this statute is misused. It has become, in my opinion, a farce. Being arrested for a section 5 offence has become synonymous with not really having done anything, and probably just annoyed an officer at the end of a long day.
Friday, 9 October 2009
The second part to my series on my failed application experiences will come later, but I just wanted to get a quick word in first about having at last started the BVC.
A few first impressions
I arrived, fresh faced and rosy on the first day, ready for all that the world had to offer.
Ok, that's a lie. I arrived late, red faced and feeling like a massive idiot already. My subconscious desire for a more glamorous memory of my arrival has therefore kicked in, and has not so much applied rose-tinted spectacles for the viewing but fired the previous director, hired a script writer, taken on a more handsome model to play me and re-shot the whole opening scene. Ah, much better...
The first week was much as I had expected; the usual gloriously tedious introductory lectures, gratuitous queuing to hand in forms to allow one times to become intimately acquainted with the nearby wall, and other pleasures of equally dubious nature.
Life on the inside is divided into two principle ways. There are the imaginatively titled LGSs (or large group sessions) that are the few lectures we have for each module, and SGSs (small group sessions) that are the seminars. Much time is devoted to the latter this is the focus of "student orientated learning", and fortunately so.
The usefulness of the LGS has ranged from integral to ones survival, to an hour of pointing out the inanely obvious. However with the hoop-jumping attitude of the attendance requirement, being present at all of these sessions is an unfortunate necessity. I have been one of the few who has had their name called out to check attendance, and had luckily decided not to slope off to a nearby watering hole with a friend in the area that day.
The SGSs are equally varied, and the subject and lecturer have huge impacts on how interesting these can actually be.
Criminal and Civil feel too much like undergraduate seminars for comfort, just with longer reading lists. Presented with a long reading list from either the CPR or Blackstone's and a list of questions makes for a dull day in the library knocking out the two. Fortunately I really like my criminal tutor, and this makes the process more enjoyable. As a wannabe criminal hack however, civil is doubly tortuous; it seems so irrelevant to what I want to do. Most of my group are the other way round, and find doing criminal almost an insult. The feeling is mutual!
Advocacy and conference are the highlights of the week. The first advocacy session, despite my insatiable incompetency at the exercise finally made it all feel worth while. For any reader who is at that stage in their degree where they wonder why the hell they are in the library again, this is why. The first 5 seconds on my feet speaking and I knew why I was here. Why the hell isn't advocacy in some form part of the undergraduate experience? My own annoyance is that some of my group are already easily getting outstanding, and my competitive nature is chomping at the bit as a result of only achieving a mid VC. Conference is fun, but thanks to my group rather than anything done by the lecturer. Role play can be made less tedious if your client is played by someone witty and imaginative enough to keep the exercise alive. The marking of the exercises however appears random, and some of my class mates who are clearly performing better are not scoring so, much to their frustration. I for one don't blame them.
Legal Research - Just....No.
Professional Ethics - This has been taught surprisingly well, and role playing your answers to the client (played by the lecturer who was determined to be difficult) made the experience a challenge rather than a tedious hoop-jump exercises.
Opinion (and drafting) - made bearable by the tutor who understands the reality of student life, and would rather go through things in an intelligent fashion and explain what you should be doing to get good marks rather than hammer someone who hasn't fully prepared that week. When she said in the first SGS that she understands that how much you get done each week for each topic is a matter of priority rather than saying "opinion comes first" meant she was getting a standing ovation if my head.
So far the workload has been unproblematic. Treating it like a 9-5 job everyday has meant I have had very few late evenings or busy weekend. Given that Friday's are off, I barely even have to work on them to be easily 24-48 hours ahead of my timetable. Much of my group work this way, and we can often be found en masse in the library working away. If you can work like this, I would suggest it. For the first time in my academic career, I am on top of my work. Shame about everything else in my life!
Finally...my group. I am yet to characterise them fully, although they will doubtless appear from time to time. What I will say now is that they have made the course. They allow the tedious elements to be enjoyable, provide worthy adversaries in advocacy and conference, and the good-natured humour between us has given the experience a much needed lift.
The experience has begun. I am on the inside. I am a lifer.
Sunday, 30 August 2009
Last night as I sat up late with a good after a night of mild revelry, a program about legal highs came on, presented by George Lamb. I must applaud him for tackling the topic in a much more comprehensive way than much of the media has recently over products such as Spice which simply denounces them as an evil legal loophole that must be closed. However, I must also berate him for presenting his work in such a biased fashion, which at times verged on condescension. Nonetheless, it was at least sufficient to hold my interest, did at least examine both sides of the argument (to some degree) and prompted a good discussion at the time. Mr Lamb even closed by trying one himself before the credits rolled so that he might add his own comment; mainly a shock at the legality of an effective product.
So, a quick bit of background: legal highs (are supposed to) do what they say on the tin. They mimic the effects of many illicit drugs but are legal. Often, they avoid scrutiny by labelling themselves as ‘not fit for human consumption’ and avoid more rigorous testing regimes that would otherwise be required. Dubious perhaps, but nonetheless effective. They fall roughly into two categories; natural and chemical. Fairly obviously, one is drawn from natural ingredients, whilst the other is lab manufactured. The latter in particular is ‘clever’; substances such as MDMA can be easily altered (as Mr Lamb pointed out) by changing only a small part of the chemical structure and is thus nearly identical in effect but no longer classed as MDMA. Herbal products either use already effective products (and perhaps distil their extracts) or combine a series of individually non-effective products to create one.
This last approach is the way with the current product of misplaced political focus – Spice. For you interest, a detailed chemical report can be found replicated in excruciating detail here (unable to re-find link, it will come!). I perused this with some interest; in essence each produce used is ineffective in isolation. What was interesting is that the ‘sample’ was found with synthetic cannabinoids sprayed onto the mix – in other words a synthetic product added that mimics the effects of THC. This sparked some controversy; the synthetic addition was not found at either the factories or in purchased product but was from a raid. Make of this what you will, I pass no comment here.
The upshot is that the produce has been found to replicate the illicit drug, cannabis by producing a similar high but whilst being readily available at high street vendors. It has not come to the attention of the media, politicians and public, and therefore the government have declared it is to be banned.
To my few cents:
Why is this product being made illegal? I must question the government in doing this. I present here just two arguments, and welcome discussion.
Criminalisation of an act implies an inherent moral wrong. I dispute that drugs are an inherent moral wrong as they fail to impact sufficiently on the rights of others to compose one. A drug can be purchased, consumed and does not impact upon the fundamental rights of others. If anyone wishes to discuss the moral stance from which I state this, feel free to contact me. I will not go into great detail here, except to say that is fails to impact upon the fundamental rights of others to pursue their own purposive action. As such, it cannot be said to be “morally wrong” by an objective standard. So why criminalise this particular drug? Why criminalise any? What is the moral harm of drug taking (and I stress moral)? Personal physical harm is often cited as a rebuttal; in that case I can name half a dozen legal substances not the subject of contention that should be outlawed. I talk here of inherent moral harm. Further, drug taking culture has become normalised (again for a further discussion, email me and I will provide you with plenty of sources to peruse at your leisure). Criminalisation therefore fails to be morally contentious or even socially unacceptable.
So the drugs (and in particular cannabinoids with relation to the final part) fail wholesale to fit the criteria for being criminalised.
So to my next point:
The reason that this substance is being criminalised is being cited as the fact that it is more potent than THC, and the long-term effects are unknown. It is a largely unregulated market. Well, let us consider why it is unregulated. Plain and simple; it intends to recreate illicit substances through loopholes, and as such exploits the path of least resistance to avoid scrutiny and tight control. The market is therefore full or a range of unpredictable products, over which individuals only gain experience by learning drug culture from others; drug taking culture is a learned sub-culture. The same is true of illicit drugs because they are subject to similar non-regulation, but at the hands of dealers rather than legitimate business enterprise. What this means is that legal drugs can be as problematic for users as illicit drugs; the strength, products, and effects can vary from purchase to purchase. This can pose a risk to users as they cannot accurately gauge intake. With legal highs this is compounded as once a product become the subject of media attention it may be banned, and is quickly replaced by a similar but not identical product. One could claim, with a reputable/frequently used dealer of illicit substances, they may at least sell you the same purity each time to maintain reputation. A shop vendor has no such interest.
So the effects of making it illicit? It will be replaced. Another new legal high will take its place, and cause more experimentation to find its effects. Check out any legal high forum to see that this has become an integral part of the process. I actually find it heartening that people are willing to post their own experiences of a product publically whether good or bad.
So let us finally consider the physical/mental harm of the drug, or rather the lack of proper studies into it. Drugs are not controlled. This is their ‘danger’, although frankly if people want to take them, then I feel that should be their right. Alcohol by comparison is very tightly controlled – I am probably not drinking a mixture of tyres and dogs. Surely the answer then is decriminalisation (note, not necessarily legalisation), as tried with great effect in Amsterdam with many substances. This allows for much tighter control of the product – you know what you get. We would then have a regulated market. You could purchase a packet of product Y and know what is in it, its effects, strength, and importantly that it would be of a minimum standard. The result; lesser harm. Surely this is more justifiable.
If the government want to control these legal highs, the answer is simple. Regulate the market. Criminalisation is ineffective, counter-intuitive and draconian. There is no inherent moral harm. Physical effects can be mediated by better regulation, not criminalisation. Look for instance to Portugal.
There is too much fuss being made in the wrong quarter. And frankly, I am appalled.
Thursday, 27 August 2009
Part 1: The Battle of Application Hill
1) Choosing the Chambers of Dreams
Do not, as I did, underestimate the horrors of the Hellgate application. Unaware of the gargantuan effort involved, I decided to set aside a few days of my Easter vacation to tackle the beasts that came through the Gate.
How naïve I was.
The battle drained my entire vacation before I was even close to satisfied with my applications, leaving my university work out in the cold. 12 chambers need to be distilled from a gargantuan list. This alone took me some considerable time. I resorted to making myself a list of key things which I looked for so that I might more quickly sort the wheat from the chaff (in terms of personal choice). On top of that was to whittle the list down to reflect my own level of ability, compared to current tenants. In short, kind readers, this process took much longer than I had ever anticipated.
As an MA student with much on my plate, I am sure you will appreciate the consternation this caused. Therefore, if any budding 3rd years or pre-BVC students read these words before attempting their first foray into battle, be warned; it takes a bloody long time even to get this far. Research thoroughly. Extremely so. Check chambers and partners. Search for them in the news. Examine the whole website with excruciating detail. Do not, on any account, scrimp on this portion. Even having spent many hours on this, I still subsequently made a few choice mistakes that I only discovered later. One I must admit was in my favour, and did me no harm for I made it to interview. The others however were less forgiving. You must demonstrate you knowledge in your Hellgate applications; and not necessarily overtly. Tailor your application to the qualities that are looked for, when Chambers are kind enough to post them.
2) Scribing you applications
Do not, as I did, underestimate the herculean effort this requires. Whilst a few key questions will remain largely untouched from chambers to chambers, a great many will not. This means that you must create unique answers, tailored to each Chamber of Dreams.
To illustrate; a peer of mine, with good academic qualities and similar extra-curricular activities hurried her applications having underestimated the time involved. Knocking out the bulk in just a day, she sent of her applications. She did not receive any interview invites.
I often felt like Sisyphus, toiling away to no avail day after day. I was however rewarded for my efforts in at least getting to interview... even if unsuccessfully. Here to illustrate, is a cat.
There are plenty of places offering sage advice on this topic. Check out the wise words over at Simon Myerson’s excellent blog. Read the TargetLaw information. Pick up a copy of The Path to Pupillage. Speak to your careers advisors. Do not underestimate the help that can be gleaned from these sources; they probably are the reason I even got a foot in the interview door. You need not go it alone; many will be available to help you, and I urge you not to neglect them. My applications were saved from the instant trip to the shredder by just having them checked for errors after I had stopped being able to read them properly myself.
3) Fighting the Hydra of Submissions
I urge any readers who have yet to face their first battle to learn for the war worn; start early. Very early. Start now. Go on, stop reading this and go and do something useful for once! Hellgate WILL break. It will leave you wounded, stranded, and screaming with frustration. On occasion it would have been faster to etch my applications in my own blood and send it by carrier snail. So my advice, kind readers, is to begin as early as you can. Do not think you can be submitting up to the deadline, for you cannot. The goalposts will not only move, they will get up and run the fuck away, before entrenching themselves in a bunker and grabbing the M60. Suddenly your plastic sword of last minute preparation will look at lot less useful. I learnt the hard way. Do not make the same mistakes that I did.
Next time: The Massacre at Interview Ridge
Wednesday, 19 August 2009
I am beginning to feel some excitement at the thought of the upcoming start of the BVC. After 4 long years of purely academic work, it will be nice to do something that feels practical. This year has been the closet I have come to doing work that seems like it has a practical purpose, and has strayed away from purely theory. Undertaking a dissertation involving research with the public, and with the possibility of creating some actual change has felt extremely rewarding. Or it will, when the damn thing is finally finished.
The prospect of my new life is also exciting, if leaving me thinking of what I will leave behind. Strolling home last week as the sun came up (yes, I am a dirty stop-out) with the dulcet tones of Frightened Rabbit ringing in my ears, I was reminded why I am so enamoured with this city, and with my life here. Many of my peers will not be leaving here, and others left only to come back. I can see why. Had I not firmly decided that The Big City was my destination of choice, I doubt I would leave here either. I am convinced that had I stayed but one more year, I too would be here for good.
However, I am always one for an adventure. Shrugging off the shackles of my ties to this place, and moving down south holds great excitement for me. With somewhere to live now secured, and with all that the next year will hold looming tantalisingly in front of me, I am certainly looking forward to moving on.Even if it is with a slight backwards glance as I go.
If it all goes wrong? I will still have had a bloody good time getting there.
Friday, 14 August 2009
I did not learn a great deal, and my teeth are noticeably less efficient.
Faced then with the unenviable task of creating a detailed presentation on the content of my dissertation research, I racked my brains as to how to create something that did not befall many of the traps. Without wishing to blow my own trumpet, I have always had some skill at creating presentations that are not too onerous, and the laid back conversational style in which present has been commented on positively by several lecturers. However, the complex nature and depth of my dissertation topic is far beyond anything I have had to create before.
I am a fan of Pecha Kucha as an idea. I think the skill in which these presentations are delivered is admirable, and teaches some of the best qualities when designing presentations. Having been forced to create a plethora of presentations, I have tried to adhere to this format as closely as I can. I would actually relish if this kind of skill were taught as part of undergraduate basic skills, as an ability to present is important in all walks of life. It teaches the ability to condense information orally, which is often sorely lacking from undergraduate seminars - but more on that another time. Unfortunately, the presentation I must give is for a much greater period of time and need be in much more depth than would allow me to use this format.
How then am I to present a complex piece of research?
As a fan of all things techy, I accidentally stumbled across Prezi some while ago.This website is a free zooming presentation creator and viewer, and even allows the option of downloading the website as a flash file. Rather than the one-slide-at-a-time principle with which many will be familiar, Prezi allows much greater freedom. Imagine if you will, a format more akin to a mind map which you can zoom in and out at will, create a non-linear path of focal points and embed video, images and various other files. Having played for just a few minutes it became clear that this was the answer to my problem. The presentation I have created is by far the best I have ever buckled together. It does take more time than sticking a few bullets on a powerpoint, and is sometimes fiddly to get right. There are many tools frustratingly lacking that would enhance the creator more, and some presentations are perhaps not so suited to the format.
However, for something free it is fantastic. Even the wordy series of interrelated topics I have to cover can be given some sense of overall structure in this format. The non-linear zoomable structure is brilliant. So simple, yet so appealing. Of course, if one were to think of Prezi as just powerpoint in flash, then Death by Prezi would certainly be possible. It requires that people do that most difficult of things; think outside the box and years of using powerpoint.
Prezi has another convert. If anyone has checked out the excellent post over on Law Actually titled The Open Source Lawyer and is looking for more weapons in the open source armoury, then I would recommend this one highly.
Death by powerpoint may have met it's end.
Monday, 3 August 2009
I am at least chuffed that I got through to a second round interview, given that I had been roundly prepared for a flat rejection. Whilst I had thought the interview had gone swimmingly, it apparently did not. I actually left with a smile on my face, thinking that I had made only one blunder, but that I had recovered with an impressive piece of information that had the Daemon Masters smiling and looking genuinely interested . Ihave again cme to the conclusion that:
Post Interview Confidence = Fail
I have asked for feedback, and can only hope that I receive something that gives me a better shot next year. As stoic as I tried to be, I was still rather crushed by the ultimate rejection.
So, I have two realities to face.
Firstly - my plate is looking rather full. With my battle against HellGate so time consuming (what with the dawn raids, midnight guerilla expeditions, and pillaging) my Dissertation has fallen somewhat behind. Not only that, but I am faced with remarkably little time to move into my new accommodation before I commence being a Lifer at BPP. With a new deadline dropped firmly into my briefly snoozing lap this afternoon, my time is a little pressured.
Secondly - The Void. Given then almost all sets recruit a year ahead, I will have an entire year (or more) to fill after the end of the BVC. In an attempt to be positive, I have made a list of the things this will give me the opportunity to accomplish. Of course, the list is long, unrealistic and will probably be completely untouched in two years time. However, hope can be no bad thing.
With that in mind, I feel I should return to battling my Dissertation, before my Supervisor grabs the whip from his closet and comes knocking.
Onward and upward
P.S. I am now thoroughly bloody annoyed. The chambers to which I was invited to final interview have refused to give feedback. Of course, this I would understand in the large first round. However, at second round I think it is a farce to refuse. How are individuals supposed to improve? I think this may be the topic of a forthcoming post.
Thursday, 30 July 2009
Oh will The Wait just be over?!
Wednesday, 15 July 2009
Friday, 3 July 2009
As the few who have followed my ramblings so far will be aware, I am a postgrad as yet to undertake the BVC. Braving the HellGate this year for the first time, I treated the whole exercise of something of a dry run, and expected little positive response.
I am, therefore, wholly pleased with myself to have 3 first round interviews with a set yet to hear from. Self-congratulatory pat on the back and inebriated celebrations in order and all that.
However, I am worried that should I make it to second round (and I stress the gigantic IF here) I will so completely out of my depth as to render the experience torturous. With no BVC experience behind me, advocacy exercises are going to prove tricky and my relative lack of interview practice may hinder me somewhat. Whilst I have gleaned a few precious (albeit largely indecipherable) notes from companions further down the line than myself(LPC students to a man however) and still leave me feeling a little concerned.
Any advice from those in the know would be most appreciated!
P.S. I hope to produce a more interesting post at some point; I am new to this lark! Perhaps once I start the BVC as a full-timer (read: lifer), I will perhaps have something better to contribute!
Wednesday, 24 June 2009
I recently had the pleasure of undertaking work experience. I had also (perhaps foolishly) applied for pupillage. Having not heard a peep, I carried on regardless. I was therefore on my very best behaviour; I tried to make erudite comments, be interesting, engage with members and the other mini-pupils, was always exceedingly prompt and thought I had put on my best show. Indeed, on barrister even enquired as to whether I had applied. "Aha!" I though, a good sign!
Apparently not. Within 24 hours I had yet another rejection slapping me in the face, but to rub salt in the wound, it was from the very chambers who were so kindly sending me to the Outer Hebrides every day for some case or other. And with 3 days of placement left. How quaint.
Was it something I said?
Sunday, 21 June 2009
I have been largely absent from the blawgosphere for some little while now; I have vaguely kept an eye on the happenings, but have been largely pre-occupied with essays, dissertation disasters and the drawn out process of waiting on HellGate to reveal my future. However, determined not to be one of the many bloggers who starts off keen but quickly lapses into obscurity, I have been mulling over my next post for some time and waiting to have enough freedom to write once again!
I want to explore a topic close to my heart – the use of technology it learning and beyond. I apologise in advance therefore for the likely length of the post, and humbly hope a few of those kind enough to grace this page make it to the end!
I am, I must profess, somewhat of an IT lover. I need a small nuclear reactor charge and power the myriad items I carry round with me at any one time, but feel that I am largely mobile as a consequence. I try to largely keep abreast of changes in technology that I feel can benefit my ability to work and communicate. Having been born into a family where one parent was in the IT industry, and been fortunate enough to have the benefit learning environments in which IT featured heavily, I have a certain knack with gadgets and gizmos – as well as a slightly geeky love of all things tangibly shiny.
I have however found both positive and negative aspects to this affinity for modern wonders however.
My affinity with technology does, as I have alluded, give me great benefits in terms of mobility and communications. The use of a netbook has proved invaluable in the last few weeks given my need to travel for work experience and finalising accommodation for the upcoming academic year, and will likely prove more so as the dissertation beast battles with my social and professional requirements over the coming months. An online calendar synchronised with my phone has allowed me to keep on top of the millions of obligations dropped into my path on an almost daily basis. Truly, I am a child of the 21st Century! As I write, I am scratching away on my Quill, without which I would be incommunicado.
I have also found it invaluable when undertaking academic work. I have previously winged about the lack of resources and tough competition for that which is available. However, the internet and my knack for finding free copies of texts has saved the day on many an occasion. My work experience has too been eased by utilising the many resources of the web. Given 2 foot stack of tasks on one placement, I was able to quickly despatch them and provide typed summaries of my research, complete with links to the original sources in relatively little time. The Head Solicitor seemed amazed that this was possible, and even asked how I had done it and if I could provide whatever notes my university had provided me with! I wasn't sure exactly how to tell the candid truth: “well, I just googled most of it” seemed inadequate. In terms of legal resources, I rely heavily on WestLaw and similar legal databases for my research,
My work on (the previously grumbled about) Project X has largely centred around a piece of extremely shiny legal software which I have personally found useful and can see great value in. Whilst time consuming to use, it is nonetheless fantastic. I have also worked on a local pro bono project (I shall name Project Public), and felt that the efficiency could be massively improved by simple steps such as online collaborative workspaces. The increasing prominence of online technologies such as Cloud storage facilities, googledocs or even Office 2007's built in version would work well in this situation and save considerable wasted time and overlapping research if only I could convince The Powers That Be to give me 5 minutes to explain!
Not all however is bathed in the neon glow of wonder that surrounds technology. I have, on occasion found my own over-reliance on it a hindrance.
Firstly, my ability with online resources has meant that my skills have developed to the detriment of being able to used paper based resources. I doubt in all honest that I could really research thoroughly without the internet any more, and have no idea how I would tackle a new area of law without legal databases and search functions. Can I function in a set without access to this? Have I shot myself in the foot by using so heavily what is in reality a luxury? Really, rather than mild interest, this point is in fact of great concern to me. I truly worry about how I much time it ill take me to adapt sufficiently to work well if I am in a set without access to this kind of resource.
Secondly, I know that my ability with technology is above average. This is not said out of any sense of arrogance, but merely because I know that I use it much more than many of my contemporaries and have many useful little tricks I have picked up over the years (who have said as much) and sometimes ask me for help (which I happy to give if I can). I have therefore occasionally found it frustrating to operate in a situation where I feel that a little technological application could go a long way to improving efficiency (such as Project Public). Worse, sometimes the use of software has actually hampered group progress where it proves unusable by many; this was particularly true of Project X, and without it perhaps more could have been achieved.
Panacea of Problem?
Really, the heart of this post is my own internal tug-of-war. On the one hand, I find resources such as the internet and the ability to search invaluable. I am more mobile, more efficient and work much better with technology at my fingers. On the other, I worry about those situations where I do have the level of access I am used to. I also struggle to appreciate on occasion that not everyone works best under the same conditions as myself, and that sometimes I need to sacrifice the shiny for the traditional for the sake of group efficiency.
Finally, I worry whether I have given myself a heavy over reliance on something that I cannot guarantee I will continue to have access to.
As a graduate heavily reliant upon technology, will I find that it is a panacea in the working world much as it has been in my academic one, or really a problem that leaves me blundering in the dark?
Tuesday, 2 June 2009
Another quick post, from the wandering mind of someone engaged heavily in the trials and tribulations of essay season. I am currently sporting the beginnings of an exam season beard, and am considering making it a full dissertation growth.
Idly flicking The Social Realm, a comment by an old friend similarly embroiled in tireless labour struck a chord with me. Given the current glorious weather, and the likely chance that it will rain the moment I set down my quill for the last time, I can only pray that his calculations are correct!
Postgraduate Success is proportional to the amount of time in the sunshine sacrificed
As yet another text inviting me to a BBQ arrives, I really hope so.
Tuesday, 26 May 2009
1. The Who – Can’t Explain
2. The Darkness - Stuck in a Rut
3. Idlewild – When I argue I see shapes
4. Queen – Under Pressure
5. The Music – Too High
6. Four Tet – Sleep, Eat Food, Have Visions
7. Hot Hot Heat – Running Out of Time
8. Coldplay – Such a Rush
9. Snow Patrol – The Finish Line
And finally, after the glorious hand in:
10. Barenaked Ladies - Alcohol
Sunday, 17 May 2009
I had previously applied to all and sundry for mini-pupillages, hoping to bolster my thin CV. Fortunately, I was offered some more. Of those that did not reply, I thought no more.
I have, however, been offered one for next year (as this year was full) out of the blue, some months after I applied in an email whose language that was fairly complimentary. The set in question is quite high ranking, and not fancying my chances I hadn't even applied this round of OLPAS/Hellgate. Other sets that have turned me down have tended not to offer something so far away, or flatly said "sod off".
Do prestigious sets offer mini-pupillage to all and sundry? Or should I let this inflate my self-opinion, just a little?
Friday, 15 May 2009
The original article in the Law Society Gazette can be found here, and is certainly worth a scan for anyone intending to tread the dangerous path of criminal law.
My (highly unqualified) Two Cents:
I think it's fair to say we certainly live in interesting times; at least as far as the criminal Bar is concerned.Much of what I will say will tread well-worn ground, and is merely a stream of consciousness rather than deeply considered (*gross caveat to cover the many holes*)
It makes me question what exactly the Bar can do to fight back. On a mini-pupillage, one of the barristers I shadowed was telling me he was soon to be on a CPD course that was about barristers going straight to clients, or some such. I think either the criminal bar will have to entirely reconstruct itself from the ground up to offer this kind of service (so that it can offer everything from first point of contact), or somehow the advocacy rights of solicitors will need to be curtailed. The former is tantamount to amalgamation of the profession; personally I feel this is likely to be what will happen, but being done by slow creep from solicitors rather than action by the Bar. Unless they keep up, there is a serious danger that those at the bottom (or rather, we at the bottom) will be left out in the cold. Perhaps sooner than is anticipated.
Unless this committee comes back with some seriously telling results about solicitor-advocacy competency, I doubt it will change much. That said, there are doubtless as many poor barristers as their are good solicitor advocates.
Some kind of radical reformation is on the horizon. I can only hope that it is one that does not leave us in the wilderness. The difficulty in securing work, as well as the low pay almost smacks of the devaluing of the work. The profession requires a high level of skill, dedication and training (not to mention personal expenditure) even to get a foot through the door, and the reward is slim pickings.
Perhaps my biggest gripe is the disparity in training required to perform the same work. As an aspiring barrister, one must complete the LLB or GDL, BVC and 6 months of pupillage merely to begin practice. I am ignorant of exactly at what point such similar advocacy can be performed by solicitors (and am grateful for any enlightenment anyone can offer), but it strikes me that unless there is an exactly comparable quantity of specialised training, the quality of service provided is likely to be lower. This is worrying for two reasons. Firstly there is no benefit to the specialised training that is the route of the barrister-to-be as not only can one gain higher rights of audience (subject to completing various criteria of the Courts and Legal Services act 1990 I gather), but can reach the same basic level (I.E. the lower level work which is the bread and butter of pupillage) with considerable less time dedicated to practice. Secondly, if a very junior solicitor and barrister can perform the same work regarding low level deviance, does this not indicate that the work is so trivial as to fail to warrant the highly specific advocacy training for the Bar? If one follows this to the extreme, then no low-level case for which a solicitor can hold equal right of audience (without further training/minimum experience) is worthy of the extra time and training. I wonder how a client would feel about that? Such low level work may be merely that on which a green pupil earns his meagre subsistence, but that is not to say such work is any less important.
The words of the court in Woodside v HMA  HCJAC 19 also highlight some of the issues in solicitor advocate work. "It is difficult to see how a solicitor who has rights of audience, or whose partner or employee has such rights, can give his client disinterested advice on the question of representation. There may be an incentive for him not to advise the client of the option of instructing counsel, or a solicitor advocate from outside his firm, in circumstances where either of those options might be in the client’s best interests…". One must consider that if the barrister is to try to circumvent the solicitor in order to scrounge this work, will they not be in the same position? An amalgamated profession by any route is subject to this same weakness.
We may really struggle to find work to cut our teeth on.
Thursday, 14 May 2009
At the end of third year, I was a credit to the strange breed that is the final year law student. I could work all hours of the day, spurn meals without notice and type until my hand cramped up. My crowning glory was 30 hours straight work, at which point I handed in my essay. Then I went to the pub.
Now however, I just feel at a loss. I have lost my drive; for nearly two whole weeks now I have almost completely failed to work. Instead I procrastinate, surrounded by an ever increasingly large pile of washing and general detritus.
I have lost my fire! I need something to bring it back.
Wednesday, 13 May 2009
They provide the greatest summary of the last 9 months that I can think of.
"You're a postgraduate now"
I just wish they would stop reminding me.
Sunday, 10 May 2009
I have said that the self-reliance and expansive intellectual freedom is great. However, there is a flip side to this. Sometimes, no matter how hard you try, a topic is so dull that you would rather use an angle grinder on your own face than listen to another 5 minutes. When you have to spend some 10 hours a week reading it, to then present it in a tiny seminar group there is NO place to hide. You will be on the spot, and silence becomes rapidly apparent. As does the colossal hangover you are nursing from last night. Why did I have that tray of shots? And where did that traffic cone come from? Sometimes, you just don't want to take part; being forced can be really quite grating. My last seminar for one module trailed by, as all of us sat there, only begrudgingly commenting; the looks shot between us indicated that in all honesty, we just didn't care.
I have also found myself frequently competing for resources. The content of my course is fairly specialised, so the the number of the books on the subject that I have access to is often few and far between. I intensely dislike having to fight over a single copy of the so called "core" reading for the next week, for a book which is then placed on week long loan, and subsequently facing the brunt of a rant from my lecturer about not having done sufficient work. Frankly, go and shove you core text book where the sun shines not. Whilst I am quite technology savvy, and have somewhat of a knack for finding obscure references from the dark and murky depth of the internet, some on my course have really struggled in the face of this, and this has even shown in the assessments where people's interests have overlapped.
The amount of contact time has been, on occasions, depressingly small. Many of my modules have had a total of 12 hours contact time, squeezed into 6 short weeks. Often, I found this to be mean that at the end of a module I was left feeling that I didn't know anything, and essays became almost a complete start-from-scratch affair with nothing but a few short references to go on and a serious dearth of relevant notes. This becomes rapidly worse when essay deadlines are some months away and by the time I get round to doing them, my head is a veritable desert of knowledge and any glimmer of an oasis is merely a tempting mirage. Of course, I could just be more organised, but who am I kidding? I won't be.
Thursday, 7 May 2009
I should perhaps note that my postgraduate course, whilst remaining legally orientated, is not an LLM but rather that lesser beast that is the MA. I say lesser beast, but it is still has the potential to block the road to social life, and occasionally cover one in large quantities of last minute dung. Like having to look after a small child, with the bowels of a hippo. That has been at the chillies.
PART 1: The Good
There are many good aspects to the postgraduate way of things. There is a heavy onus on self-reliance, and personally I find this to be a good thing. Gone are the days of relative spoon feeding, and rigid structure. Instead I have relatively little contact time, and all my contact consists of seminars rather than lectures. Every week, I am therefore required to do work, participate and be self-motivated enough to go away and find things for myself. As a nice corollary to this, the seminar structure rapidly became more fluid, with lecturers letting us mould the syllabus as we wished, and constructed assessed questions with a broad scope so that each person could really explore any area they wished. I have even had the opportunity to completely choose my own questions. For some, this may be similar to undergraduate, but this was not the case for my seat of learning and warranted welcome refreshment from the strict confines of an inflexible syllabus. This is perhaps most true in the dissertation; almost complete freedom to do whatever you want (within academic reason).
Perhaps the most welcome aspect of The Masters Experience has been the chance to really develop in seminars. The people on the course want to be there. After all, forking out all this extra cash must be for a reason. This shows, as everyone has something to say and often the long seminars have flown by as a small number of us battle it out over some point or other, the lecturer sitting idly by. Well I say idly, often grabbing a pen when a particularly salient point is mentioned, and adopting the smirk that says “that will be in my next article, thanks.” Long gone are the hour-long torture sessions of cacophonous silence that were my undergraduate seminars. With a number of students from other jurisdictions, the insights into the way things are done elsewhere has been very interesting, and challenged the often entrenched views of how we do things over here being the best.
Sunday, 3 May 2009
I have been amazed in the recent months of the ignorance of those purported careers advisors at my seat of learning. Feeling suddenly immersed in terror at my lack of knowledge about all things pupillage I frantically began a classic pincer movement on my ignorance: internet research and careers advice. Flank the bastard, and crush him!
The first of these proved much useful, and started my own foray into the world of blawgging, spurred on by the accounts of others. So began my own furtive writings.
The second however, made me quickly realise that the careers advisors, and indeed my department, were a steaming pile of horse manure. I attended every law related careers talk I could find, of which there were many. Unfortunately, the sum total of the knowledge they had on pupillage could be fitted on the back of a beer mat. In crayon.
“Barristers? They make coffee right?”
My university long ago sold its soul to the money making dream, and cashed in on the lucrative LPC. I can hardly blame them; I can count on one hand the number of my peers foolish enough to want to pursue a career at the Bar, but would struggle to beat off the solicitor wannabes with a machine gun and the killing skills of Rambo. This does not mean that we should be ignored! We have rights! We are humans! And the barriers to entry are a lot higher.
My university has wholeheartedly left those of us wanting to work as barristers out in the cold. There are lectures who can get you interviews at firms at the drop of a hat if they think you are good enough, endless troops of firms willing to wine and dine all and sundry to make themselves attractive, and a dedicated law careers advisor who knows endless detail about the LPC, training contracts and all things solicitor. But that Bar? We should be so lucky. The establishment has firmly latched onto every prospective LPC student they can, in the hope of securing that precious en grand for another year’s hapless sheep. The Law Society is populated by arrogant socialite aspiring legal firm employees, who do nothing to further to the cause and sideline anyone who has aspirations elsewhere and don’t want to just go drinking. We are indeed left on the mountainside, ankles pinned, to die.
I should add here that this is not necessarily a bad thing. It has two effects.
1)It has killed off the competition. The number of those wanting to work at the Bar has dropped ever lower since I first arrived, head full of dreams and devoid of cynicism. Slowly, all but a few have fallen by the wayside; seduced by the call of other careers or of being a solicitor. That is not to discredit them, as I can fully sympathise with those put off by the low odds coupled with the astounding lack of help.
2)I have a developed greater independence. I was left out in the cold, and I came back, wolf skin in tow and shouting “I have made fire!”.
I am proud of the fact that I have got this far on my own merit. I have got onto an array of CV-worthy opportunities entirely off my own back. I have mini-pupillages, and more to come. I have a place on the BVC. I have used no nepotism, and made my own way. I want to be independent; it’s one of the reasons I want to be barrister.
But that doesn’t mean I don’t envy the bastards.
Just a little.
Thursday, 23 April 2009
Once more battling with the Gate to Hell, I am finding myself increasingly frustrated by chambers who offer little or no information about themselves or their pupillage. Even a look to the Chambers and Partners reports still leaves me ill equipped to write a specific set of answers.
How is one supposed to obtain the hallowed pupillage when they do so little to help you get it? In the case of the current chambers I am researching (which is a band 4 criminal set), it is almost as though they are content to offer the following meagre statement: “We offer pupillage. You will apply. Because we’re fucking great. Oh, and we might considering paying you. Just not very much. See you soon”
I feel like I have been locked in a darkened room, and asked to solve a jigsaw puzzle. With three pieces missing. And my hands in boxing gloves. And it’s the wrong picture on the box.
Other chambers are much more useful, and some even have the good sense to post up large and well written documents expounding exactly how they will own your soul, and what merge returns they offer.
One is almost tempted to write that I am choosing this particular (prestigious) for shits and giggles, because I have no idea what 12 months servitude with them will actually be like, so I might as well give it a go.
Oh well, back to plumbing the depths of my imagination for something to write.
Tuesday, 21 April 2009
This year I have undertaken a herculean effort to make my CV thicker than the village idiot and shinier than an army of bald men. Wearing silver. At noon. In the desert. And so, in undertaking this mammoth task I have signed up to every possible activity that my University has to offer. Every waking hour is spent doing (frankly) pointless tasks for some group or other that purports to have some legal relevance, which I recklessly agreed to be a part of despite my overwhelming lack of time as it was. Nonetheless, being actually committed, I take part in these organisations to the best of my ability.
Which brings me neatly onto my topic for this post; idle, CV bolstering (and often annoyingly successful) students. I am constantly surrounded by cretins. First class, 5 star, award winning cretins. All of these activities seem to be, on the whole, dependent on idiots and idle people (to say nothing of the organisers). A small example…
Every week I turn up to University (begrudging the fact that as a Masters student I have been forced to leave the comfort of my house surrounded by my books and sensible people) and stalk into the law department. As I make my way to the meeting of Project X, undergraduates cowering before me, I do so with a sense of dread. This particular group is large, unruly and worst of all, either monumentally stupid or worse - just plain lazy. Our overall aim is a large has been broken down into small bit sized chunks, which is in itself fair enough. However, it soon became apparent that this was still unworkable, because 2/3 of the group would either have failed to do it (and, having had two weeks to do it only discover they can’t in the hour before its due) or just haven’t bothered. And so, over time the chunks have been broken down smaller and smaller. They have now reached the point that they are so small that an octogenarian hamster with one leg and false teeth could manage them. Yet, each week there is a section of rebel undergraduates who have refused staunchly to do the work. Frankly, I find it disgraceful that these people have the privilege of putting it on their CV that they took part.
In Project X, were given a tasty chunk of work to be doing over the Christmas holidays, to present to the group which I duly did. However, it was not until 8 weeks into term that all of the members of said Project had completed this work. I reiterate. 8 WEEKS. One can row the Atlantic in less time than that. And so for those 8 tortuous weeks I have had practically nothing to do and progress has ground to a standstill. I am almost ashamed to have taken part, and yet neither the organisers nor the vast majority of pupils seems to care. I am stunned by this attitude.
And so here we have a classic example of the CV whore. Someone who is willing to do anything to get something on their CV, but once it is there will participate as minimally as possible, without regard to the consequences that this has on the exercise as a whole. My experience of undergraduate seminars was not much better; large numbers of people sitting in abject silence waiting for the answer because nobody wants to commit the energy. How in the name of any holy concept on which you wish to swear are these people going to make it in law?
And yet, from my experience, many of them do. And more successfully than myself.
Perhaps I should just adopt this attitude? After all, I can’t do worse.
Friday, 17 April 2009
I have decided to take my first foray into the world of blogging, and begin a blog about my experiences as a law student. There are a many admirable blogs who already cover such a topic, and I can only hope of covering the same ground with such eloquence and humour as many do. However, if I were put off by a challenge I would be seeking another career.
I will start with a little about myself. I have not started this as some exercise of vain narcisim (well, perhaps a little) but instead as a place where I can air my thoughts away from those who are my usual companions. I have gained much from reading the comments of others, and hope to add my own personal, and usually sarcastic, thoughts to the ever growing quantity already in situ.
I am currently a law student, of sorts, at a respected northern university. Having finished my undergraduate course, I decided to take my penchant for self punishment further by choosing to study for a masters. I wish to be a barrister, and for better or worse am determined to work in criminal law. At this point no doubt anyone who reads this will consider me insane, but then I suppose that adds to the fun. I have succumbed to the lure of the big city, and will be taking my BVC in the city of London starting in September.
I have decided to call this blog "the wanderings of a law student" because I feel it reflects my current state of mind, as I sit embroiled in the horrors of OLPAS. The task is slightly lightened by its imaginative renaming as the "pupillage portal" - as though this were some magical realm of happiness, joy and possibly some kind of skimpily attired fairy willing to do my bidding. No? Just a form then.
And so, as I wander adrift in the sea of applications, I will attempt to tackle the Scylla and Charybdis that are the uncertainty and horror of applying to be a barrister.
P.S. My first lesson of last night blogging. Check you English. Having just rechecked my humble post, I noticed I had proudly declared that I was naming this blog in light of how I "fell". Well, perhaps in a years time, that may be more apt. On a similar note, whilst re-reading some of my tiresome OLPAS applications, I had made a worse blunder. Legs wide, chest trust out, and nipples pointed firmly forward I had written an extensive verse on the "varied nature of the wok". Smooth.