Tuesday, 26 May 2009

Law Student Life - In music

A short post as a break from the essay writing season. Idly flicking through my (eclectic) music collection I decided to do a somewhat random post; my top 10 tracks that reflect law student life at this time of year. And here they are

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

Mini-pupillage: does it mean anything?

This is a quick post, really to illicit what people think more than anything else.

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

Worth a read

Perusing the blawgosphere, I came across a post by the learned Charon QC regarding the setting up of a working group by the Bar Council "to tackle what it calls unfair competition from solicitor-advocates for Crown Court work".

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 [2007] 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

Awash with apathy

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.

Scotch, anyone?

Wednesday, 13 May 2009

Part 3: Just stop saying that!

This final section is so titled as a reference to the words which I have heard many times over this academic year. They have been said with cheek when staff confide juicy snippets of information that is to kept far away from undergraduates; they have been said as an abrupt retort whenever any complaint has been levelled against the department or the course itself; they have meant the giving of privileges, and the withdrawal of sympathy.

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

Part 2: The Bad

The Bad

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

The Masters Experience; Part 1 - The good

I thought I would make my first foray into something that perhaps is more helpful to others, and less of a personal rant. So, I want hereto outline some of my experiences as the seasoned veteran of student life that is The Masters Experience (I somehow feel it warrants capitalisation). With significantly more people turning to postgraduate education, either because of the recent economic slump or just to add another notch in the CV belt, I hope anyone out there considering it finds it useful. As this is quite a long post, I have decided to split it instead into 3 parts in the hope it becomes eminently more readable.

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

Barrister? Oh, I think Starbucks will be at the careers fair

In the aftermath of the horror that was my battle of attrition against the never ending horrors pouring through The Portal, I felt it time for my next blawg entry.

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.