Georgina Robinson, London School of Economics
Day three: Communication is key
8 September 2009
Today is Wednesday and I am on “the side of the angels” shadowing a newly appointed QC for an FDR hearing representing the disadvantaged party in a divorce case.
Today is Wednesday and I am on “the side of the angels” shadowing a newly appointed QC for an FDR hearing representing the disadvantaged party in a divorce case. Now half way through my week I have been sent on my first coffee run. Frantically and precisely I grabbed the array of skinny and multiple shot filled pick me ups for the client and barrister.
That morning I had been paired with a well known and particularly impressive member of chambers who had trained several pupils herself and the pressure was certainly on to impress. Dressed immaculately I had hurried along besides her carrying several files and reference books precariously in my arms, regretting at regular uncomfortable intervals choosing even small heeled shoes that morning.
I was briefed on the case and given a summary to read before sitting in on a consultation and waiting for the two hour court delay to pass, whilst the client became increasingly anxious. No agreement was made between the two parties in mediation and a frustratingly long bouncing back of demands and stipulations were passed along the well trodden corridors of the Royal Courts of Justice in pursuit of a seemingly unobtainable solution.
I watched how the client’s expectations were managed and options which were detrimental to the client’s fragile financial position were of the utmost concern to my ward. This comforting sympathetic tone was a paradox to the tone adopted in court. Although still calm, persuasive intonation was used in conversation with the Judge. This diversity and combination of formality and informality at work was certainly important to see in practice as this seems to be one of the distinguishing skills within family practice. What became evident was the importance of being able to communicate with many different lay audiences in contrast too with the ceremoniousness and etiquette that the formal setting of court demanded.
Day One: Arriving early yet still being late
Striding past the imposing Royal Courts of Justice I dodged down the alleyway beside the George pub into the leafy courtyard which is the Middle Temple. Although I am half an hour early I already feel inordinately late and flustered after a cramped and humid trip along the Central line in typical early morning madness.
Passing the circular fountain I take a moment to reflect upon what it is I am expecting from my one week mini-pupillage. There is nothing worse than feeling under prepared when making a first impression at chambers to which you hope eventually to apply, and this was at the forefront of my mind. However, with no legal experience and a degree in anthropology I certainly was not instilled with deep confidence in my ability to shine despite my intense passion for joining the profession.
Would there be tests, questions that I would not be able to answer, or would it be a week of endless photocopying? These are the things I had stayed up until the early hours worrying about the previous night and as I finished my espresso I resigned myself to the potentially disastrous prospects of the coming week.
Sitting in the dimly lit waiting area a few minutes later I reach for the FT that was placed tantalizingly close to this month’s vogue which I avoid, but not before scanning my eyes over the glossy cover. I was expecting my week to be very dry with talk of age old cases in impervious legal phraseology. Instead, however, I glanced up as I was passed by two smiley faced barristers in their late twenties jovially recalling the activities of the party held last Thursday in ‘Whisky Mist’ night club. The result of this evening was not only a young member of chambers ending up on the floor in a drunken stupor but also a rather tidy sum of expenses being handed into a stern looking clerk the next morning. I listened intensely. Could this possibly be true? The solemn faces I had industriously scanned over on the website with crisp collars and fitted black suits were a far cry from what I was witnessing which was a moment of hilarity and friendship. I returned to my section of the FT feeling at ease.
Although later I discovered at afternoon tea, a ritual and a beneficial one at that for a mini, that these nights out are not the norm I found it comforting that successful barristers at an acclaimed chambers still had time to enjoy life every now and again despite the often 6 day week that they worked and families many were raising. Here I was sat around having tea and lurid pink wafer biscuits with people I admired professionally who also shared my enjoyment of a balanced and fulfilling lifestyle, and the range and degree to which each individual approached their work varied to extremes.
Despite my anxiousness that morning, I survived my first day relatively unscathed, and in spite of a few howlers which I am too ashamed to mention I managed to ask insightful and articulate questions on the whole.