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Life as a pupil
by Samantha Stark, Barrister
My first six months seemed to pass quite slowly until I came within about 2 months of being on my feet - then the time started passing very quickly and I was counting down the days and weeks! I had spent the majority of my first six watching my pupil master in the Crown Court, though thankfully I had also spent quite a bit of time observing the third-six pupil in the Magistrates' Court, so I had at least some idea what to expect.
Unfortunately, when the countdown was over, some idea felt like no idea and I had to represent someone for real! I remember everyone in Chambers being very supportive and ensuring I had their phone numbers should I need to call them. What was (and still is) brilliant at 15 NBS is that all the barristers in Chambers want to help you, no matter how senior or junior they are.
On my first day, I was given a First Appearance and a Committal to do at Redbridge Magistrates' Court. I was counting down the stations until my stop, I was so nervous. What I now consider to be so straight forward seemed like a big deal and I was calling my ex pupil master regarding the most minute details, and in the end, I only said about 10 words in court.
On my third day I was given my first trial. I now know it was the most straight-forward trial in the world, but at the time it didn't seem so straight-forward and I spent hours preparing it the night before as well as asking several barristers in Chambers what I should do and how I should approach it. I got through my first trial and many trials after that, as well as all sorts of other hearings. It took about 3 months before I began to feel like I knew what I was doing. I also became an expert in the public transport system, as I was going all over the place! Plus, I finally understood what my first pupil master meant when he said the Magistrates' Court is like the Wild West - each one operates with its own idiosyncrasies and it takes a while to get used to it. But you do!
By the time I had been on my feet for a couple of months and I more or less knew what I was doing, my pupil master started giving me work to do again, having given me a breather while I found my feet. Very soon, I started to realise why my first pupil master had always encouraged me to make the most of my time on trains or whilst waiting around at court. It was impossible to plan my time because life as a pupil is incredibly unpredictable, so I had to make the most of any time I had.
Pupillage was hard work, busy and a very steep learning curve, but it was excellent preparation for life at the bar and I always had all the support I needed every step of the way.
by Neil Ross, Barrister
I have spent the last six months following my pupil master, watching him effortlessly glide through court proceedings. It is my turn now.
It had been coming for a while. Each day ticked off before my court debut. It was what I wanted. It is why I am here. I ought to be prepared, armed as I am with the phone numbers of virtually everyone in Chambers, all of whom have said ‘if you need anything, please ring'. In fact, my first court appearance ended with me uttering barely a word on what turned out to be a straightforward matter. For the rest of that week, I rang a lot. It is one thing to have seen another in court, it is quite another to do it oneself. Everyone was helpful, patient and kind. Chambers encourages questions to be asked and experiences shared. I still ring now despite having spent nearly six months on my feet, but those calls became less and less frequent the more confident and experienced I become.
I found that after a fairly short while on one's feet, it is possible to get into the rhythm of how the Magistrates' Court works. It can be frantic and chaotic, but makes its own sense once you learn its language.
Life as a 2nd Six at 15NBS is far from sedentary. Court normally occupies the day, before returning to Chambers to write up attendance notes, prepare for whatever is to come the next day, and undertake work on behalf of members of Chambers.
Below is a brief description of a week, chosen I might add at random. Some weeks are busier, some weeks quieter:
Monday: A trial at Worthing Magistrates' Court for a public order offence. The trial is adjourned because the client has just been arrested on suspicion of arson with intent to endanger life.
Tuesday: A sentence at Thames Magistrates' Court. The client arrives, slightly drunk. He asks whether he might get a custodial sentence. I say yes. He leaves.
Wednesday: An initial hearing in an extradition matter at City of Westminster Magistrates' Court. I had not done one of these before so the previous night I spent learning the Extradition Act.
Thursday: A committal at Camberwell Green Magistrates' Court. It takes less than two minutes once called into court. I head off to Stratford Magistrates' Court for a remand hearing.
Friday: Back in Worthing for a trial. The client's defence collapses upon further disclosure. She pleads guilty to one offence and no evidence is offered on the other.
I speak to my pupil master most days so that he is aware of the work I am doing and to ascertain if he needs me to do any written work for him. He is the third pupil master I have had since starting at Chambers. It is Chambers' policy to move pupils around so that one can benefit from the different types of practice that tenants have built up. There is the added benefit that as one moves pupil masters, and therefore also rooms, there is direct contact with a greater number of tenants. That has two main benefits: (1) it makes it easier to get your face known around Chambers; and, (2) it exposes you to a greater number of styles and approaches.
No one pretends that pupillage is easy, but if it is what you want to do then that fact should never put you off. My feeling is that it is during the 2nd Six that you really get to know whether a criminal practice is for you. New experiences come think and fast, and the rate of learning is incredible. To be able to do that in an environment as supportive as 15NBS is a great bonus.