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great trainee experience - spending a day at court

21 March 2011

The life of a trainee at Browne Jacobson is certainly wide ranging, the tasks that you do on a daily basis, from one seat to the next differ hugely. But the experiences I have found the most exciting and exhilarating are when I have attended Court.

This in itself has encompassed a variety of experiences, from doing the advocacy at Infant Settlement Approval Hearings to people managing very anxious and nervous witnesses. The forum too has differed. I have attended the County Court for anything from half a day Fast Track hearings to lengthy Medical Negligence Hearings. I have attended the Employment Tribunal; the Coroner’s Court and the Crown Court. I have also had the fortunate opportunity to attend the Court of Appeal for a ground breaking case which at the moment looks set to go to the Supreme Court.

As a trainee your responsibility at the Hearing tends to reflect the forum that you are in. However, don’t be under any illusions, you will never be an idle observer even if you attend with your Supervisor. Note taking is critical. I have on one occasion had an Employment Judge ask me via Counsel what I have written in my notes as the Claimant’s Representative was asserting that he had made an oral application, during the course of the hearing, which the Judge correctly disputed.

Aside from note taking, trainees often have a very active role. Client and witness management can often fall in your hands when your Supervisor is preoccupied with pre-hearing discussions with Counsel. Putting witnesses at ease, explaining the process, and ensuring they are where they are supposed to be at any given time is key. Locating documents can also prove vital.

Sometimes you can be even more involved, especially if you attend Court/Tribunal alone, without a supervising Solicitor. In these circumstances it will be you who Counsel turns to for urgent instructions if something unexpected comes up. At first this can be incredibly daunting but you learn to think on your feet and the adrenaline certainly kicks in!

This was indeed the case when Counsel at a Coroner’s Inquest, assigned me the role of ‘managing the press’. I had certainly not envisaged doing this as a Trainee when I embarked on my training contract! We kept the media interest at bay for most of the day, but there came a point when we had to leave the building and the press were expecting a statement and picture. Counsel sent me out alone with the witnesses to ‘face the music’ and to advise that our client had no comment to make at this time. Unfortunately the British press are persistent, and not too unexpectedly, were not happy with our stance and chased us down the street in pursuit of their statement and picture!

Ultimately, it is through my attendance at Court that I have learnt how imperative it is to prepare a case thoroughly. Critical analysis is an essential aspect of litigation. It is only through such preparation and continual assessment that you can minimise (but never completely eradicate) the risks of litigation.