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the pupil barrister versus the QC...

30 January 2015

Not everyone is aware that as well being the first choice for many aspiring trainee solicitors, Browne Jacobson has been an approved Pupillage Training Organisation since 2010 and has its very own team of Barristers.

I started my pupillage in June last year with two weeks at an inquest in Caernarfon (Wales) where the deceased had come by his death following a prolonged period of restraint outside a nightclub. My experiences since that time have included advising on the prospects of bring a claim following an electrical fire, drafting a defence in a Fatal Accident claim where the Claimant had died after falling through a roof and observing two QCs battling it out at the Court of Appeal. I am now “on my feet” in the practising period of my pupillage and can go into battle myself.

One of my first instructions was to cover a Case Management Conference before the RCJ where the Claimant was represented by Queen’s Counsel. I won’t deny that I had a moment of panic, but one thing that my pupillage has reinforced is that whilst experience is undoubtedly helpful, it is no substitute for knowing your papers (the Scouts were on to something when they decided to always be prepared).

At the hearing itself it was clear that despite our differences in experience, we were equally targets for the Judge’s temper. Although we knew that our telling off was unjust, pointing out to a Judge that they are actually the one at fault can be a risky tactic, and since there was nothing to be gained on this occasion my learned friend and I both silently let the Judge grumble. Sometimes advocacy is also about knowing when not to talk.

There were three things that we disagreed about at the start of the hearing; the Judge sided with me on the first issue, the QC on the second and neither of us on the third. I think I can safely call that one a draw.

My more recent instructions have included representing a Trust at an inquest concerning a drug-related death and appearing on behalf of a Defendant in an application to set aside default judgment.

It’s fair to say that there is still a perception amongst some quarters that being an employed barrister is somehow less impressive than being at the independent bar. I think that analysis is too simplistic, having been both impressed and disappointed by advocates from both sides. The experience of pupillage is likely to be different for everyone, as so much depends on who your pupil supervisor is and the kind of work that comes in. From my own experience I can say that during my pupillage at Browne Jacobson I have taken on increasingly complex and interesting work with the support and encouragement of my Pupil Supervisor, Fiona Butler and my colleagues in the Advocacy Unit.