In the last 48 hours, two friends, a family member, a twitter follower and an instructing solicitor have all expressed surprise that I’m so quiet. Not quiet in general, but on a certain issue.

‘Pupils contribute nothing’

Or,

‘Coffee v Pupils,’

Or,

‘Myersongate’

I think I prefer Myersongate.

In short, http://www.legalcheek.com/2012/02/simon-myerson-qc-12k-minimum-pupillage-award-is-fair/ Simon Myerson QC writes on legal cheek. In response to the suggestion that we give up a coffee a day in order to pay for pupils to secure the future of our profession.

The commercial silk says that pupils contribute nothing to chambers during their pupillage.

Watching and waiting

I’ve watched the fall out, not only on legalcheek itself, but also on other websites.

The feeling from other barristers, pupil barristers and bar school graduates has been resolutely contrary.

In my own mind, the suggestion that pupils contribute nothing is absolutely laughable. I drafted for senior juniors, I did legal research for solicitors, oh and when I got on my feet I gave chambers 10% of my earnings, brought in new solicitors and when we were short of clerks I humped box files from one chambers to another.

So, pupils contribute nothing?

Balls.

Also, I feel a responsibility to protect and encourage new members of my profession to come forward. Without barristers like ‘Silk Cut’ giving up his time, I would never have come to the bar. I now feel the same responsibility and help where I can.

But I’m worried

I find it worrying that a QC would make such a broad statement. I am not sure if it’s the same Myerson QC who is at Byrom Street Chambers. Byrom St is an impressive set, but they have something notable about them, they have nobody under a 1995 call.

In London, Cloth Fair chambers continues to pick up impressive work. They have four QCs and two senior juniors from 1997 call.

They have no pupils. No junior members of the bar get to learn from John Kelsey-Fry QC.

So there’s a subtle indication that business efficacy requires more senior members of the bar to cast off the more junior members.

Look to our leaders

My worry is that through history and courtesy we remain silent and expect our leaders to protect us.

The question of advocacy assessments looms, the dreaded QASA. Lord Justice Moses showed sympathy for those of us with a criminal practice, Joshua Rozenberg reports:

Young criminal advocates were already the least well paid and the most vilified of those who practised in the courts, Moses pointed out. They would be the guinea pigs while their counterparts in commercial chambers would remain free to sit in court, unassessed, behind a “heavyweight silk boring for England or for Russia”

I know it’s just a nod in our direction, but I’m really grateful that a senior member of the judiciary has recognised our existence. And it’s not only members of the judiciary, some silks have, even a Tory MP, Geoffrey Cox QC.

But we’re about to get to crunch time

Members of the Bar who rely on public funding will need more than just a few friends at the top. The junior members need a champion. And, as of late, I’ve been worried that we don’t have one.

I’ve also secretly worried that the future of the bar might be forgotten for a short reprieve in some respect which advantages senior colleagues.

Can we put our trust in the hands of senior practitioners?I simply don’t know, I hope so. But, with announcements that pupils are useless, and considering the Byrom/Cloth Fair models, what do we do?

Do we take door 1…

And stick to the status quo. There’s a strong argument to do so. All our senior colleagues were in our position at one time. We all know individuals QCs and senior juniors who will stand up for us and for future generations.

We should throw our weight behind the Young Legal Aid Lawyers, our circuit reps and our inns of court reps.

Or, we take door 2

And we decide to look after ourselves. This of course would necessitate more than a little work. The juniors would have to lobby for a position on every Inn and Circuit committee.

We would have to separate off and in terms of negotiation with the LSC and government, we would need to be certain that we have our own representatives.

Pub beer garden advocacy about where our profession is going would need to move from the heat of halogen lamps to board rooms and conference halls.

Trust

I take option 1, let’s trust our leaders. They don’t forget how difficult things can be and I am sure they see us as being of use. Also, there’s individual personalities to consider. A senior Judge has come out in our support, the leader of the South Eastern Circuit has also shown that he cares. We all individually know particular leading barristers who will stand up for us.

Their experience and gravitas is more likely to persuade and protect then if we send a champion who may just be thought of as a petulant child at the dinner table.

However, that said, we need some movement forward. We really cannot spend our time moaning in beer gardens and instead ought to focus.

We do need to stand for more committees. We do need to back each other and vote when a junior junior stands. We need to engage with and enlarge professional bodies such as the Young Legal Aid Lawyers association and Young Barristers’ Committee.

Perhaps we can remind Mr Myerson QC what we at the bottom rungs contribute to the profession.

FTD

Comments
  1. QCs are allowed to take pupils now.
    In a well-managed set of Chambers, pupils are recruited as potential future tenants and are given the opportunity to learn and demonstrate skills that they will need as fully practising lawyers. They obviously bring immediate benefits in assisting their supervisors and other members of chambers with their cases, and they bring long term benefits as potential future members themselves. For the pupil, the 12 or 18 month job interview is likely to be stressful even in the nicest chambers, but it’s absurd to suggest that they contribute nothing or can only be valued as missed coffee opportunities. The money paid in the rich sets (eg Essex Court – £60K per year) must show they are worth a hell of a lot of hot beverages.

  2. SM says:

    Can I suggest you read:
    1. The comment I left on the post when challenged by a junior tenant.
    2. My blog.
    3. Byrom Street’s website, which makes it clear that it is a set for Silks and Senior Juniors. That’s the model, so it’s hardly surprising that it has no one junior.
    4. The CBA on QASA, which the Criminal Bar – myself included – supports. Moses LJ is not sticking up for you. He is expressing a particular concern in the context of a number of issues about advocacy. His speech has been rather misreported and reading it in its entirety will give you a fresh perspective.

    Two other things.

    First, I didn’t say pupils were useless. In the context of a proposal that the criminal bar pay a minimum of £25k pa I pointed out that pupils contribute nothing to Chambers. The aim is to turn them into junior tenants who will build good practices. If Chambers select correctly (and, as I have repeatedly pointed out, the odds of getting pupillage are someone between 10-1 and 4-1, so there is plenty of choice) that is what happens. So the proposition that pupils are “useless” is obviously not one I adopt.

    I have no problem if you wish to feel persecuted by anyone, but you are not, in fact, being persecuted by me. Feel free to get in touch if you would like confirmation.

    Secondly, it is right that silks can take pupils but I regard it as a bad idea. The type of work available is not reflective of what junior tenants do and, having had 7 pupils myself, I don’t like pupillages where the pupil is repeatedly farmed out to someone else, as any silk with a pupil would have to do. In my view, pupils learn best when they are with a supervisor with whom they get on and have had some time to build up the trust that is so helpful when work is being critiqued. I understand why Chambers sometimes now give pupils 3 or 4 separate “seats” – it expends the approaches experienced and the type of work seen. But, in my view, it runs the risk that the pupil will not actually develop a really good working relationship with anyone.

    As a final point: on the NE Circuit and at Middle Temple junior barristers are already on every committee and – for the Bar generally – the Young Barristers Committee is encouraged to contribute to every major discussion and prepares its own responses to major consultations. The Bar is a collaborative profession, and your options 1 and 2 are not remotely mutually exclusive.

    • Also, can I just say on a personal note, that I’m glad there is a free website which talks about how people can get pupillage and the realities of doing so.

  3. Firstly, thank you for replying.

    1. Have read thanks.
    2. Have again read thanks.
    3. Again, yes have read.
    4. Haven’t, will do.

    Certainly don’t feel persecuted by you whatsoever. Not sure why I would.

    My point was, and remains, (and it’s more a question than anything else) – should the junior end of the Bar (especially publically funded) be concerned when leaders like yourselves say pupils contribute nothing? And, when some chambers have adopted a business model which excludes junior practioners. I understand it was said in a particular context and I understand chambers are working in a certain environment.

    Glad to that other juniors are well represented in North East and at Middle Temple, it is something we ought to replicate in SE and in other Inns.

  4. SM says:

    In answer to your question: yes of course (with the caveat that concern should lead to investigation, not jumping to reflexive conclusions). I made my position clear when I commented on Sara’s post. As to business models excluding juniors; in neither of my Leeds sets (as I have said, Byrom Street is a different issue), have juniors been excluded from developing Chambers and making key decisions.

    If what you mean is that some sets don’t take junior practitioners at all, all I can say is that Byrom Street is a particular system, which enables solicitors to brief juniors from whatever Chambers they please and still have access to a serious body of expertise. Viewed from the clients’ point of view, it is arguable that such a set up provides more choice. And the Bar needs to be outward facing. I don’t think that this reduces the number of pupillages available: we have had pupils at Byrom Street but as we don’t take practitioners who are just starting out, it is tricky. The reality is that there has to be work for there to be a pupil. Whether the lack of work for a junior tenant comes from the Chambers model, the success of the set, or the constraints imposed by outside agencies is immaterial.

    Cloth Fair was set up by some exceptionally heavyweight silks (amongst whom was my pupil master the late, great, Edmund Lawson QC) and, as I understood it, was originally going to be silks only. The reasoning – again as I understood it – was that the workloads carried by the members required considerable facilities and staffing which other Chambers were unable to fund and that a silks only chambers would allow solicitors access to leading counsel at an earlier stage than normal. It was controversial at the time and may remain so: but I don’t think either Cloth Fair or Byrom Street is a conspiracy against pupils or the junior bar. My only experience of Kelsey-Fry is anecdotal, but it is worth reporting that his junior said he was immensely keen to share the load, so I don’t think it’s fair to say that no junior learns from him: I suspect all his juniors do.

    Insofar as the Bar’s formal structures don’t give proper representation to the most junior (I think Grays does, don’t know about the other Inns or Circuits), I wholly agree with you.

    Best.

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