A recent pupil's experience

A recent pupil's experience

A recent pupil's experience

I undertook pupillage in 2010-11 as one of three pupils.  The three of us had the opportunity to meet over a few drinks a number of times before starting as Chambers gave us each other’s details after we had all accepted Chambers’ offer of pupillage.  We also had an opportunity to meet some of the juniors from Chambers over an informal drink in the summer before I started.  This made starting altogether less daunting, although I was still a bit nervous, as most people are.

The welcoming atmosphere continued to be present once I had actually started.  Most of the first morning was spent having a chat with the chair of the pupillage committee and settling in with pupil supervisor number one, in my case Danny Shapiro, who helpfully set out the ground rules and then gave me a tour around Chambers, so that I could meet those members of Chambers who were around. Now that I knew where the library and the clerks' room were, and could start trying to put some names to the smiling faces, I was ready for the year ahead.  Needless to say I forgot almost everyone’s name at least a few times, but thankfully no one took it personally and simply laughed it off - and I’m still here!

Pupils at Crown Office Chambers sit with three pupil supervisors and get to see a wide range of Chambers' work. My first seat was largely spent looking at commercial, professional negligence and insurance-related work, although I also saw a lot of personal injury and clinical negligence work with my supervisor’s roommate, Claire Toogood.  I was particularly fortunate in my first seat as Danny was working on a landmark appeal to the Supreme Court with Roger ter Haar QC (Jones v Kaney).  They were representing a claimant who was trying to sue her expert from an earlier personal injury action.  The problem was that witnesses, including expert witnesses, were immune from suit for what they said in court and what they did in connection with their evidence in court.  They therefore argued for a change in the law, and I was given the task of researching the approach of other jurisdictions to this situation.  It was immensely gratifying to see a lot of my research used both in conference and relied upon when making decisions about how to run the case at the appeal.  They won, which was even better still!

My second seat was with Andrew Davis and my third was with Patrick Blakesley.  With Andrew, I saw a mixture of personal injury (including a lot of catastrophic injury work) and, to a lesser extent, insurance and construction.  In addition to attending hearings in various county courts, the High Court and the Court of Appeal with Andrew, I also went to court with several of the juniors to see the sort of work which I would be doing on my own account in my second six.  Patrick’s work was almost exclusively personal injury, though in contrast to my previous seats, his work involved a lot of Joint Settlement Meetings and negotiations, which were again hugely beneficial to see.   

When I was not in court I sat in the same room as my supervisors and did the same work: drafting pleadings, skeleton arguments, advices and preparing research notes. Chambers also encourages you to do work for other members, both to broaden your experience and (hopefully) to give you opportunities to impress. This is closely monitored by your pupil supervisors, so that you do not have more going on than you can handle - something that is a running theme, with your pupil supervisors not only being your teachers but also your guides.

As a pupil you are also assigned a pupillage Aunt and Uncle, normally the two most junior tenants, who are always on call to answer those 'stupid questions' you would prefer not to ask your pupil supervisors. I certainly found this system very useful!  They also take you out a number of times during the year, which may sound a small thing but was again really helpful in helping me relax into the year.

Pupils complete 2 written assessments during the year, usually after the first seat has finished and pupils have had a chance to find their feet.  In my year they were two advices, both of which were challenging, but also fun.  They are always at least double marked, and feedback is provided in a meeting with the chair of the pupillage committee so that you know where you should be trying to improve.  Feedback is a running theme throughout pupillage in Chambers; this is not a set, as was the case with many of the sets at which my friends did pupillage, where you will be made to sink or swim with little idea which you are doing.  It is obviously impossible for your supervisors to give detailed written feedback on all of your written work, but certainly in my case, there were countless examples throughout the year when my various supervisors went through my work line by line with me, explaining what was good, what was wrong, and what could be changed but was a matter of style.  Very few of my friends at other sets had the same level of feedback, and it was something which I valued enormously.

In addition to the written assessments all pupils undertake a series of four advocacy training sessions before the second six begins.  Each involves preparing for a 'real-life' court situation, such as applying for summary judgment, and usually involves drafting a short skeleton argument beforehand. I found these sessions extremely beneficial, not only because they gave me a chance to build on the constructive feedback from the previous session, but also because they were great preparation for the quick-thinking on your feet needed during the second six.

In my second six I was in court on average 3 days a week doing my own work, as well as drafting small pleadings and preparing advices on quantum and liability.  I was instructed mainly in personal injury matters, mostly road traffic accidents, but also in small contractual disputes. Inevitably the work I did for my pupil supervisors eased off, but we were still given time to do sufficient paperwork for them to be able to take a view on our abilities.

Of course there were times when pupillage all became a bit hectic, but that was when the support system in Chambers kicked in. Pupil supervisors were invariably sympathetic if you had to put a piece of their paperwork on hold, whilst you finished a research note for a silk. In the moments of madness it is nice to know that even the senior members of chambers are supportive, and you never had to look too far to find someone willing to lend a hand.

The strong relationships you form, particularly at the junior end, also mean that no excuse is needed to go out for lunch together, to enjoy a curry in the evening, or to indulge in a gin and tonic. Friday night drinks in Chambers are always well attended, demonstrating that the people at Crown Office Chambers are not only excellent people from whom to learn, but also a really good bunch! As a pupil, I was always made to feel welcome at Chambers events, including the Christmas Party, which was (perhaps surprisingly) great fun.

Pupillage is a steep-learning curve and at times can be very stressful, but Chambers appears to do everything in its power both to make it as pain-free as possible and to give you an opportunity to showcase your talents. At Crown Office Chambers there is no quota for tenancy, but rather a benchmark, reflected by the fact that in my year 2 of us were taken on, and the year before all three were.  When it comes to the decision about tenancy, I got the distinct impression that Chambers attempts to employ as fair a system of assessment as possible, with all pupils having had the same pupil supervisors and all having undertaken the same advocacy and written exercises. Even before I knew the outcome of my tenancy application, I felt very fortunate to have been a pupil at Crown Office Chambers: the security of having a large pupillage award, together with the incentive to earn extra money in your second six, effectively means you are getting paid very well to learn from the best and to help you take those first all-important steps towards becoming a fully-fledged barrister. 

The decision itself is taken in mid-July, which gives anyone who is unsuccessful time to find a third six.  For those that get taken on, the next three months are a period during which your supervisors tend to ease off progressively, and you have more and more control over your own work, workload and diary.  As an example of what can happen, at the party on the evening of the decision I was asked if I would like to junior to Jason Evans-Tovey (a senior junior in Chambers for whom I had done a piece of research during pupillage) on a case he was about to run in the High Court; although originally a short 3 day liability trial, it ended up taking 9 days and involved a whole host of procedural and tactical as well as legal issues; all in all, it was (and at the time of writing continues to be) a fantastic experience and a great way to start tenancy in Chambers.

Carlo Taczalski

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