A pupil’s first 3 months | 39 Park Square


A pupil’s first 3 months

Rules of Pupillage

On my first day of pupillage I was speaking to my Pupil Masters, Richard Canning and Rob Skyner. I called Richard, “Mr. Canning”. He cut me short. “The first lesson of pupillage is this. I’m Richard, he’s Rob. You only call me Mr. Canning and him Mr. Skyner in front of clients. And keep a note of these lessons, your Rules of Pupillage. I want to see them in 12 months time”.

Well, I have been keeping tab of these Rules. So here is a 3 month update.

Helpful Rules 

Some rules relate to court etiquette. Never leave Counsel’s Row without the judge’s permission unless there are two other barristers there. And never to enter court when the judge is speaking or addressing a Defendant.

Some lessons are about how you do the job. The reason you don’t object when the prosecution are making a hash of the Cross Examination of your client is because you don’t want to give the jury the impression that you’re protecting the Defendant. The last thing you want to do is stand up when the Defendant is taking a battering because it looks like a lawyer is trying to save them.

Some rules are about relationships with those who provide you with work. “Don’t throw your instructing solicitors under the bus” is a clear one. A query had arisen about why a necessary part of the case had not yet been done by instructing solicitors. It was explained to me that if instructing solicitors have failed to do something, the barrister has an ethical obligation to tell the client that the solicitor has been negligent. That is, however, a bit blunt and potentially relationship destroying with your solicitor. Instead, remember that Diplomacy is the skill of success and just gracefully let the solicitor know what is missing, before you see the client.


The Most Important Rules 

I have found that the most important lessons have taught me what it actually means to be a barrister. Here are two.

The first is that it’s about the fight, not the result. Some of the court performances that most impressed me have been those where Counsel had been given so-called “garbage” as a brief, but still argued it well, forcefully and elegantly. Points were taken and not abandoned. The client’s case so became almost credible. The other side were made to work for it. And the client did a lot better as a result. As another barrister bluntly told me, “Even if a client’s case is a load of shit, you still present it”. The difference between a sentence of 4 and 8 years in prison is obviously massive, as is the difference between an award of £10,000 and £20,000. I now know that the other side will fight every application and make every effort to present your submissions as error prone, weak, and prejudicial. But hold the line. Don’t be dissuaded, and be ready for the fight.


The second is to remember that I am an advocate, and not the judge. That means, don’t let your own views about whether the defendant is innocent or guilty change how you do the job. One defendant in the dock came across as an innocent, vulnerable victim. He appeared exhausted and worn out by the struggles of life which he kept losing, despite his best efforts. Sitting behind the Prosecution barrister, I felt sympathetic. I found myself questioning whether he even deserved to be convicted. I wondered why we were here, and he was there. As though, if I were the judge, I might let him off. But duplicity was not far away. That defendant turned out to be the smarmy deceitful crook the Prosecution said he was. On being found guilty, his whole person completely changed. He really became, in mannerisms and behaviour, a completely different person. His victim mask was replaced by a wide grin of contempt now the game was up, and he winked and laughed across the court to his girlfriend when he was being handcuffed for custody. He knew exactly that he had done it, and his not-guilty pleas were lies. The lesson could not be clearer. Be the barrister. And leave the judgment for the bench.

I am enjoying pupillage a lot, and am looking forward to all I will learn in the next 9 months.