Monday, 7 October 2013

Sleepless nights

Last night I didn't sleep.  Well in fact, I did sleep for a little while; in my dream I remembered the problems that had been keeping me awake and the stress actually woke me up again.  I have now completed the 12 months stage of pupillage, although I have to do 18 months with my chambers before I can apply for tenancy so there's no news on that front as yet.  But I do now face the prospect of no more guaranteed earnings, only earning the money that is paid in to chambers some months after the work was done and completely at the mercy of an entirely unsuitable "Lord Chancellor" who may or may not decide to slash fees even further just because I deign to represent those people who are most in need of representation but are the least able to pay for it.

Since I started this blog I have found myself made redundant, struggled through months of unemployment, and on a number of occasions found myself homeless.  Despite all of that, I have never felt as vulnerable as I feel now.  I have enough money to last me perhaps another 6 weeks and after that I will have nothing. In fact, worse than that, I will still have my BVC loan repayments to worry about.  The only option available is to go further into debt without the remotest idea about how I will ever claw my way out of it. So should I give up?

Not a chance.

I love this job, and I'm told I'm good at it.  Not only that, but I cannot walk away knowing that I'm doing something that is so valuable.  I may only be doing summary trials, rather than high profile murder cases at the Old Bailey, but for the clients, a conviction is a conviction.  The threat of prison, for however short a sentence is still prison.  If I don't force myself to find a way through this mire, why should anyone else? I wont be part of the statistics, I wont be sensible and walk away from an unsustainable career path that is going to drive me into poverty and debt, because I can't.  If I do, how can I expect other people to take my place?  What if one day I need legal representation and can't pay for it?  Who will be left to assist me when I need the help?  Serco? G4S?  Perhaps the prison van driver will help me draft my grounds of appeal as I'm conveyed to Holloway for a crime I didn't commit...

The dismantling of the publicly funded Bar has been ongoing for over a decade, but it is accelerating.  The Circuit leaders and senior figures at the Bar can continue to debate what the best course of action is, and perhaps they will eventually decide on something, which may even work.  Whatever the decision is, I'll follow it. Ultimately I'm not earning anything anyway so what have I got to lose??   I don't know what the collective solution is, and I don't pretend to. What I do know is that there may still be thousands of applicants for pupillage, but the retention of pupils is becoming a problem.  The decision to give up at the end of 12 months is no longer a rarity.  I know of at least 3 pupils at criminal sets who have done the sensible thing and walked away.  I don't mean to sound self-complimentary here, but every person who manages to beat the odds and get pupillage must have the potential to be a great advocate.  The talent is leaving before it even gets started.

Bar Students - heed this warning - it is as bad as they say it is when you go on your mini-pupillages and you're told not to come to the Bar, or "for god's sake don't do crime".  In fact, it is getting worse.

But please, do it anyway.  I don't want to be the one to have to turn out the lights.

Saturday, 24 November 2012

Pupil Paranoia

I'm now 7 weeks in to pupillage and for the most part it all seems to be going surprisingly well.  I say surprisingly because I regularly find myself in the grips of an hitherto unknown evil: "Pupil Paranoia".  This beast casually drapes itself over your shoulder whispering poison into your ears, spreading doubt into your mind and keeping you awake at night.  

A mild example can be a sinking feeling of letting a tenant down because you don't have any spare post-it notes knocking about, or catastrophising about an inability to translate a document from German into English despite my only contact with the German language being the consumption of jaegermeister in Stuttgart one weekend two years ago.  

More prominent bouts of pupil paranoia oddly occur when receiving compliments or praise.  Firstly, how do I respond to a compliment?  Gushing with thanks for the appreciation is, well, embarrassing for all involved; self-deprecating refusal to accept that you've done well or deflecting by saying "well I had help from so and so..." is counter-productive; accepting the praise outright as though it were nothing is rude and arrogant... and anything in-between is likely to cause sleepless nights while the beast whispers in your ear that you now need to analyse their reaction to how you behaved, did they raise their eyebrow when you thanked them for saying so?  did they think you were taking the piss a bit when you asked them to let your supervisor know?  The next stage is pulling apart the exact words they said and the beast manages to twist them into double meanings, backhanded comments, thinly veiled sarcasm, the lot.  

Over the last week I have been told that I'm doing very well and have made a good impression.  Great right?  Wrong.  I'll tell you what has been running through my mind: 
"Oh dear, if that person thinks I'm doing well, then maybe so and so wont like me because yesterday they had a falling out over whether or not the window in their room should be open or closed... and anyway, all I did was put a jury bundle together for them, what if that is all I'm good for?...maybe he is just saying that because he knows someone else disagrees and he is trying to reassure me because he is basically just a nice guy... or maybe I come across as needing a confidence boost, I don't want people to think I'm not confident in myself... and I must make sure that he doesn't think that praise has gone to my head so I better think of a way to make it clear that it hasn't...etc etc etc."


As with most problems I have discovered that the best way to subdue this creature is through a regular medicinal intake of gin and tonic.  It works a treat until the next morning.

Saturday, 20 October 2012

2012: A Pupil Odyssey

Hello again! I'm now three weeks into pupillage and thought maybe, just maybe, I finally have something to blog about that is worth reading.  I wanted to write a post because three weeks ago I had absolutely no idea what awaited me on the other side of the door to chambers, and now, well I still have no idea what awaits me from day to day but I can at least confirm that the members of chambers that I have met so far do not have scales, tentacles or webbed feet.  In fact, I am having an amazing time.

I am happy.  Not just oh-I'm-really-pleased-it-is-going-well kind of happy, but genuinely never-been-happier-with-anything-in-my-life happy.  If ever I had time to see them, I'm sure my friends and family would  agree that they've never seen me quite like this.  I'm telling you all this because you need to know - pupillage is hard work, but it isn't the horrific terror that some people make it out to be. Well, not for me anyway.  I had a bit of a nagging fear in that back of my mind that I might have spent all this time and all that money on chasing something that I would hate, but now I know - I am actually doing something that I want to do.  Since I was 16 I have been working in jobs that I had to do to get by, to pay rent/bills/school fees etc; and finally, 10 years later, I'm actually doing the work that I've been aiming for for all this time.

There is one other pupil who started on the same day as me.  We have become fast friends.  That is another myth that I want to dispel - the other pupil(s) are not the enemy; unless they treat you like you are the enemy of course, in which case wear a stab vest under your shirt at all times and sleep with one eye open... but luckily the other pupil (TOP) and I are getting on really well.   As far as I am concerned there is no need to add to the stress and pressure of trying to impress the tenants in chambers by also having a rivalry with another pupil to contend with.  It is much nicer to have an ally that you can talk to when you are panicking about calling a silk by the wrong name, or you just gave a white coffee to a tenant who is lactose intolerant.   

I have a brilliant pupil-supervisor.  I speak to him every day and see him every few days, but he is also giving me space to spend time with and do work for the other members of chambers, which is so valuable because when it is eventually time for the tenancy decision every member of chambers has a vote.  Also I've been able to spend some time doing some work on family cases as well as crime so I've been able to keep that interest alive and in focus which is great.

So far I haven't been completely overworked; there have been a few evenings when I've been up late finishing off some work, but on other evenings I've been able to come home (admittedly later than I'm used to), stick the kettle on and catch my breath.  Nothing that I have been asked to do has been something I've not known how to do; and so far so good - I've had great feedback.

Before I started I ran around worrying about what I would need to buy in preparation.  I don't have everything I could do with, but here is a shopping list of things I would suggest a potential pupil might want to have if you have an unlimited budget:

  • Wig, Gown and  x3 collarette/tabs - my supervisor expects me to wear them whenever I am in the Crown Court.  That isn't the case for all pupil supervisors but I'm glad I already had them!
  • Spray on starch - A god-send.  When you stick a collarette in the washing machine it emerges incredibly wrinkled; and I'm not kidding about that-  it is almost unrecognisable!  Normal ironing just doesn't get those wrinkles out, and I stressed so much about this! But a court clerk tipped me off about spray on starch, which you use just before you iron it and it makes a massive difference.
  • Contract mobile phone - I'm assuming most people have these already, but I don't think pay as you go will cut it - running out of credit in the middle of a call to a member of chambers isn't going to give the right impression.
  • At least 3 different suits - I am finding it impossible to do any laundry mid-week because there simply isn't time and also because I live in a flat and the neighbours in the flat downstairs probably wouldn't appreciate my washing machine banging away at 11:30 in the evening.
  • A change of shoes - Girls, wear heels in court and in chambers (let's face it they give you a confidence boost and look great with the wig and gown),  but have a pair of flats to keep up with your supervisor when you are travelling across London.  It is not good to keep them waiting while you hobble along behind them at half the speed.  Even if you are completely used to wearing them, you can always walk faster in flat shoes.  Also, make sure the alternative shoes are sturdy and waterproof because you will wear them a lot and it will rain a lot.
  • A laptop with DVD playing facilities - the lighter the better, but you need a disc drive so that you can play CCTV discs etc.
  • Some form of Tablet that has 3G connection - I have the laptop, but what I don't have is a tablet. If I could afford one I would snap one up straight away because one thing I have discovered is that when you are waiting around in court for a matter to be called on, it is incredibly frustrating to know there is other work that you could be doing if only you had access to the Internet.  I think most Crown Courts in London have BT Open Zone WiFi, but you have to pay to access it and it is a bit hit and miss.  
  • Counsel notebooks, pens, highlighters, post-it tabs - Kind of obvious, but the highlighters and the post-it tabs are surprisingly important.
  • A waterproof pull along suitcase - To pull along all of the above! The most important word is waterproof.  When I bought mine the lady that sold it to me insisted that I get a hard-top suitcase, rather than a cloth based one.  It hadn't even occurred to me but we've had so much rain over the last few days I keep thinking how lucky it was that I has such a helpful and sensible saleswoman helping me!
  • A zone 1-5 season ticket on your oyster card - You have to travel a lot. There is no cheaper way to do it.
What you might notice is missing from the above is an Archbold/Blackstones: There is no need for this during your first six.  I had been saving up some money to buy one when the time came but I have access to Archbold through Chambers' Westlaw account and if I need Blackstones I can just go to the library.

I wont make any promises, but hopefully I'll be able to post again soon. 

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Ok so I know it's been a REALLY long time but...

I think it is about time I shared the news - I caught the golden snitch. A criminal one starting in 12 months time. !

I really should have posted earlier, but have been waiting for a letter to land on my doorstep saying "dear CLG, we're very sorry but there's been some mistake..." 3 months down the line it seems they haven't changed their mind!

I have been a terrible blogger, my last post was over 12 months ago; and to be honest I'm not sure I'm cut out for committed blogging, but I did think I ought to share that bit of news. :D

I am going to try and be a bit more active again now that the BVC and pupillage applications are no longer consuming my life. Who knows I might even think of something interesting to write about!

Sunday, 15 August 2010

Summer is over.

I should have known, the weather over the love nest has been less than pleasant, every morning feels like it got lost on the way to mid-November, and that includes the mornings when I have woken up sans-hangover. It is time for me to put away the party dresses, even the amazing new pink one with the eccentric hoop that deserves to be in a Lady Gaga music video, and get my study on.

I just had a "casual flick" through the amount of work I probably should have done already and I am unlikely to be getting much sleep between now and the 4th September. To be fair, that bit isn't going to change, I'm just going to have to swap the alcohol for advocacy and the dancing for drafting. Sad times. :(

Bye bye social life. I love you. See you in a year xxx

Thursday, 5 August 2010

The new job

The pupillage rejection arrived in my inbox at around 8p.m. on Monday. No surprise, but still a disappointment. I'm yet to seek feedback as I've been working stupidly long hours at work recently, but will do so asap to at least get something positive out of it.

In other news, having settled into my new job, I am working on an application for something better! As much as I complain, it would appear I can't sit still for too long. I also seem to be being pulled into office politics whether I like it or not. Its nothing new though, same shit different location, I've heard it all before... civil servants LOVE to moan! The only thing is, this office is a bit like school, there are cliques of people that all socialise together, and I've heard that people only get promotions "if their face fits", which sucks because it is quite clear to everybody in the office that my line manager should be the one calling the shots, but instead the previous office manager has been replaced by a peroxide blonde bimbo who wears ridiculously low cut dresses to work and seems to have difficulty putting a sentence together. Now don't get me wrong, I'm not a bitter outsider, I've been more than welcomed into the "face fits" clique with open arms, but I just don't like it very much. I'm shocked in fact that a workplace can be so much like returning to school! But what the hell, it is only a temporary thing, I'm not planning on staying very long. In the meantime, the cool kids have got a lot to learn about how to party, and I'm having a great time broadening their horizons... ;)

Sunday, 1 August 2010

...and breathe.

I am finally settled!!! :D I have moved back down south, to a beautiful love nest with Lovely Boy, settled in to my new job and for the time being at least, all is calm. I can breathe!!! It is such a relief, we have even finally sorted out our broadband, so in theory I can actually get back into writing this blog without feeling the need to close the screen every five seconds because my sister has walked in to the room.

In terms of the BVC, exam results for year 1 were fine. I'm on target for a VC if things carry on the way they are going. The nerves got the best of me in my Advocacy 1 exam which seriously sucked as all year I was doing so well, but as everything else went well I'm not allowing it to eat away at me too much. I've had 2 pupillage interviews this time around, the first one (on the day I moved house) was a total train wreck, I got lost on my way there and was pretty flustered and couldn't really think straight - so there was no surprise when I didn't get through to the second round. The second interview went really well I think. The panel had really read my application in advance and their questions were quite encouraging. I know it is unlikely that I'll secure pupillage this year, given it's my first crack at it, but still I'm slightly apprehensive about tomorrow as no rejection has been forthcoming as yet.

As much as I've moaned about being so busy over the last few months, I've still found plenty of time to party all over London since I've been back, and I even partied in Germany for a weekend with my friends and a boat load of HOT German men. Lovely Boy was at home, naturally ;)

It's soooo good to be back! :)