Advice for the Young at Heart

Published: 05/10/2023 22:47

Pupillages are commencing. There was recently some chatter in my chambers about what a family law pupil should have read or at least be aware of. Engaging though this conversation was, it got me thinking about what advice is not to be obviously found in the books or law reports.

I started pupillage 27 years ago. Back then there appeared to be some fairly arbitrary codes of behaviour which seem rather odd in 2023. Barristers don’t take their bags into the court room. Don’t take your jacket off in front of a solicitor. Members of the Bar should not address magistrates as ‘Your Worships’ but as Sir or Madam. Junior barristers are not to use the lectern in court. In retrospect I’m not sure how helpful all that was.

I hope to set out here a few pieces of advice which may assist a family pupil along the way.

  1. You are an advocate, you are not your case. You are professionally obliged to accept instructions in your area of practice. You will not always be on the side of the angels. But you are still required to do all that you can for your client. Do your best. Don’t over-identify with your instructions. Keep a poker face in all circumstances. Do not ever say to the judge ‘I am instructed to say that…’
  2. The Bar is like an extension of the sixth form common room. All corners are there. Some of your opponents will be brilliant. Some will think they are brilliant. Some will be rude. Some you will learn not to trust. Some will become great friends. Do not let the sound and fury of your opponent put you off the case you are instructed to run. Particularly when starting out, do not show fear, blink or appear too keen to please or impress. Do not be ‘old soldiered’. Trust your preparation and instincts and if at all unsure speak to someone in chambers before you go into your hearing. Always ask if you are unsure.
  3. Don’t become ‘that barrister’ which people dread being against because you are rude, overly aggressive or sharp. The Bar is small and your card will quickly be marked if you behave unkindly or dishonourably. Be straight and measured in all your dealings.
  4. Don’t crow when you win. Don’t sulk when you lose. Both happen to all barristers about 50% of the time.
  5. To the extent that your instructions permit, try to pitch your case in negotiation or in a hearing ‘in the parish’. Advocacy is the art of persuasion. If your style is to adopt an extreme stance to grandstand and ‘impress’ your lay or professional client, your opponent and tribunal may not be persuaded. You may be losing the opportunity of persuading the people in the case who are actually going to end up dictating the outcome.
  6. Help the judge. Keep your notes short and snappy. Say what you want and why you want it, rather than giving a long narrative ramble about the history of life and the universe. Judges love helpful cross-referencing. Judges are very busy and a note which guides to the key documents with all the references will be much appreciated. Make sure the note is delivered in good time. If your note is delivered first, in the ordinary course, the judge reads yours first. You have set the agenda.
  7. Family law often has a discretionary outcome. Overloading your note with slabs of quotations from the well-known authorities is often a waste of time and you are losing key moments when you could be persuading your tribunal about the key facts. If there is a series of legal propositions which must be cited, present them in an orderly fashion, perhaps even in a schedule to your note.
  8. If you are in a list of short appointments (first appointments, FDRs, etc) the judge will be under extreme time pressure. Being concise is particularly important in such circumstances. Consider sending a draft order as to what you want. It will make you think through your case carefully and it will be the perfect agenda discussion document which the judge may work through.
  9. To the extent that you have any influence over its preparation, ensure that the bundle conforms to PD 27A and other relevant practice guidance. Correct pagination is so important and it makes everyone’s life more difficult if everyone has a bundle which is different by a page or two. It really does matter.
  10. When a junior, in the financial remedies context, many cases start and end with needs. Well-considered outgoings schedules, realistic property particulars and mortgage reports are more important than the background bicker in the case.
  11. Outside of court, grab the extra opportunities that come your way. Give back, do some pro bono, join a committee, write an article, deliver a lecture. You will be surprised how often you open up unexpected doors and interesting professional opportunities when you go the extra mile.
  12. Think about your professional development. Learn the art of negotiation and dispute resolution. Learn to listen. Realise that people going through the hurt of relationship breakdown want to be understood.
  13. Master Excel.
  14. Be firm but also be kind.

Good luck!

©2023 Class Legal
Class Legal


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