So this week I had my very mini-pupillage. I had been waiting a long time to commence the mini, initially applying and being accepted back in October. Like every aspiring barrister, I was curious about what the role of a barrister entailed and what the profession is really like and so applying and attending a mini-pupillage was vital.
Here is my story of what actually happened on my mini-pupillage:
I travelled down from Wales to Snaresbrook Crown Court on Monday morning leaving at 5am and arriving at Snaresbrook at 10am. I made my way to the court which was a 5-minute walk from the station and entered the main entrance of the building and asked for directions to Courtroom 20. I was informed that Courtroom 20 was in another building and to make my way over there. Upon arrival of the building, you have to walk through security and security barriers who check your bags, clothes and scan you as a precautionary measure. I was already familiar with this process as I have previously volunteered at a civil justice court and it too happens there.
I made my way up to the second floor and sat outside the courtroom and waited for the barrister to arrive. The barrister I was meant to meet was late, unfortunately, as was his client. Fortunately, the barrister was very helpful and friendly. When 10.30 arrived the barrister informed me that we were to enter the courtroom and to sit down and wait until his case was to be heard in front of the judge. The client had still not turned up at this point and did not until about 11am, by that time we had left the courtroom and met with the client. We then entered a client interviewing room and the barrister spoke to the client about his case and how it would go.
Following the chat with the barrister’s client, we waited around for a bit for the courtroom to become clear to ask the judge when the case would be heard. However, by the time that had happened, it was time for lunch, and we were informed that we could resume to the courtroom at 2pm. I left the court for the local shops to pick up some lunch and made my way back to the court promptly for 1.30pm. Upon arrival, I met with the barrister who informed me that it was likely that we would have to find another courtroom and judge, which we did, well we tried, but many courts were not sitting and a few judges had gone home for the day. Therefore, the case, unfortunately, was not heard and I was informed that it was unlikely that the case would be heard until March 2019!
My day had pretty much ended there around 3.30, as I was informed most courts were not sitting and the particular case I was supposed to see was too not sitting, so the barrister said that I could leave. I asked him, whether I would be shadowing him the following day to which he said it would be better to contact the chambers to find a barrister who actually has a case sitting the following day. I did, I contacted the chambers at 5.30pm to find out where I would be based the following day. I was told that I would be based in Luton Crown Court.
Tuesday came around, I made my way to Luton Crown Court for a prompt 10.30 start, I took an Uber there as it was not only quicker but meant that I could have a lay in which I needed after the hectic day of travelling the day before. Fortunately, the uber driver was very nice, we had a nice chat about what it is like to live in Germany, where he is originally from, we talked about how he was a supporter of the Father’s for Justice and believed that the UK required political and legal reform, not least because of the implications of Brexit!
I was dropped off right in front of the Crown Court and made my way to courtroom 6 where I was told that the barrister I would be shadowing would be. Unfortunately, he never turned up! I was informed by one of the clerks that that courtroom was not sitting today and that the only courts that were sitting were courtroom 1 and 4. To my dismay, I found out having contacted the chambers that the barrister I was supposed to shadow was not actually in the country and wouldn’t be until that evening! Of course, I was disappointed. I asked the clerk at the chambers if there was anyone else I could shadow in Luton that day and she informed there was one more barrister from that chambers sitting in courtroom 1 at 11.30am. So, I took a walk around the local town for an hour and then went back to the court, I took a seat outside and waited. I then asked a clerk at the court if the barrister was there, they checked on their systems and told me that she wasn’t there yet. I waited. She never arrived. So then I left. I was very annoyed because I had not only been misinformed once but now stood up twice, along with the cost it seemed to me as if the mini-pupillage was a joke and not very prepared for my arrival. Not to mention that the chambers did not and do not provide travel expenses, and so everything was out of my own pocket.
I have learnt a lot of important lessons about the profession, firstly, that it is unpredictable and there is no structure. I have also learnt that you have to expect the best, plan for the worst and prepare to be surprised. Life at the criminal bar is not what I had anticipated or expected, I must say that this past week has taught me that I may not be suited to the bar and that I may be more suited to being a solicitor.
Would I recommend a mini-pupillage? I must say this is my first mini-pupillage, and I suppose that the experience varies from chamber to chamber and court to court and barrister to barrister, however, it seems to me that it is very unpredictable and different to being a solicitor. I have spoken to many barristers and I have been told by most that there is a lot of freedom in the profession and that you will mostly be working independently and that it very much depends on your personal preference as to what route you take.