There is, currently, discussion yet again at the Bar of England and Wales about whether all sets of chambers should “tax” their members in order to pay pupils (i.e. trainee barristers) a certain minimum during their year of pupillage. The figure mooted has been put by some at £25,000; others put it at £12,000, i.e. about where the present legal “minimum wage” is set. Not all barristers agree. I saw a contrary-leaning article by Jew-Zionist silk Simon Myerson QC. I expect that this is the only issue on which I would ever agree with him (I attach his views at the bottom of this blog post).
I understand that chambers are currently not forced to have pupils, but if they have them they must be paid £12,000 p.a. Apologies if that misrepresents the current position; I have little contact now with affairs at the Bar. [update: see below]
Many who know me or of me may wonder why I am bothering to write about this. After all, I ceased Bar practice in 2008, and was actually disbarred –for political reasons– in 2016, after a pack of malicious Jews cobbled together a complaint to the Bar Standards Board about my socio-political tweets. My answer to such a query would be that I have a view and the time in which to express it. Simply that. I can revisit Memory Lane, too.
The idea that all chambers must fund at least one pupil has superficial appeal to many. Poorer people of merit would be assisted etc. The problem with that is that most young (as most are) Bar pupils are not very poor anyway, and many come from families with considerable incomes and capital. In short, from affluent families. No-one forces chambers to take poor pupils rather than rich ones. In other words, chambers might be forced to pay for pupils who do not even need the money.
When I myself was looking for pupillage in the late 1980s and then early 1990s (interrupted by my going to live in the USA and travelling back and forth in those years), I had handicaps: apart from lack of money, I was, having been born in 1956, about a decade older than most candidates, and (worse) until late 1988 had a beard. That last might seem a small matter, but at least two barristers who interviewed me mentioned it…
I found that, at that time, the Bar was even less well-run than most things in the UK. We (students at the Inns of Court School of Law, at the time the only place where the Bar Finals course was offered) were told by some stuffy blue-stocking administratrix that we should write our applications by hand and preferably in ink, using a fountain pen (though CVs could be typed)! By some miracle, quill pens and parchment had been superseded. Well, I laboured to write maybe a hundred applications (though not with a fountain pen). Most went unanswered. Imagine that… that a letter written in good faith on a quite usual subject (after all, it happens at least annually that people apply to such places) will simply be ignored. Arrogant. Rude.
Of the interviews I had, a few stand out: there was one at a leading commercial set, in which interview I was interviewed by one Christian du Cann and some young woman who was obviously very junior. Du Cann was the son of perhaps the best Bar advocate I ever heard, Richard du Cann QC, who wrote one of the best books on the subject, The Art of the Advocate (highly recommended, by the way, if any Bar students are reading this). Du Cann junior was OK, even pleasant, but the young woman was unpleasant, scornful, contemptuous. Huge chip on shoulder from somewhere. I think that she felt inferior, so abused her half hour of power. Fortunately for her, I have forgotten her name.
Then there was the interview elsewhere, which obviously was not going very well, though in a low-intensity way. One barrister saw me out and made two suggestions: one, never shake hands with another barrister; two, beards are usually unacceptable.
Another interview that was (perhaps on purpose, to put one on one’s mettle) very hostile was with three then fairly well-known people, often in the newspapers: Michael Worsley QC [https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/obituaries/12118332/Michael-Worsley-barrister-obituary.html], who died in 2016; Roy Amlot (later QC) who was often seen prosecuting IRA bombers etc (and, later, defending in huge fraud trials such as Blue Arrow), now 75 and retired from the Bar; a blonde woman smoking like a chimney (I cannot quite recall after more than a quarter-century whether that was Joanna Korner, now QC and a judge, or Ann Curnow QC, now deceased). All in a room got up to look like a cross between a country sitting-room and a study: panelling, soft-ish lighting, leather sofa etc and a couple of desks. In summary, Worsley appeared to be a stuffed shirt (very different from the figure portrayed in the Daily Telegraph obit), Amlot a funereally-serious and hugely self-important little man, and the blonde woman someone whose interview style seemed to rely on ill-bred mockery.
I did have one interview which was almost Kafka-esque. At that time, my mother and brother were both Members at Ascot (my brother also owned a racehorse at the time). One frequently-encountered fellow-member was a woman whose son happened to be a head of chambers in the Temple. The two ladies arranged an interview for me. I was loath to go for interview under such conditions, but went out of politeness.
In those pre-Internet days, it was not always easy to find out what a particular set did in detail. I went thinking that it was a general Common Law set. On my arrival, on a Friday early evening, about 1800, the members were all enjoying glasses of champagne; bottles of Bollinger were everywhere. I was given a glass. Turned out that they did this every Friday at sundown. The head of chambers, obviously talking to me because his mother had asked him to do so, was not very pleasant and asked me what I knew of family law. I replied not much, never having studied it. He said “We only do family…” End of “interview”.
In the end, I went back to the USA, though I did get a pupillage in London in the end, in 1992, unfunded and making the first six months (when you are forbidden to accept fees) a trial of strength.
In my last few years at the practising Bar, I was based in Exeter. The head of those chambers decided that we should take pupils and (a year or two later) also fund them. At least one per year. Everyone would be “taxed” for this. I think that my share was about £50 a month, something like that. I thought that absurd. Those funded were not in real need of money (as I had been when a pupil) and I saw no need for us to have pupils in chambers anyway. I was there to make a living, not to provide the English middle classes with career or CV opportunities. My Head of Chambers disagreed though. He no doubt wanted to keep in with the the Bar Council etc, and I note that he has since then (in recent years) sat as a Recorder in civil cases.
Thus it is that, for once, I find myself in agreement with Myerson QC, whose view is linked hereinbelow:
Update (July 2018)
My one-time Head of Chambers has, since I penned the above, been elevated to the Bench as a Circuit Judge, I read somewhere or other. May he temper the law (of which he has an impressive grasp) with not only justice but also mercy…
Update, 23 August 2019
I saw this:
So those fortunate enough to find a pupillage at all (only about 1 in 10) will be paid the above sums per year (or pro rata— many pupils are in two different sets for the two halves of their pupillage year). Nice for them.
My objection to the above is not merely (in fact scarcely at all) that “I had to struggle; they should also struggle”, because in any case most Bar pupils are from relatively affluent (sometimes very wealthy) backgrounds. They do not really need the money.
There is another point: a Bar pupil is almost useless in the first 6 months. Barristers in chambers are therefore not only subsidizing people most of whom do not really require subsidy, but paying out for nothing (unless you regard it as akin to noblesse oblige). A Bar pupil may be helpful in terms of research etc, but the barrister who is pupilmaster has to be pretty sure of the pupil to rely on the results. In other words, the pupillage award is not quasi-pay for work done by the pupil, but a kind of de haut en bas largesse. Oh well, not my problem now!