In my day young lawyers who opted for a career at the Bar had to pass the Bar finals, complete a pupillage with a pupil master and apply for a tenancy with a set of chambers. Thereafter, a career of one sort or another was guaranteed, from junior tenant to head of chambers, under the same roof.
Of course it was not as easy as all that. The Bar finals comprised a fairly grisly year during which over 1000 students attended lectures in a building built for 500 (or so it seemed). It concluded when a single list was posted in the foyer, of those who passed the exams, set out, not alphabetically, but in order of merit. Picture the scrum created by scores of students, faces pressed against the notice board, running their fingers down a list of 1000 names, occasionally breaking free with the news, 'I've found me!' or, as it turns out, 'I've found you'.
A pupillage was found by written application and interview. Pupillage was unpaid (much like an apprenticeship - in fact not so long ago the pupil had to pay the pupil master 100 guineas). The days of writing 10 applications and being offered two pupillages ended when sets of chambers started paying pupils money. Competition for the more generous awards became so steep that students were advised to make up to l00 applications. All of which had to be processed by sets of chambers ill-equipped to do so and resulted in the applicant being exhausted by interminable interviews. Now most chambers use a central processing scheme.
Pupillage was a steep learning curve of carrying books, looking up obscure law reports, photocopying, updating library books and making tea. After completing the first six months, a pupil was qualified to take on cases under supervision. After months of ploughing through lever-arch files of contractors' claims and employers' defects cases I found myself on the train to Margate to defend two juveniles on a charge of stealing socks from Marks & Spencer. Thereafter, most of my clients attended court with their mums.
A pupil's application for a tenancy in chambers is usually considered and voted upon by members of chambers at a chambers meeting. Waiting for the outcome was probably one of the worse times of my life (others were: appearing in the Court of Appeal for the first time, taking the driving test for the second time, and when the nanny was off sick with pneumonia for a month).
Once offered a tenancy, you are a fully fledged member of chambers, sharing the expenses of the place, but not your profits. Traditionally, whether you did crime, family, commercial - or more obscure specialisations such as sports law, the law relating to dangerous animals or construction - you all rubbed along side by side, meeting at tea time when the day's events in court were recounted for the entertainment of others. Exceptionally, a member of chambers would leave, whether in a fit of pique or to take up an appointment in the Cayman Isles.
As the world has become more complex however, the areas of specialisation have polarised and barristers move chambers with greater frequency to join their fellow specialists in dog law or whatever.
It is against this background that I looked out of my room in the Temple, over the courtyard garden it took the impossibly slow operatives of the Middle Temple many tortuous months to develop, for the last time. From the beginning of May I have joined a new set of chambers, teaming up with like minded specialists and enjoying a different view of the Temple.
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