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This Life at the Bar is not all it's cracked up to be on the TV

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legal matters

The Bar is a glamourous profession. We know this because our television tells us so. Programmes such as This Life depict ambitious young barristers, who, despite earning real money for the first time since leaving home, are apparently still happy to live cheek by jowl with kitchen porters and motorcycle couriers in undergraduate-style tenements. These junior tenants are caught up in a professional whirl of long hours, court room appearances and conferences with clients in the cells, punctuated only by a spate of serious clubbing or the odd sexual encounter. The latter is then discussed in the unlikely venue of the clerks room (through which barristers regularly traipse to pick up or drop off their work, check their diaries or report that the photocopier is not working) and, most extra-ordinarily, it seems that these young barristers actually discuss their love lives with their clerks. In fact the only thing barristers talk to their clerks about are (1) work (2) money and (3) football (or, in my case 1 and 2 only).

At the other end of the scale we have Kavanagh qc, showing us the fruits of middle-aged success and the strains of everyday life in chambers, particularly the behaviour of idiosyncratic individual members of chambers, put upon by the hard-working, well-meaning criminal silk. Kavanagh's senior clerk is depicted as earning more money than most of the members of chambers. In fact, this is not unusual since, for historical reasons, many senior clerks' earnings are calculated on a percentage of chambers turnover. What is unlikely, however, is that he would buy a Georgian manor house with it, and even if he did he would certainly never throw a party for members of chambers there. Most barristers' clerks live happily in Essex.

Of course life at the Bar is not really as depicted on television. The fact that one is unable to take a telephone call because one is 'in court' no doubt conjures for the caller an image of one being involved in a dynamic cross examination; reducing lying witness to tears and causing him or her to exonerate the wrongly accused defendant. Building contract litigation seldom produces a lying witness. Witnesses are sometimes incompetent and often confused but these traits do not sharpen one's forensic skills. And the only tears you see are those of boredom, as counsel for the claimant moves, as if in treacle, from item 342 of the schedule of defects to item 343. When, not so long ago, a judge of the Technology and Construction Courts was featured in the Sunday press, for the colourfulness of his nocturnal pursuits, his court room was packed with reporters on the Monday morning. At the time he was trying a case about concrete. By Friday only the representative from the Daily Telegraph still remained in court.

In fact if you are out of chambers you are probably sitting on a chilly railway platform returning from an unsuccessful morning where you have failed even to persuade the tribunal that they have time to hear the disputed final account claim, let alone actually obtaining an order that some money be paid to your client. And that is if you have been to court at all. Weeks go by, during which, if I were featured in a docu-soap, the camera would capture me arriving in chambers, taking two or three lever arch files from my pigeon hole in the clerks room back to my room, reading them, going out to purchase a sandwich, coming back and eating it, turning on my computer, typing an advice in writing, printing it, faxing it, turning off the computer and going home. The only variations on this routine would be a telephone call or a visit from another member of chambers (sometimes) to discuss their case or, (more frequently) to vent their spleen over an administrative frustration (invariably) about the forthcoming merger. The highlight of this kind of week is having fish and chips for lunch on Friday in Middle Temple Hall. Well that's glamour for you.

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