A Different World
On the appointed date and time, I arrived at Two Oak Court to begin my non-practising 1st six months’ pupillage. My role would be to observe and assist a pupilmaster. I was the last pupil barrister to arrive at chambers as the other three were already sitting in the small waiting room. I looked around and said “Hello.” Bertie Dewitt was from Eton and Oxford. He was extremely well spoken and returned the greeting. George Marlinswell was also an Oxford graduate and got up to shake my hand animatedly. He was very friendly and easy to get along with. Then there was Giles Twatte, who half-glanced and turned away. He had a First Class Honours in law from Cambridge, but was surly and stand-offish. We all sat in an uncomfortable silence.
The senior clerk cut through the atmosphere and explained we would be assigned to pupilmasters shortly. Everything we did would be assessed, from written work to what we said and how we interacted with barristers and clients. At the end, our results would be compared as we were in direct competition with each other. After six months, no more than one candidate may be invited for a 2nd six months’ pupillage.
This didn’t exactly sound a laugh a minute, but the training would be second to none. The barristers joined us and I was pleased because Jeremy announced he was my pupilmaster. As we walked to his room that first morning, he made it clear that he was the one who pushed for my pupillage offer and he wanted to see first-hand that he was right. He said that my results were being directly compared with Giles Twatte to see how I measured up to a Cambridge First.
Straight away, I got to work on some active cases, with Jeremy only briefly setting out the rules to go to chambers tea twice a day, at 11 a.m. and 3 p.m., whenever I was not in court. And not to make any strange noises or practice bad bodily habits. He explained how a recent pupil used to pick his ears and flick wax around his room. I laughed and replied I would try not to be annoying.
The theory of chambers tea was straightforward enough – listen to the conversations, speak only when spoken to and be careful with your replies. The practice, however, was a minefield as George soon found out. At chambers tea, he was asked about a hearing he attended and mentioned the judge clearly didn’t play darts.
“Whyever not?” a female barrister enquired.
“Because he tried to subtract two numbers aloud and got it totally wrong,” he replied with a harmless smile.
The general air of aloofnesss amongst the barristers was broken by a wave of disapproving murmurs. What George did not know was that particular judge used to practise law at Two Oak Court. George’s pupillage effectively ended there and then. I liked George and had a long chat about the future with him. He would complete his 1st six months pupillage but was in an untenable position. It was a hugely unforgiving environment.