Weak Argument


My new pupilmaster’s first case was about a statute that stated certain contracts must expressly be agreed in writing. We had a hearing in the Court of Appeal where my pupilmaster was going to argue this statute could be interpreted to include implicit oral agreements. ‘Good luck with that one,’ I thought.

Jeremy took me aside and warned “Do not under any circumstance let your view on the merits of this appeal be known.”

It was all a bit strange, so I took his advice and kept my mouth shut. The hearing was very interesting. We were in the commercial court in the morning and ended up being marginally late for the Court of Appeal. We had to run along The Strand, my pupilmaster’s wig bouncing up and down on his head with his gown trailing behind. I had arms full of books and files, sprinting down the road after him. Tourists gazed at us as if this display was put on for their benefit. We got through security at the court and made it before the judges just as opposing counsel began his speech. After a brief outline of his argument and only about three minutes, a judge interrupted.

“Thank you, we don’t need to trouble you any further in this matter. You may be seated.”

Opposing counsel sat down with the smallest of smiles. This meant the judges had already made their decision and it did not look good for my pupilmaster. He stood and tried to present his case, but was not allowed to get into a flow because he was interrupted and harried by the three Lord Justices of Appeal. It was awkward viewing, but well deserved because his argument did not withstand even the simplest analysis.

I turned up to chambers tea that afternoon, but my pupilmaster stayed away, probably still licking his wounds. As he was not there, a barrister asked me how the hearing went. I looked around the room.

“It started badly, it tailed off a little in the middle and the less said about the end the better.” It was a quote from Blackadder Goes Forth, but I doubt it was highbrow enough for the barristers there, so they had probably never heard it before. There was a stunned silence as the barristers looked at each other in utter disbelief. One gasped “Good god” under his breath. Giles Twatte’s pupilmaster peered loftily on with a malevolent look in his eye. Then Jeremy began roaring with laughter, rocking his head enthusiastically backwards and forwards. The other barristers reluctantly joined in with some polite smiles, but I knew he saved me there.

A few days later and Chambers had an evening out at a wine bar on Chancery Lane. It was a formal, stuffy evening but I decided to knock back some wine and was having a bit of a laugh. Then my pupilmaster sat beside me and dispensed advice about making it to the top of the legal profession. He talked at me for a long while. It seemed to be a rehearsed speech. I looked at him and interrupted.

“Can’t you speak to me like I’m a real person?”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, let’s talk instead of you speaking at me. You know? Like it’s an actual conversation.”

“As I was saying, if you are serious about making it to the upper echelons of the bar…”

“You can’t do it, can you?” I burst out laughing. Admittedly, I was properly pissed, but at least I tried to break through his upper class barrier that evening. The look on his face showed I was unsuccessful.


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