My next and final pupilmaster was a total contrast. He was far too impressed with himself. His vastly superior level of detachment led me only to review old instructions so it was like working in a vacuum. He looked at some of the drafting and opinions I produced, but never gave any feedback and rarely talked except to express how brilliant he was. One day, we had a hearing on the South coast and he actually paid for a train ticket for me while he drove down alone in his hairdresser-style sports car. He bought it when he turned up to chambers one day and discovered the cleaner had a better car than him. It was proof this bloke was a monumental tool.
Nearing the end of my pupillage, it was time to look for a permanent place in a set of chambers, or a tenancy as the bar calls it. I interviewed with a specialist commercial chambers and, after two interviews and a submission of written work, I was offered a place in chambers. But the set up was odd as three barristers used to work there and it recently became one barrister, who spent all day in chambers with the practice manager. The chambers could have been a great place to begin my legal career as there was clearly a lot of work, but the atmosphere was strange. My former pupil master, Jeremy, was enthusiastic and offered to lend the money to set me up in legal practice there. In the end, I rejected the tenancy. Sitting down with Jeremy, I explained I did not want to be indebted to him. He nodded, put a hand on my shoulder and said “I understand.”
On the basis of a recommendation from Two Oak Court, I was contacted by another set of chambers and asked to apply for tenancy. The commercial work on offer seemed interesting and both the barristers and clerks were friendly. I went through three demanding interviews, a written test and had to give an opening speech in a commercial case. A few days later, I was called back to chambers and they explained I had impressed them all with the confidence of my advocacy. I was offered a tenancy, subject to the formality of proving I had the finances in place to get established in practice.
It often takes years before even a modest living can be made as a barrister. In order to thrive, you need to be either independently wealthy or have an understanding bank. All I had to my name was a several thousand pound debt. My bank would lend no more. I went to the chambers and explained my financial position. The offer was withdrawn there and then. Having the skills and knowledge to practice as an independent barrister is not enough unless you have the money to get through the early years. I hit the grey pavement in the rain, looked at the Georgian building of the chambers and knew my last opening had slipped away. That was it. My dream evaporated because I had no money.
Just before my pupillage ended, it was announced Four Oak Court was not offering a place to any of its pupils either. Two chambers and all the pupils were discarded. The 0% retention rate was brutal. My forms were signed for the successful completion of pupillage and I received a certificate from the Bar Council stating I was qualified to speak in any English court. On the final afternoon of my pupillage, I walked around the Inn of Court one last time holding some court papers wrapped in pink tape. I went to the clerks’ room, dropped the papers off and left the Inn of Court to look for work.
Within days, Jeremy called and said a High court judge he knew well needed a judicial assistant. I wrote a letter to His Lordship and attended an interview at the Royal Courts of Justice. We got along and he offered me the job for a big commercial dispute. I turned up to court on the first day of the hearing and there was a delay as opposing counsel were in conference. Within the hour, the case settled and the judge took me aside to say I was being let go. My safety net had collapsed. I called Michelle on the phone with tears in my eyes, then went home. Feeling empty, I wondered if all my efforts had been for nothing. I was skint and had to look for a legal job. The determination kicked in.