A day in the life of a pupil

Alice Meredith  became a tenant in September 2014 after successfully completing her pupillage. She now practises in all of chambers’ main specialisms.

There is no such thing as a typical day in the life of a pupil at 5 Essex Court!

By taking only one or two pupils each year, chambers is able to tailor the pupillage programme to ensure each develops according to their different needs. The events of a typical day will depend on who your supervisor is, what cases they are working on, what practice areas they specialise in and the particular style they have to teach you. Normally, you will have three “seats” during pupillage with a different pupil supervisor specialising in police law, public law and employment or PI law.

Your work will also depend on what stage you are at in the twelve months of your pupillage.  You will begin by predominantly shadowing and completing paperwork for your supervisor and as you gain a degree of independence in your second six, you will do more paperwork for other members of chambers and begin to build your own practice, comprising both advisory work in chambers or working in-house (either at a police force or solicitors’ firm), and increasingly being instructed to act in your own cases in court. Different pupils will be ready for the next challenge at different points within the year and chambers will adapt to the individual.

At all times, my work was benignly and helpfully overseen (which is certainly comforting, especially in the uncertain early days of the second six!), and I had plenty of access to constructive feedback on my work. Of course, pupillage is about first learning and then gradually showing what you can do, putting into practice what you have researched, observed and been taught.

I found pupillage at 5 Essex Court both challenging and rewarding. The variety of work that I was exposed to was far greater than I expected, and pupillage was made enjoyable by my interest in chambers’ practice areas and also by the genuinely friendly people and the unstuffy atmosphere – far from the stereotypes of the Bar. I was never in any doubt: I would be tested, but everyone wanted me to succeed, and no-one was out to trip me up or catch me out. Rather, people were willing to provide the support needed to ensure that I could show what I could do.

So, lengthy preamble completed, what follows is an account of a not atypical, but fictitious, day towards the end of the first six. The cases I mention are fictional but give you a flavour of the sort of work we do.

I arrive at chambers at 9am, popping into the clerks’ room to say good morning before going to find the junior tenant I will be shadowing for the day. She has been instructed by a police force to make an application for a “crack house” closure order under the provisions of the Anti-Social Behaviour Act 2003 (since repealed) which would prevent anyone from entering or residing at the relevant property for a period of at least three months. I read over the key documents the previous afternoon and have discussed the legal test and factual issues with the barrister. She will need to satisfy the court that the premises have been used in connection with Class A drugs and are associated with disorder and serious nuisance to members of the public, such that the order is necessary to prevent such disorder or serious nuisance.

Police have carried out search warrants at the address on a number of occasions and have found Class A drugs and large amounts of drug paraphernalia. Neighbours within the block of flats have made numerous complaints over the past six months about the anti-social behaviour linked to drug-related activities in and around the flat. They describe finding people injecting drugs on the stairs in communal areas which their children have to walk through, finding syringes abandoned on the floor, and having difficulties sleeping due to shouting and doorbells to all of the flats being rung throughout the night. The neighbours are too afraid to give evidence in court or provide their names for fear of repercussions, and the barrister I am with has explained to me the rules relating to hearsay evidence in these proceedings.

She is at the junior end of chambers, and I am eager to learn all that I can, as I could be instructed in a similar sort of case in a few months’ time. We have a further chat about the papers over a coffee before heading out to the Magistrates’ Court, which is in outer London. Before we go into court, we have a brief conference with the officers who update the barrister, informing her that the previous evening a man had been arrested shortly after leaving the flat and has since been charged with possession of a class A drug. This is further relevant evidence that the barrister may now use in her application, and I am reminded of the importance of being prepared to deal with unexpected new developments as they arise.

I sit behind the barrister and watch the case unfold. The tenant of the flat is acting as a litigant-in-person and has unexpectedly brought several witnesses to give evidence on his behalf. The barrister establishes what relevance they have to the application, and cross-examines each accordingly. The order is granted, and after the hearing has ended the barrister talks to the officers in order to ensure that they are aware of what steps need to be taken, and in particular what should be done to assist the former occupant in finding alternative accommodation.

On the way back into chambers we chat about the morning’s hearing, and I bombard the barrister with lots of questions. My first day on my feet is approaching, and I am eager to absorb as many tips and pieces of advice as possible. We arrive back in chambers in time for a late lunch, and join several members of chambers who have gathered in one of the larger rooms where they are exchanging stories of recent victories, comic or dramatic developments in the cases they are involved in, and canvassing opinion or seeking advice from those with more experience. They all ask me how I am doing and what I am working on, and pass on helpful tips.

One of the juniors I speak to has just got back to chambers after spending a few days assisting the legal services department of a police force outside London. Whilst there, he has acted on behalf of the police force in a disciplinary hearing and has provided advice on a wide variety of legal issues. These ranged from whether officers from the public protection unit had enough evidence to apply for a Sexual Offences Prevention Order against a local man with a previous conviction for a sexual offence who had recently been exhibiting concerning behaviour, to a procedural point about whether it would be possible to seek retrospective High Court leave to bring proceedings pursuant to s.139(2) of the Mental Health Act 1983. As is often the way in chambers’ areas of work, in researching the case law into the latter question he discovered that a QC in chambers had acted in the House of Lords case in which the correct application of the section had been determined. After considering the papers he called the QC for a brief chat to discuss his conclusions before finalising the advice. Again, I ask lots of questions and try and take in as much as possible. He emphasises that whether in chambers, in court or elsewhere, there will always be a member of chambers contactable who will be happy to assist with any queries.

When I return to my desk in my supervisor’s room and check my email this point is underlined: I see that a few minutes ago a much more senior member of chambers has sent a question around the whole of chambers by email. He has come across an unusual legal point and wants to know whether anyone else has encountered it before. There are already a couple of responses which I read with interest before returning to my own papers. I am preparing a first draft advice for a member of chambers about a search warrant which has allegedly been unlawfully issued and executed.

As I research the relevant law online, there is a steady stream of members of chambers who all, one after the other, visit my supervisor.  They have come to ask about problems they are encountering in their own cases: “How does that work?” “Have you encountered this issue before?” “What would you say in this situation?” “I am thinking of saying… Does that sound reasonable to you?” Each time, my supervisor puts down whatever she was doing at a moment’s notice and helps deal with the issue. When my supervisor’s own work is not being interrupted by other members of chambers, it is being interrupted by my questions! This is a place where it is second nature for those with more experience unhesitatingly to help and support those with less.

At about 6pm, my supervisor having ensured that I know what I am supposed to be doing tomorrow (shadowing a senior member of chambers in an employment case in the Employment Appeals Tribunal), I pack up for the day. If I am still working away at something, and my supervisor leaves first, I am left with strict instructions that I do not stay for more than another half an hour or so.

As I leave chambers I have a chat with the cleaners, Vera and Yvonne, who check that everything is going smoothly for me. I head out to catch up with friends who are doing pupillage elsewhere: we are all looking forward to being on our feet at last!

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Pupillage at 5 Essex Court 

Life as a Junior Tenant