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James Reckitt on his recent pupillage experience


Pupillage was easily the most challenging experience of my life; but was also the most rewarding.  Nothing can really prepare you for your first day “on your feet”, but I found everyone in chambers to be highly supportive, even when asked the simplest of questions – even when my questions related to such pressing matters as the cheapest car park in the vicinity of a particular court!  Everyone in chambers was a pupil once, and everyone I spoke to was happy to help.  I am particularly indebted to Ravi, my pupil supervisor, for her never-ending patience over the past 12 months!  I think it is a testament to Chambers to say that many of the barristers I now work with on a daily basis are also good friends.


Before I started pupillage, I heard (and read) a lot of tales as to how first six pupils were simply observers and never got involved in the cases they watched.  This was far from the truth, as I was very fortunate to be directly involved in some really high-level cases during my first six.  I remember spending a whole week from dawn until dusk trawling through a 7500-page bundle of medical records to assist a senior family junior who was representing a parent in a factitious illness case, which revealed that the local authority had perhaps been unfairly negative towards the parents in their health chronology.  I was also lucky enough to work on a multi-million-pound ancillary relief case, in which I researched and drafted a skeleton argument exploring whether a family trust can be “broken into” on behalf of a child if there has already been a property adjustment order made in previous proceedings.  I also drafted a respondent’s notice for an AG’s reference in the court of appeal.  It was a brilliant feeling to work directly on real cases (and to carry out work that actually assisted those running the cases) so early on.  It was certainly an excellent way of preparing for my first cases in my second six.


I should add that chambers is a very social place.  There are regular post-work drinks, and we regularly attend law society dinners and circuit messes as a group.  Impromptu trips out to lunch are also a fairly regular occurrence, diary permitting.  However, the highlight has to be the annual chambers football trip, which is enjoyed by all – even non-footballers, like myself!


Jamie Johnston on his pupillage experience


It has become very clear when explaining to friends what I do, that the Bar is a very strange place to outsiders.  This was most apparent when trying to explain the concept of a pupillage, the closest analogy I found being that of an apprenticeship.  Pupillage was challenging as much for the unknown and unexpected events and conventions as it was for the amount of skills and information that had to be learned in just twelve months.


Unexpectedly, I found first six more difficult than second. For the first two months I spent most of the time feeling I didn’t properly understand most of what was being explained to me.  It seemed that I was accumulating a random set of jigsaw pieces that were designed to eventually fit together in a coherent manner.  At times it did not seem likely that I would ever accumulate enough pieces to understand what the big picture was meant to be, let alone do so before the start of second six.  Fortunately I found the unbelievably friendly members of Dere Street made the discomfort and uncertainty of this period bearable.  People were generous with their time and didn’t treat any question as too stupid.  The best bit of advice I received from a junior member of chambers was that in pupillage you need to “fake it until you make it”.  Words of wisdom that proved accurate as I approached the final months of pupillage and started to feel I knew what I was doing at least some of the time.


Towards the end of first six my pupil supervisor made sure I spent the majority of my time with the most junior end of chambers to sample the work I would be doing once on my feet.  Increasingly I felt that the experiences of first six meant I would be able to do the type of work I was seeing with these junior barristers.  However there were many times I saw a skilful piece of cross-examination, quick-thinking or advocacy that made me doubt myself all over again!


The terror of starting on your feet is surely universal, but little beats the feeling of donning wig and gown in anger for the first time.  Similarly, the satisfaction of getting a good result for your client, and feeling that it was in part down to your skills, makes the sacrifices to obtain pupillage worthwhile.


Second six began with simpler hearings but progressed very quickly.  In crime I started with probation breaches and prosecution “sessions” (prosecuting a list of up to eight cases in the Magistrates’ Court).  Family work involved interim care order applications and non-molestation orders, whilst civil work focussed on low-value personal injury and credit hire cases.  However within four months I had done a two-day final hearing in a care case considering the permanent removal of a child and written an advice on a six-figure TOLATA claim, culminating in drafting an ex parte freezing injunction application.


Second six ultimately involves working longer hours and much of the time you feel a little out of your depth.  The key for me was accepting that this is part of the steep learning curve at the Bar.  The skill is recognising when you move from being a slightly out of your depth and having to learn quickly, to being very out of your depth and seeking help.  On the one occasion when a case rapidly developed to become too complex for a pupil, I found the advice and support from senior members of chambers was outstanding.  Likewise, the clerks were understanding when I returned it, later commending me for my good judgement.


A Dere Street pupillage is as difficult and occasionally terrifying as a pupillage should be.  Barristers have to digest a lot of information (frequently provided at the last minute), think strategically, adapt constantly and make judgement calls on important matters with life-changing consequences.  A pupil supervisor has to ensure that pupillage provides rigorous training whilst not overwhelming the pupil.  My supervisor did this superbly, meeting frequently to review progress, discuss issues and provide support.  She ensured I developed an independence of mind without feeling isolated and made sure I met almost every member of chambers in my first six months.  All members of Chambers were approachable during pupillage and continue to support me as I’ve embarked on tenancy.  I feel privileged and fortunate to have been offered pupillage and subsequently tenancy at Dere Street chambers.