Pupillage is a strange way of training those who are just starting out in a profession how to do something that, in all likelihood, is completely alien to them. I can think of no other jobs where the training consists of six months of following people around and, generally having little or no say over the trajectory of the project being worked on. Then suddenly, six months and a day after you started training, you are on your own. You run the case, you make the decisions, you take your client’s instructions, you advise them on the best course of action. Clients turn to you and say: “I’ll do whatever you think is best” and look at you expectantly for the answer. So, how do you deal with this new world of responsibility that is the second six months of pupillage?
The first and most important thing that has helped me through my second six is knowing that I am not alone. Courts can be incredibly lonely places, and at the times when you feel most alone it is then that you really need the support of your peers or those more senior in chambers. It almost goes without saying, but try your best not to alienate anyone you meet. They may be your opponent on a case on one day but they may be the only person available at court to ask for help on another day. The vast majority of members of the bar (and solicitors) that I have come across have always been willing to give their opinion on a problematic case or answer a question, no matter how simple.
No one can know everything. Even if you are doing pupillage at a specialist set that only deals with one area of law, you will still have briefs land on your desk (or arrive in your inbox) with which you simply have no idea where to start. This is perfectly normal. Start with the basics and get to grips with them first. Research until you are familiar with the area you are working in. Make use of those within chambers who have more specialised knowledge, but rather than asking them to simply solve the problem for you, ask for pointers as to where to look for the answers yourself.
For me at least, the second six has been a journey of attempting to find my feet and spending a lot of time feeling completely overwhelmed. Most other people I have spoken to seem to feel the same. I have tried to embrace the pressure and use it to push myself to thrive. Instead of freaking out that I am almost constantly dealing with something new, I enjoy the fact that I have such variety in my work. If you find yourself panicking in court don’t be afraid to take a second to take a deep breath or ask for a glass of water. Giving yourself some space to collect your thoughts can work wonders.
This is advice that is frequently given, but it is definitely worth repeating. If you travel by train, take the one before the one that will get you there on time. If you travel by car, leave enough time to account for any traffic jams or possible diversions. Always bear in mind that you may not have been told the right court by instructing solicitors and you may therefore need time to get to the right one. Keep in touch with your clerks, the court, your instructing solicitors (and by extension, the lay client) if you are running late. If people are kept updated they are usually much more understanding of delays.
It is very easy to focus on the good things about a client’s case, especially if they give the impression that they believe they are clearly on to a winner. Provided that it is done in a careful way, clients value honesty and managing expectations is an important part of being a barrister. Always take your client through the worst-case scenario, no matter how unlikely you think it is. Sometimes judges make unexpected decisions and if you haven’t prepared your client for every eventuality they might think that something happened because you didn’t foresee it and didn’t prepare for it. You may discover that there is a perfectly reasonable explanation for what initially seems like a fundamental flaw in a case.