In between Days: The summer before pupillage

I can still vividly remember the day I was offered pupillage. It was a warm Wednesday morning and I had decided to have a lie-in when my landline (remember them) rang. Sheepishly I got up, searched for the phone and answered it. The person on the other end of the line introduced themselves and told me that chambers would like to offer me a pupillage. I know he said other words but I can’t really remember what they were. Not then. Not now. I had a pupillage and at that moment, it was all I cared about. As I jumped about the flat it utter delight I suddenly heard him say “Well, clearly you’ll want some time to think about our offer so perhaps if you could give me a call back when you’ve decided that would be helpful”. “YES” I shouted akin to yet to be invented star, Stephen Toast. “Okay, perhaps you could call me back later this afternoon so I can give you some further details as I’m about to go into court”. Panic. To call him back I’d need to know his name and I’d already forgotten. “Sorry, could I ask you to spell your surname”. That should work. Shows I was listening but wanted to be all over the detail. “Jeremy as in Jeremy and Benson and is the cigarettes. Neither are particularly unusual”. I’m surprised he didn’t rescind his offer on the spot.

Putting the phone down I continued to dance around in an unedifying manner with the saving grace that nobody was there to see it. I tried ringing anyone and everyone who might want to hear my news but they were all at work. Social media didn’t exist so I decided to continue my solo celebration by, and I still don’t know why to this day, putting a Barry White CD on and crooning along with the soul giant.

It was only later that evening that I really considered what had happened. Getting pupillage is great. Considering that you are about to become a beauty pageant contestant for 12 to 18 months (or possibly more) can be a rude awakening. After all that blood, sweat, tears, toil and questionable wine, it was time to perform.

In the autumn of 2019 there will be another post on this blog about how to prepare for the start of your first six, but here I want to consider what you might usefully do in the period between the end of the BPTC and the start of pupillage. Here are my 5 top tips.

1. Revision – Black letter law

You will be expected to know the law. Trite I know but it might have been some time since you last studied black letter law in the area in which your pupillage will be. Create a new, neat set of revision notes to remind yourself of basic principles. Whether it’s the appropriate standard of reasonable care in negligence cases involving skilled professionals (Bolam), the prescribed rules to guide Judges faced with contested visual identification evidence (Turnbull) or what happens when ships crash into each other (no, me neither) what might seem second nature because it’s ‘your thing’ can quickly be wiped from your mind as you sit in an oak panelled room in chambers, on show, feeling exposed. A set of notes or crib sheet will be helpful in the run up to starting pupillage and perhaps even as a comfort blanket when you have that first piece of work from your pupil supervisor.

2. Revision – Practitioner Texts

You used The White Book and Archbold to pass the centrally set assessments. Now it’s time to go back to them and tab them up or create an index that will help you in practice. It’s also time to look revisit/visit the practitioner texts in your relevant area of the law, be it Clerk & Lindsell, The APIL Guide to Fatal Accidents or The Big Book of Stuff that Happens to Ships as you’ll spend large parts of your pupillage delving into them. Knowing how they are laid out, how to effectively search them (on paper or online) and what they both do and don’t contain, will save you time at the start of pupillage.

3. Go to court

You probably didn’t have time on the BPTC and court visits ceased to be mandatory some years ago. (Side note, when they were mandatory and students had to write a report, I recall reading some that had me wondering if they had been made up, before remembering that people are weird and much of that ends up in a court room). You may well spend large parts of your 1st six in a courtroom so getting a little bit of practice in now is useful on two basis: (i) Sitting in court for a whole day is an acquired skill. Taking a useful note, your mind not wondering and traversing the thin line between staying hydrated and not needing to visit the facilities every half an hour is difficult; (ii) It’s an opportunity to watch proceedings and iron out any wrinkles in your knowledge of what hearings look like. A chance to go back to a book and remind yourself how and why things work the way you do before your pupil supervisor asks you what you think about the bit of advocacy you’ve just seen.

4. Clothes make the wo/man

Time to think about your wardrobe. Think durability and comfort as much as style. Depending on your pupillage you might have a short commute and then time in chambers or you might be about to embark on a grand tour of the jurisdiction where the National Rail app will overtake Netflix as your most used. A couple of good suits, a range of sober shirts and shoes that will support your soon to be aching feet are a must. Oh and chaps, it’s time to retire your Daffy Duck tie no matter how amusing you think it is.

5. Have a holiday

Whoever coined the phrase ‘Whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’ plainly wrestled with an errant photocopier minutes before their pupil supervisor was due to lodge a bundle with a court. The stress, mental and physical, of pupillage shouldn’t be underestimated. Take some time off before you start. Time without worrying about points 1-4 above but instead to recharge, unwind and relax.

Yesterday I got so old,
I felt like I could die,
Yesterday I got so old,
It made me want to cry
Go on, go on,
Just walk away
Go on, go on,
Your choice is made
Go on, go on,
And disappear
Go on, go on,
Away from here

Smith, R (1985)

Oh and spend some time listening to The Cure because Robert Smith is a genius.

Photo credit:

unsplash-logoSean O.