I recently went to lengths to gain some mini-pupillages in order to strengthen my pupillage applications and Pupillage Gateway forms. Although my ultimate aim is to become a commercial barrister, I kept an open mind and found myself undertaking a mini-pupillage with a couple of supervisors doing criminal work.
Prior to this, I had marshalled a judge in a local County Court. I would highly recommend it – not least because you get to sit right next to the judge. It’s very exciting. Anyway, this previous experience gave me some insight into the criminal bar and I was looking forward to seeing it from a barrister’s perspective.
What I came to realise, more so than I did when I was marshalling, was that being a criminal barrister can be a frustrating and thankless job. This particularly the case when working as a defence advocate. I witnessed what was later described to me by my supervisor as somewhat of a ‘blue moon’ moment: the client thanking us for our hard work.
Along with this, I saw the frequency in which seemingly good cases are dropped due to various issues. In the cases I saw, these were mainly witness issues. I found this to be a particularly unpalatable aspect of the job. I had to remind myself that our legal system requires these rules of procedure in order to ensure justice is not just done, but also seen to be done. Perhaps my distaste was a reflection of my inability to apply the ‘innocent until proven guilty’ maxim. This is a factor that weighed on my mind, particularly as I consider myself to be a fairly liberal guy.
This being said, from this experience I could see why people get involved in criminal work. We were constantly on our feet. We moved from courtroom to robing room, discussing the various cases with barristers and court workers alike. It truly was a dynamic experience. If you are someone who likes the idea of standing before a judge every day then the criminal bar is definitely something to look into.
Another interesting thing I noted was the amount of ‘tactical’ talks I witnessed during my time on my mini-pupillage. The constant giving and taking between defence and prosecution advocates was an incredible experience to behold. I learned that a large part of criminal work revolved around working with the opposing counsel to achieve the outcome that best suited the parties.
Ultimately, despite its flaws, I saw first-hand that criminal work is a noble and challenging profession. If you are interested in advocating every day, then this is the area for you. If you are interested in the dynamics of ‘on the fly’ negotiations with opposing counsel, then this is the area for you. On the other hand, if you are more interested in structured schedules and less opportunity for third parties to frustrate your cases, I would recommend you consider another area of the profession.
My suspicion that I am not cut out for criminal work was confirmed by the end of my mini-pupillage. However, I learned a valuable lesson. It is useful to know what area of law you don’t want to go into from first-hand experience, just as much as it is useful to identify which areas you do find interesting.