I'm spending most of my time squatting at The Master's desk, which regular readers will have gathered is largely otherwise unused. It's in a very small room with two other desks. These are intermittently occupied by two youngish barristers I've come to know fairly well over the last few weeks. I'll call them Helen and Humphrey. I reckon the cramped conditions here and in pretty much every set of chambers do a lot to foster the gossip culture that prevails at the bar.
I was happily sitting alone tapping away on my computer yesterday when another member of chambers, Samantha, suddenly stuck her head round the door and asked whether I was a working pupil. My initial reaction was rather defensive, being as I was blog surfing at that exact moment in time, but I quickly realised she probably meant 'working' in the narrower sense of being able to take on proper work. I barely had time to start saying 'no' when she vanished, obviously in a hurry.
I was quite pleased about this, thinking it boded well for my Prospects once my second six gets started.
A couple of hours later, at about 3.30pm, Helen was sitting opposite me and took a call from the clerks. I wasn't paying attention initially but that changed when her tone shifted and she exclaimed, 'Not another nightmare return from Samantha? No way!' Some wheedling obviously went on, or perhaps threats of actual bodily harm, I wouldn't discount the possibility with our clerks, and she eventually agreed that she'd take a look at the papers. But absolutely only if they arrived before 5pm.
The hearing was for 10.30am the next morning and it was an oral renewal application for judicial review. These are fairly complex pieces of work, usually requiring the assimilation of a considerable quantity of paperwork and the cooking up of some decent legal arguments that go a bit beyond those on the papers that have already been refused.
Another member of chambers then dropped by and asked whether Helen had been asked to take on Samantha's return. The clerks had apparently been having a right job finding someone willing even to take a look at it, and I suddenly realised Samantha must have been so desperate it even occurred to her to ask me whether I was available. That's pretty desperate, need I say. Sending a pupil into the High Court could lead to corporate manslaughter charges, if the offence ever reaches the statute book.
This other barrister had refused point blank, and the two of them got to chatting about Samantha's rather relaxed approach to handing over complex and not terribly well prepared returns at the last possible minute. It's not the first time this has happened, it would seem. The papers did eventually arrive, at 4.30pm, and poor Helen then spent the evening and morning nervously reading the paperwork and researching the case.
I think a 'return' is a brief that the barrister has agreed to take on but is suddenly unable to complete for some reason. It would have to be a pretty good reason, generally. The brief is then offered around other members of chambers and the instructing solicitors seem then to be presented with a bit of a fait accompli: 'Samantha can't actually do that case you wanted her for, but at 4.30pm the night before the hearing we've found someone else who can do it. Do you want to instruct her instead or do you want to find someone yourself at this notice?'
I gleaned from this conversation that Samantha had apparently queered her pitch even further by vetoing the barrister the clerks had initially lined up to do the case. This no doubt annoyed him no end, as well as attracting severe disapproval from the other barristers the clerks were now trying to cajole into taking the return. And I don't imagine the clerks were too happy either. Nor the instructing solicitors.
I suspect Samantha won't be winning any 'colleague of the month' awards from chambers in the near future.
And I say 'poor Helen', but what about the client? Permission refused.