‘It’s More Likely To Be The QCs Getting Under Clerks Feet Than The Pupils’

Avatar photo

By Jeremy Hopkins on

Jeremy Hopkins, a clerk at a top commercial chambers, responds to last week’s controversial piece about pupil barristers by Simon Myerson QC

I have been reading with interest the variety of enlightening views expressed on the subject of pupillage funding in the recent articles and comments on Legal Cheek.

While I share the reservations of Simon Myerson QC about the £3-a-day sponsorship proposal under discussion (albeit for different reasons), I am surprised at the implication in his words that pupils are merely a burden on chambers, lucky enough to be generously gifted the time of pupil supervisors who so nobly sacrifice fee income for this purpose.

This attitude seems to overlook the fact that he himself will have benefited from the same process – as will fellow member of his chambers, the organisation whose existence he relies upon to be able to make a living.

As Lord Judge puts it in his foreword to the Pupillage Handbook 2011: “pupillage is a collaborative exercise in which all those with an interest in the profession and those who are to practise in it are engaged”. His Lordship makes no reference to any opt-out for those for whom it is too much trouble.

Myerson states misleadingly that pupil supervisors are “giving something back”, as if this is some sort of charitable act. What they are in fact doing is repaying a debt owed to their chambers and their profession for investing in them, and giving them the opportunity to forge a successful and lucrative career.

He goes on to state that pupils make no contribution to chambers during pupillage. Different sets of chambers have different approaches, but I doubt there are many where pupils don’t regularly perform onerous research tasks, take notes of hearings and conferences, assist with preparation for court as well as help out on occasion with more mundane tasks. After all, by the end of pupillage a pupil’s work needs to be “capable of rendering a real and valuable service to the client” (Pupillage Handbook, para 8.2), so one would expect them to be able to make a very real contribution well before pupillage is over.

Yes, there is unpaid time and effort involved in checking work, assessing and providing guidance, but sometimes in life – and always in business – you have to do such things without expecting an immediate and obvious material return.  Are there really people at the Bar who still don’t get this?

A clerk and a QC in an all-too-common dress-down Friday chambers scene

As for pupils “getting under the clerks’ feet”, I really do not recognise this in the 23 years I have been clerking in a diverse range of sets. On the contrary, I think it is a shame that pupils don’t get enough contact with and guidance from the clerks’ room. In fact, it is far more likely to be the QCs getting under clerks’ feet than the pupils (strictly between you and me, of course).

What Myerson has written makes pretty dispiriting reading for current and prospective pupils – and hardly serves to dispel what he has described as the “snouts in the trough” view of the Bar which he so vehemently rejects. All I can say in encouragement to those readers is that I hope and genuinely believe that his views are very much those of the backward-looking minority.

Jeremy Hopkins is a clerk at a leading commercial barristers’ chambers. He blogs at Clerkingwell.