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‘Chambers will need to ensure pupils are prepared for the digital age’

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Ahead of Legal Cheek’s Future of Legal Education and Training Conference on 23 May, Charles Raffin, a commercial barrister at Hardwicke, explores how chambers will be training their rookies in light of the new tech wave

Hardwicke’s Charles Raffin

Change is in the air, says Charles Raffin, a commercial barrister at London’s Hardwicke Chambers. The formidable rise of legal tech and remote communication, coupled with the increasing digitalisation of court hearings and our courts system, means chambers must ensure their barristers, and particularly their pupils, are adequately prepared for the current and future legal landscape. Expect a change in tack on chambers’ training programmes to do so.

“If they haven’t introduced it already, we will see training for pupils by chambers on digital skills,” Raffin tells Legal Cheek. “This may include topics from working effectively in a paperless environment, to advising on e-disclosure, to ensuring pupils are able to operate effectively in an increasingly digital marketplace on qualification.”

Find out more about The Bar session of the Future of Legal Education and Training Conference on 23 May

This training should also extend to more practical skills. Raffin — who spent three years as an employed barrister at the London office of US law firm Skadden prior to joining Hardwicke — explains:

“This could usefully cover matters from the day-to-day: like planning and running an effective video conference, with parties dialling in from different locations via Skype-style software; to more significant projects, like advising/assisting on the execution of a successful e-disclosure project and setting up and running paperless hearings.”

This practical training could even start pre-pupillage, Raffin suggests, “We could see Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC) providers integrate more IT elements of legal practice into their syllabuses. For example, in the future students may find themselves learning more about e-disclosure as part of their civil procedure module.”

Historically, the level and quality of training a pupil barrister received could be down to “the luck of the draw”, says Raffin. He expands:

“In some sets, it could come down to something as simple as how good your supervisor was. You hear accounts of pupils working, in terms of their progress, in the dark, receiving very little feedback on how they were performing, of where they were excelling and the areas in which they could improve.”

At Hardwicke, however, which offers two pupillage positions each year, pitfalls such as the above are avoided thanks to the set’s adoption of a supervising structure that offers its new recruits performance-related feedback on both a rolling and a milestone basis.

This, coupled with what chambers refers to as its ‘winger policy’, helps ensure pupils receive the highest quality of training. Raffin explains:

“Under our ‘winger policy’ pupils also work with a number of other members of chambers, who provide them with still more, regular feedback. Usefully, working with a number of wingers gives pupils a chance to work across and better understand other areas of work, and also an increased sense of the range of (equally valid) approaches that different barristers might adopt to similar situations in practice.”

Hardwicke’s view is that it is important that pupils have a well-rounded experience in their training, and are given plenty of opportunity to observe and take part in courtroom practice. But: “anecdotal feedback we have received is that, elsewhere, some pupils may obtain very little exposure to court work, either shadowing practitioners, or in their own right”, says Raffin.

There are ways for court-hungry pupil barristers to combat this, for example by getting involved with organisations such as The Bar Pro Bono Unit or Free Representation Unit, which Raffin says could be built into chambers’ pupillage programmes in the future — an example of further change set to come in the world of barrister training.

PJ Kirby QC, Hardwicke’s co-head of chambers, will be speaking at The Legal Cheek Future of Legal Education and Training Conference on 23 May at Kings Place, London. Purchase your ticket here for the Bar session and here for the full day-long Conference .

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