THE SEARCH FOR PUPILLAGE

Second excerpt from May It Please Your Lordship by Toby Potts:

 

AFTER AN AGREEABLY long summer vacation – too long, by several weeks, for my father’s liking – I began the search for pupillage.

            In common with all aspiring barristers, I had to undertake this glorified, year-long apprenticeship under the eye, watchful or otherwise, of a practising pupil master, whom I would follow round like a faithful lapdog. He, in turn, would show me the ropes and smooth my passage to fame and fortune. I had no right of audience – to speak in court – for the first six months, so this was a time of eating idle bread, much to my father’s displeasure. But, in my second six months, I could stand on my feet as a real grown up barrister, or so I hoped, and if all went well, a tenancy – a permanent seat in Chambers – beckoned, and with it the big time.

As I boasted no legal background or connections, I had to start from scratch.

Gray’s Inn, forward thinking as ever, had appointed a Master of Students, whose task it was to place newly-qualified members with suitable pupil masters. The Bencher who had drawn the short straw had had a distinguished career at the Chancery Bar, poring over the complexities of corporate insolvency, intellectual property and Trusts, and was now seeing out his twilight years on the High Court Bench, so he was right at the cutting edge of youth culture.

I made an appointment to see him.

‘And have you chosen your field of specialisation?’ he asked with no visible sign of enthusiasm, as he peered through his half-moon spectacles at my application form.

‘Yes, Master, I’d like to specialise in crime.’

‘Good God,’ he said, recoiling as though at the sight of something unpleasant. ‘Whatever for?’

‘I rather fancy the cut and thrust of advocacy,’ I replied brightly. ‘Defending the innocent, the down-trodden, the oppressed, holding high the sword of…’

‘Yes, yes, quite so,’ he interrupted, rather testily, ‘although, in my experience, they’re all as guilty as sin. I’ll do what I can, but frankly I don’t know any criminal barristers, so let patience be your watchword. They also serve who only stand and, er, wait. If it was good enough for Milton, it’s good enough for you.’

Not an auspicious start.