THAT FRIDAY EVENING, as instructed, I phoned Berger’s Chambers.

‘Mr Berger will be at the Bailey on Monday,’ garbled the senior clerk, in between mouthfuls of tea and ginger nut crunchies. ‘So if you care to meet him in Chambers at nine o’clock sharp, he’ll walk down with you.’

I put down the phone with a frisson of excitement as I contemplated my first day in pupillage – and at the Bailey, no less. I had obviously underestimated my learned pupil master.

Berger of the Bailey! What a thrill!

According to my frequently boring lectures on the history of the English legal system, the Bailey – or, more precisely, the Old Bailey – was the highest criminal court in the land, and had been since 1673. It was where murderers, rapists, and other felons were prosecuted, convicted and then taken to a place of execution to be hanged by the neck until dead, and may God have mercy on their souls. Man, woman and child, guilty and innocent alike, were charged, condemned and dispatched to their Maker by Judges who had only a passing acquaintance with the law, and who went about the more pleasurable business of eating and drinking and fornicating without a moment’s reflection on the plight of those less fortunate than themselves.

Juries fared no better. They were threatened, cajoled and suborned into returning guilty verdicts regardless of the evidence, and those who had the temerity to kick against the prick were kept without food, drink, heat, or other creature comfort, until they saw the error of their ways.

I was as nervous as a kitten all weekend, and greatly relieved when the momentous day dawned. I was awake to greet it, which was just as well as it took me the best part of an hour to strap myself into the starched white collar, which was as stiff as a board and totally unyielding. I reflected that a dry run might have been a good idea, as the collar and I fought each other, neither willing to yield. But if I were to become a successful barrister I had to meet adversity head on. No good falling at the first hurdle. Vires in adversum, and all that.

Once locked into place, it felt like a medieval tourniquet. To make matters worse, I found it nigh on impossible to turn my head independently of my body, attracting a number of very strange looks and a helping hand across the road from an elderly lady as I made my way to the Underground.


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.