On 1st October 2021 I began my pupillage with Becket Chambers. I had come straight from a London commercial litigation firm, where I’d spent most of the past year as a remote paralegal dealing with complex high-value commercial disputes. This role had involved fast adaptation to working from home as opposed to the shiny London office and navigating new court technology through a huge remote trial. I learned a lot about new ways of working but wasn’t sure how much I’d need these skills as Covid restrictions began to lift. Well, it turns out that my first day of pupillage was not a post-Covid “back-to-normal” start. I was instead greeted by a zoom call with my supervisor, who explained that this year I could probably expect “a bit of everything” with regards to remote and in-person work.
To be honest, “a bit of everything” is a big part of why I wanted to join Becket. Work begins broadly, clients range from public to private to direct access, and pupils travel around the South Eastern courts getting stuck in. I have been lucky to experience a real range of matters so far. Highlights have included observing a civil trial settlement, a private family final hearing and a trip to the Magistrates’ court to oppose an application for a warrant of entry.
However, what I have been most pleasantly surprised to learn is how willing Becket’s juniors have been to share their tips for best utilising technology in a changing court system. Here are my top practical takeaways from my first month into a “hybrid” type of pupillage!
- A second screen.
Almost every barrister I have spoken to so far has recommended a second screen to use during remote hearings. This enables them to view the hearing on one screen while accessing the court bundle and their own notes separately on the other. A second screen could be a computer monitor, laptop, tablet, or even old television as one member has been using successfully throughout lockdown! Going fully electronic also has the benefit of minimising the time taken to collate work. Handwritten notes do still exist, but I have quickly learned that writing and then typing up is far slower than using devices from the get-go!
- Digital case prep.
Hard copy papers are no longer the norm. As I have quickly learned, manipulating pdfs and e-bundles is a rather vital skill when preparing for cases with fully electronic papers. There are a number of tools available to enable bundles to be tabbed up, split, hyperlinked, amended and so forth. One tool I have been recommended is Casedo, a downloadable program which lets users organise their own papers easily and without much complication. Other recommended tools for mastering the e-bundle include PDF Expert and Liquid Text.
- Understanding remote acronyms.
Learning what to expect from remote hearing descriptions is an important part of making sure I am set up to be able to participate in them successfully. A CVP link means a remote link to a “Cloud Video Platform” which is sent out by courts to parties before hearings. Video conferences with clients are sometimes referred to as “vid cons” (separate from the popular global creator convention VidCon), usually taking place via Zoom. Telephone hearings become “dialling in” to the number provided, and conference calls can now take place via WhatsApp among other channels.
- Streamlining in-person court access
Is there an app for everything? There just might be (or at least, something a bit like one). Having watched a junior member swiftly bypass court security by showing a phone bar code to the usher, I learned that there exists a Bar Council identity card which barristers can use to make getting into court easier. Available by application on the Bar Council’s website, this is a “professional court user” pass which is used by participating courts (a list is available on the website). It is designed to speed up the time it takes for barristers and other court professionals to proceed through security.
Another tip I have learned is that parking logistics are an important part of returning to in-person work as a regional barrister. Members have been quick to share their tips about the best car parks for access to certain courts without spending a fortune. My biggest lesson in this area has been through mistake; I had to leave a hearing before it concluded to escape a potential parking fine. Lesson learned: court timetables can be unpredictable. If in doubt, pay for a full day’s parking!
In summary, starting pupillage does feel like a deep dive into the mysteries of the junior Bar. Accumulating practical knowledge about how to plug in, adapt, and find reliable ways to operate through the other side of the pandemic has definitely helped me feel better prepared not to drown!