By Antonia Welsh
I am one of this year’s devils at the Faculty of Advocates and will qualify on the 29 May 2020. I wanted to share with you some of the things I have learned and encourage some of you to consider a career at the Bar.
I think it might be helpful to start at the beginning of my legal career: however short that may be. I completed the post graduate degree in law and during this part of my education I managed to secure a position in the University law clinic. I was truly inspired by the then clinic Director. He was an entertaining guy who really believed in access to justice. The law clinic offered me the opportunity to help people, to work with real clients, in real legal disputes and in real live hearings. For a law student the experience couldn’t have been better. It was the nerves and adrenaline of appearing in the Employment Tribunal that brought it home to me that I really wanted to be a litigator.
That drive to see more litigation and build that experience is central to the next step closer. As part of the Diploma at Strathclyde University there was an option to take part in a work-based learning module. I wanted a different experience from what was traditionally offered. I wanted to learn more about life at the Bar. So, I proposed to the university that instead of attending a firm, I would shadow counsel. I then made arrangements to shadow Amber Galbraith, Advocate. As a result of my experience I proposed to the Dean of Faculty and the University that a “mini-devilling” programme be set up. This proposal was accepted, and the programme commenced in 2019 with 10 advocates signing up to offer to be “mini-devil masters/mistresses” to Strathclyde Diploma students. I understand that the programme has now been opened up to Edinburgh University, and that there are now more spaces available to students looking to take part in this project.
From there, I knew I wanted to be an advocate, but I still had a traineeship to think about. That’s when someone gave me the suggestion that I didn’t have to do a full traineeship, I could fast track this and do a Bar Traineeship instead. That’s what I did. I ended up working at two very different firms as a Bar Trainee for a year. I don’t think it is an option that would suit everyone. It’s very much shut your eyes and jump! Have a little bit of faith in yourself and hope it’s not a bad choice for you. If you’re brave enough to take this step, then I am more than happy to share with you that I have never regretted not taking part in a traditional traineeship.
The best bit by far is starting at the Bar. They say that it is the best training in the world and that is not just hot air. It is absolutely accurate! We are given, at no charge to ourselves, access to this training. The leading practitioners in their fields show an overwhelming desire to support and help you with your career.
At this point I thought it may be helpful to answer some of the questions that I have been asked:
• How do I get in?
For the formal requirements I would advise you to have a look at the Faculty regulations as to Intrants: http://www.advocates.org.uk/media/2363/regulations-as-to-intrants.pdf
Read them well in advance of deciding to pursue this career path. Read them when you are still at University. WHY? Because there are exams and you need to make sure you have ticked off the requirements. That may mean that you can get some of the exams out of the way in advance. There is no interview process although I did require to make written representations in relation to the Bar Traineeship. As there is no interview, it is very much a personal decision, and you need to ask yourself can I do this? Am I brave enough? If not think about what you may be able to do to feel more prepared. For me that was attending public speaking classes the summer before starting.
• How do you choose your devilmasters?
This will vary from person to person. Some of you may have extensive experience of working with Counsel and know exactly who you want. In that scenario who am I to tell you how to choose? What I can say is that I have not met anyone at the Bar who would turn down a coffee and a chat. So, ask them to meet you and speak to them about what you want to achieve. I am certain you will gain the support and advice you are looking for.
If like me, you have slightly less experience then again, I encourage you to reach out. Speak to the Director of Training Neil Mackenzie QC (Sorry Neil I know you are busy, but I also know you are approachable and passionate). Don’t forget about the office bearers, part of their role is a pastoral role and they too will be able to answer questions that might come up in relation to admission, the training and how the whole process works. Speak to me and I will share what I have learned.
• What do your devilmasters do?
Again, this is different for everyone. Different people have different approaches and some of what happens will depend on you. I do not think any two devilling experiences are the same, in fact that may be verging on the impossible. What you do get is access to all of your devilmaster’s current work. You might help with drafting a summons, defences, an opinion or submissions. You will certainly get to see them in court (slightly more difficult during lockdown!). I miss being in court, especially during devilling. There is no stress, no requirement to take notes unless you want to for your own reflection (in that regard they are very handy to look back on – but you can pick and choose what you want to note), and the ability to ask your devilmasters any crazy thought that might pop into your head. But most importantly they give you their friendship. It’s an ongoing support system and we all help each other. You won’t end up being alone at the Bar.
• What happens in the skills course?
Devilling is split between time with your devilmasters, the various skills courses and the exams.
You will start your devilling in the initial skills course. There are so many aspects to it I couldn’t possible do it justice in this short article. You learn about case analysis, how to understand your papers, what is the issue at the heart of this problem and how do I go about building my case. Finding the “granny point” – how would I explain this case to my granny?
Advocacy skills and there will be varying levels of experience amongst your peers, but we all gained insight. You will be videoed and watch this back with a member of faculty. I found this a little strange to begin with. You really do forget the camera is there. You also notice things that you otherwise wouldn’t. For me a slightly entertaining one was that when I was questioning a witness, I initially answered them back: “good”, “thank you”, “ok”s galore. When this was pointed out to me, I switched to nodding at the witness. I looked a little bit like the dog that sits in the car with the wobbly head. Thankfully I have now stopped that, we all have something to improve on and the trainers are there to give you pointers. Bear in mind that they don’t give you answers all the time, merely the ability to make your own decisions and develop your own approach.
I have just finished the preparation for practice course and that was particularly interesting. We were given the opportunity to cross examine a vulnerable witness in a mock rape trial via zoom. It was the chance to develop and consider how remote advocacy may become part of my initial practice and to develop the skills required to take part in remote hearings.
To finish, I want to say that if you have any questions at all feel free to ask me.