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The experiences of a mini-pupil

By Michael Smith

Having been forced to cut short my medical studies at the end of 2010 due to rapid visual failure, I turned my attention to a career in law. I was attracted to law because it’s a job that involves lots of interaction, a substantial amount of reading, and it’s intellectually stimulating, although the industry doesn’t have the best reputation for integrating the visually impaired. My experience at Hardwicke however was incredibly positive, as I outline in my account of being a mini-pupil below:

With a CV orientated towards medicine, I needed first hand exposure to the legal industry to be considered for pupillages and training contracts on graduation. After working with an organisation called Blind in Business who help talented blind students by giving them access to employment, I was put in contact with a solicitor, who had a close affiliation with Simon Hale, a barrister at Hardwicke.  I discussed with Simon the adjustments that needed to be made to the office and a docking station for my laptop containing the screen reading software I require to read documents was set up. Papers relating to the cases that I would be exposed to and consultations that would be discussed were then emailed to me. I received these a couple of days before my placement, which allowed me time to gain an understanding of the key issues involved.  This foresight and organisation meant I could hit the ground running at the beginning of the week.

On commencing the mini pupillage, I met Simon for the first time and was immediately put at ease.  I was given a quick tour around Hardwicke and then introduced to fellow barristers and staff.  Everyone was extremely friendly and accommodating despite it being a frantic Monday morning!

Although I did not have much legal experience, my first task was to read all the documents relating to a property case involving professional negligence. This enlightened me to the vast amount of reading, evidence and associated documentation involved in a ‘regular’ case. Reading this brought me up to speed for Simon’s meeting with the client on Wednesday. 

After this I accompanied Alex Campbell to a hearing at the Royal Courts of Justice.  My first experience in court did not materialise however, as the other side prevented me from accessing the courtroom due to the sensitive nature of the case. Despite this, it was valuable exposure to the important, and in some cases life changing, impact of a barrister’s work. Alex introduced me to the case along with giving me a brief explanation of bankruptcy and its relevance to a very complicated scenario.

Following this I accompanied Philippa Harris, another barrister, to the Royal Courts for a case she was handling on behalf of someone else. It was a relatively low key property dispute but this was my first experience within court surroundings and despite there being no client representation, seeing the barristers working alongside the Judge was enriching.

Another court appearance was in store for Tuesday with Tosin Oguntayo representing a client at the Principal Registry Family Division at Holborn. This was an urgent case due to the vulnerable nature of the client and it made me appreciate the alternative qualities required of a barrister. As a client may be exposing sensitive and distressing issues, an empathetic and understanding demeanour is required. Also, once the key information has been attained, to represent the client in the courtroom and act in their best interests, a great deal of professionalism is needed.

I accompanied Simon to a breakfast briefing for clients on Wednesday which involved an early start.  After getting in at 7.30am, paperwork needed to be read ahead of the briefing. The briefing proved to be interesting and gave me an insight into the level of marketing barristers do.

My Mini-pupillage at Hardwicke has given me knowledge of how a chambers operates and exposure to a broad variety of practice areas. Coupled with this, I have been given responsibility for understanding, and exposure to, all the cases in which I have accompanied barristers to court. They made everything accessible to me and were unfazed by providing some adjustments because of the way I work. Every member of chambers was willing to share and explain the issues that they are working on and accommodate the fact that I wouldn’t be able to read the documents without them being emailed to me electronically.

Most importantly my experience has greatly stimulated my interest in a career at the Bar, and hopefully, in the not too distant future, I will be working at Hardwicke in a professional capacity.

By Michael Smith