Monday, 9 December 2019

Daemons of the Bar

When a barrister is new everything is new including every opponent. As you get skittishly to your feet for the first time the concept of an opponent takes some getting used to and can result in an unduly aggressive approach or alternatively unprofessional chumminess. We learn from the crib to size people up and, generally, the more faithful we are to our instincts the better we do it. And of course on the tennis court or across the chess board it's not long before we acclimatise to somebody having the opposite aim to us.

But it's when you get opponent plus client plus audience that you are suddenly confronted with the true concept of opposition. The client watches every move from behind you and the judge listens to every word in front of you. There is nowhere to hide. And when you're new to the game you find yourself looking so hard at your opponent that you often don't see them. What is more you have nothing to compare them to.

As the first series of His Dark Materials come to an end I have been thinking much about types of opponents. One of the real pleasures of Philip Pullman's novels and of the TV adaptation is seeing how the characters' characters are manifested in animal form. Such is the appeal of the idea that the BBC has a quiz that lets you discover what your daemon would be.

Once you've hacked your way round the courts of England & Wales for a good few years you begin to discover that while we are all unique there are types of opponent that crop up time and again. So without any further preamble here is my guide to the menagerie:

Scorpions are, obviously, dangerous opponents but they lack guile. You spot their sting as soon as you see them and you keep your distance. They don't care whether they sting you in the robing room or in the court room they just want you within striking distance. The best approach with a scorpion is to catch them under the heel of your boot but just be careful they don't get you in the ankle before you do.

These are the biggest beasts of all, invariably QCs, you will rarely encounter them in the early years of practice, but remember, some elephants take fright at mice. They require huge amounts of feeding (fees) to keep going but once in full charge they'll obliterate anything that stands in their way.

Snakes seduce (sometimes literally) but more often by casting a hynoptic spell. Feel your anxiety about your case ebbing away while your opponent robs you blind and the next thing you know they've had the braces off your back and you're stuttering at the judge with your trousers round your ankles. Just remember when your opponent flatters you they're trying to tatter you.

Warthogs care about one thing and one thing only: money. They want to roll around in it and jump full-bellied into it. Winning is irrelevant it's all about the fees and whether they can turn a 3 dayer into a 3 weeker.

As is sadly so in the savannah there are many fewer lions at the Bar than there should be. But they remain a magnificent sight. Their noble mien is rarely perturbed but there is no fiercer bulwark against sharp practice or a meddling judge. Easy to spot in full maturity it can be hard to distinguish the cubs from those that will grow up to be mere tom cats.

Have 10,000 pages of disclosure that require reviewing? Need a 10 mobile phone case scheduled for 10 o'clock the next morning? Then you need yourself a drayhorse. These barristers make ideal juniors. They're hopeless when it comes to dressage but if you want a guarantee that every last page of unused material has been read a dray will get even the heaviest case to its destination.

Extremely bloody annoying. So much so you might have to restrain yourself from trying to swipe them with a copy of Archbold in the robing room. Some mosquitoes are deliberate but most are maddeningly oblivious to the misery they cause while they bombard you with constant pointless emails at all hours of the day and night.

There are many, many peacocks at the Bar. When you begin you will gawp like a child at the zoo at their magnificent plumage getting lost in iridescent wonder. But after a while you will find yourself wondering what that terrible noise is, their squawk is no match for their display. And wait until you notice their feet...