'I need a word with you,' growled the Senior Clerk. 'Oh no,' thought I, 'what have I done this time?'
I'd been a clerk now for a little over a year. Most of it I could do standing on my heard; and that was the problem. I was bored. When I'm bored my mind wanders, and that's when I make mistakes. Mostly little things which are easy to fix, but missing a case in the Burnley Crown Court list had been a bit hairy and was not my finest hour. I enjoyed booking cases into the diary, chatting to solicitors, gradually expanding my legal knowledge and attending listing meetings. I was bored of the post, running errands and making tea and coffee for conferences. Things, however, were about to change.
'Dave from Queen's wants you,' said the boss.
'I'll get my coat and pop over...'
'No, you dongle!1 He wants you to go and work there as the third junior. He's got three silks, gawd knows 'ow many judges and red judges2 have come from his place!'
My Senior Clerk carried on talking but I didn't really take it all in. I was being poached! By Dave from Queen's Square! They were massive! Forty3 barristers! That would mean more money!
'You need to be there at six tonight. Be careful, it won't just be Dave interviewing.'
My head was spinning. An interview? What would I be asked? What would I say?
The day raced past and I could barely contain my excitement as six approached. my Senior Clerk gave me a look at quarter to six and inclined his head towards the door. It was a five-minute walk, but he guessed that I probably needed to gather my thoughts and smoke a couple of B&H to calm my nerves.
Fully nicotined up I approached the doors of Queen's Square Chambers and looked at the brass name plaque on the door. It was a truly majestic sight. My boss was right: there were a lot of judges on that board. I sat, sweaty-palmed, whilst Julie the receptionist made me a cuppa. Seconds after I had taken my first tongue-scalding sip, Dave appeared and ushered me from reception into the inner sanctums of chambers. I scuttled behind him up a long corridor when he abruptly stopped, opened a door, and ushered me in.
'Listen, mate,' said Dave, 'Sorry to spring this on you: it should have just been you and me, but the boss is back and he wants to sit in on the interview. Mind your Ps and Qs and watch that smart gob of yours and you'll be fine.'
Oh, bugger. I was being interviewed by Jim Branch QC! He was a legend. A brilliant advocate who charmed those he was cross-examining into saying exactly what he wanted to hear. My palms grew so sweaty I feared for my cup of tea. Dave swept me out of the room and carried on up the corridor while I tried to keep up. He stopped at another door, knocked, waited a second and then entered. I followed. It was sensory overload. Dark wood, smooth green leather, the red and blue of law reports, the heady scent of pipe smoke and, in the middle of it all, Arthur James (Jim to his mates) Branch QC, leader of the Northern Circuit, captain of the golf club and Head of Queen's Square Chambers.
He smiled warmly. 'Ah, Scott, dear boy. Please take a seat.' I did, gingerly. 'Glad you could join us for a little chat. Dave will obviously conduct the interview; we barristers know so little of the fine arts of clerking. I shall mostly observe.' 1He really did call me a dongle all the time. 2High Court judges. 3 Back then this was a big set; nowadays it’s small to medium.
Dave asked me to describe my normal working day. He tested me on my legal knowledge, which was all fine. Then he gave me a couple of scenarios to see what I would do when a problem arose, Everything seemed to be ticking along nicely. Then JB QC leaned forward, looked into my eyes and asked, 'You seem to be doing splendidly down the road; such a nice little set. Why do you want to leave your current role?'
I didn't like that. He was mocking my chambers.4 Nice little set! I wasn't having that.
'I wasn't looking to leave. I thought you wanted me,' I snarled.
I could feel Dave's eyes boring into the side of my head, but I couldn't break Mr Branch's stare. He made a little noise in the back of his throat. It might have been a disappointed grumble; I couldn't really tell. What I did know was that I had cocked this right up. I daren't look at Dave; he was going to be so angry. My boss would be livid, too.
'If you hadn't been a clerk,' said JB QC, 'what would you have liked to have pursued as a career?'
I knew I had blown it, so I spoke without thinking.
'I nursery nurse,'5 I said. JB QC raised one eyebrow and waited for me to continue.
'My mum is a child-minder and I'm the eldest of five. I always enjoyed helping to look after the younger ones.'
I really should have stopped there, but I have never been able to control my mouth.
'And having done this for a while there are lots of similarities between the two jobs. Making sure you are fed and watered, stopping you doing anything daft, picking up after you, wiping your...'
'Yes, right, well then,' said Dave as he cut across me, trying to save me from myself.
'...mouths,' I concluded.
I noticed a tremor around JB QC's mouth. Oh no, he was really,really angry. I was finished as a clerk. Nobody would ever want me. Dave rounded off the interview and walked me to the door. He asked me to see myself out as he needed to talk to the boss.
I trudged back to chambers. My senior clerk was still there, and was on the phone as I got back. I caught the very end of his conversation: '...he saidwhat?!' Oh well. It had been fun being a clerk. I could always go back to making picture frames or decorating old people's homes.
'Right then, you cocky little sod. You'll have to work your notice here, of course.' My head dropped. I'd hoped that maybe I would keep my job, but it seemed my clerking career was over.
'I'll be sorry to see you go, but it's a good move for you.'
I clearly looked very confused.
'Dave wants you to go see him tomorrow. We could try and match what he will pay you, but I know you are bored here and you need a new challenge.' I'd got the job! How did that happen?!
'He told me what you said in interview. He said he and his Head of Chambers waited until you had got to the end of the corridor and almost wet themselves laughing. You are a cocky sod, giving lip to a silk who also just to happens to be the Leader of the Circuit in a job interview.'
'It worked, though!' said I (I really don't know when to hold my tongue).
A grin spread across my boss' face. 'C'mon, let's get a beer and celebrate. You dongle!' 4I have always been fiercely proud and protective of the sets I worked at. I don’t find it funny, and you will be asked to step outside. 5Some of the stuff I write is made up, some of it is based on anecdotes and my own experiences. This really happened. I gave this answer in an interview with a silk and the senior clerk and I got the job. Follow Not a Barrister on Twitter:@notabarrister