‘Get yer jacket on, you’re off to the chancery listing
It was Monday and I had a throbbing head, a slightly
nauseous feeling and the need for fried food - all of which may have been
linked to a weekend, which I recall, started at around Thursday lunch time.
What on earth did the senior clerk mean?
I thought to myself. I knew the first junior regularly trotted off to court for
listing meetings but I didn’t really know what it meant. The ones in the early
afternoon always prompted a wild flurry of activity which I didn’t fully
understand but usually meant me wandering around the city picking up and
dropping off briefs.
The boss handed me a sheaf of paper and talked me through
it. There was a list of cases which were going to be given fixed dates over the
next 6 months. He had marked the names of the barristers from our set who had
been instructed in those cases. I also had a list of dates where each of those
barristers was free over the next 6 months. All I had to do was turn up to the
listing meeting and make sure the cases our barristers were involved in were
fixed for dates they were available. Simple, or so I thought.
I meandered down to court clutching my list and dates with a
spring in my step with the prospect of an hour or so mucking about away from
Chambers. I was a frequent visitor to court and had rapidly learnt how to
navigate my way around the large ugly 1960’s concrete monstrosity. Barristers
would regularly forget to take things with them to court. By things I mean all
of the accoutrements required by a barrister to perform their job; wig, gown,
diary dates, wing collar, bands, collar studs and most hilariously the brief. I
never quite understood how you could get to court and realise you had forgotten
to bring the very thing you were there for.
have heard proper London clerks refer to these as tea parties. Idiots.
my youth I could drink vast quantities of alcohol, have very little sleep and
still turn up for work able to actually function. When I say vast quantities I
mean two cases of Boddie’s and a bottle of black Jack between three of us, on a
Wednesday night. Now if I have a couple of glasses of wine and stay up past
10pm midweek I am useless for two days. 
Chancery is weird civil law. Nobody understands it apart from chancery
barristers. They are a very strange bookish breed of barrister that lives in
chambers library and survive by inhaling the nutrients from the dust found on
copies of the King’s Bench reports.
I didn’t always go to court to deliver forgotten
trivialities (like the case papers), sometimes I had to go to court to find out
what was happening. In the early 90’s very few barristers had a mobile phone
and email 
was not yet available so communication was achieved through a pile of 10 pence
pieces and the payphone in the robing room. There were 16 courts, each with an
average of five cases and with each case having at least two barristers. All of
these barristers would be trying to contact their clerks at lunch time and at
the end of the day to let them know what had happened in their case and find
out what they would be doing the next day. As you can imagine there was always
a big queue for the payphone. If the senior clerk was desperate to know whether
one of our barristers was going to finish that day or if the case would
continue into the next it was often quicker to send me to court to find out.
There was also the possibility that the barrister might “forget” to contact the
clerks, but that’s another story.
I pushed open the door to the bar clerks room at the court,
back then we actually had a room set aside for our use. I was pleased to see
that I wasn’t the first to arrive and therefore was in the right place. The
listing officer, Debbie, was there and she smiled and said hello. I’d never met
her before but she seemed nice. I knew most of the clerks there on sight but
there were a couple I hadn’t come across before. John from Equity Chambers
introduced me to the guys and girls I didn’t know and then the listing officer
indicated it was time to make a start.
I wasn’t involved in the first half a dozen cases and so I
could observe the protocol. It was pretty simple; the listing officer read out
the name of the case, the clerks who were involved would announce their part,
the listing officer would suggest a couple of dates and the clerks would agree
a date between them. I could do this no problem. The listing officer read out
the next case, I piped up that I was for the plaintiff and my mate John
announced that he was for the defendant. Debbie then indicated that this was a 2-day
case and proffered three sets of dates; one in May, one in June and one in
September. This was easy, my barrister couldn’t do the May dates but was free
for the others. I started to indicate this was the case, at exactly the same
time John said ‘I can only do the May dates’.
Time slowed. Nobody told me what to do in this situation. If
I fixed it for a date my barrister couldn’t do would I be fired? Would the
barrister want to see me and demand an explanation for my appalling clerking?
Would the first junior be very sarcastic indeed? Would John and I have to strip
to the waist and indulge in Queensbury rules to decide the date? Just when I
was really starting to enjoy this job it was all unravelling.
‘Can you do anytime in July?’ John asked me; he turned to
the listing officer, ‘Debbie if we shift that 3-day case we just fixed for July
to May then we could slot it in then’. I scrabbled through my dates and
mercifully, yes! Mr Ponsonby-Smythe was indeed free for July. Debbie confirmed
that we could shuffle things around as indicated by John (or my hero as I now
thought of him). The rest of the meeting went by with relative ease. John
walked me back to Chambers and explained what he did and why.
‘This job is easy. It’s about taking problems and making
them go away. When it all comes on top you just have to find the way out.
There’s always a way out. The other thing you have to do is look after your
mates because one day you’ll want them to look after you. Speaking of which you
owe me a pint, quick one in the tavern?’
I had survived my first listing meeting but
little did I know that a chancery listing meeting was very different to a
criminal listing meeting, I would find out soon enough.
Microsoft released the first Outlook in 1992, Hotmail arrived in 1996. I looked