'This is a brief,' he said, indicating the tatty pile of
papers tied up with hot pink string 'and your job is to get your hands on as
many of these as you possibly can'.
That was pretty much my induction. Well that and being shown
where the kettle was so I could make the copious amounts of tea that a clerks’
rooms runs on. It was my first day as a junior clerk in a barristers’ chambers.
Manchester was the centre of the known universe with the Stone Roses, Happy
Mondays and Inspiral Carpets at the height of their powers. The red half of the
city was about to emerge as the dominant force in football for years to come
and I was about to put my first foot on a career path that would define my
life for decades.
I had dropped out of A-levels after a year without any real
idea of what I wanted to do. After applying for a range of jobs and never quite
finding what I was looking for, an advert in the Manchester Evening News caught
my attention: Office junior required for barristers’ chambers. That was it. No
real idea what the job entailed. After a successful interview, where my dazzling
personality must have caught the eye of the senior clerk (either that or he was
just desperate), I started work the following week.
After a relatively normal start I suddenly realised I was in
some bizarre alternative reality. I was from a roughish area of Manchester, not
far outside the city centre. I was not used to a world of Beaujolais nouveau,
sports cars, Latin phrases, literary references and a bizarre contraption
called a 'cafetiere'. On top of the strange cultural shift was the language of
chambers. When I stopped childishly
giggling about briefs there was a veritable smorgasbord of a legal lexicon to
learn. A refresher was not a sherbert filled chew and a floater was not an unwanted
present in the toilet. What was the difference between a TWOC and a tort? And
what on earth was an affidavit? All these questions would gradually be answered
as the strange world of barristers seeped unconsciously into my brain.
And then there were the barristers themselves.
One or two were very nearly normal, most of them however
were like Withnail on acid. Wildly eccentric, exotic and strange to my
seriously inexperienced eyes. I fell in love on the spot. They drank at lunch
time, they smoked weird cigars and pipes, and they ate out at restaurants. The
only time I remember us eating out was when we went to a Beefeater on the
way back from my aunties (I had a huge knickerbocker glory for dessert and it
came back to haunt my folks in the car on the way home). Barristers seemed educated,
articulate and sophisticated (how wrong first impressions can be!).
I can remember little of these first few weeks other than
the senior clerk’s lunch order. He had the same thing every day (on the days
when he was in by lunch time). Ham and tomato on a white roll with a packet of
plain crisps. I knew there was something wrong with him there and then. Ham and
tomato! Never. Cheese and tomato, everyone knows that. He was also a cockney. I
knew this because I didn’t understand half of what he said. It sort of went
'cahm on you irons, lord lubba dahck, free for a pahnd, norvern mahnkey…blah
blah the temple'. Little did I know that soon I would understand this
outlandish chatter and also be able to converse in this strange language.
I had so much to learn. The truly unique and
slightly disturbing relationship betwixt clerk and barrister was still hidden
from me. The joys of the listing meeting was but a twinkle in the first
junior’s eye. Last minute returns, wigs and gowns, silk’s parties, the
hierarchy of the clerks’ room and many other oddities were all as yet unknown.
I had taken a peek into the world of barristers and clerks and I was eager to
see more, and soon I would.
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