'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.'
He really did call me a dongle all the time.2
High Court judges.3
Back then this was a big set; nowadays it’s small to medium.