• Moderator Angela Rafferty QC, Chair of the Criminal Bar Association, Red Lion Chambers
  • Speakers Eleanor Laws QC, Criminal Bar Association and QEB; HHJ Peter Rook QC; Emma Fenn, Criminal Bar Association, Garden Court Law; Donal Lawler, Criminal Bar Association, 187 Fleet Street; Her Honour Judge Deborah Taylor, Southwark Crown Court

This was a nuts and bolts session, full of practical and unrhetorical advice, with some golden nuggets. Designed to encourage audience participation and chaired by Angela Rafferty QC in a friendly, laid-back way, it was positive in character and content. I sensed the need for that from a number of concerned questions, for the criminal Bar is surviving against the odds and our young are suffering. ‘How do they help themselves?’ asked one delegate. Try not to be pigeon holed. Become an expert in your own field. Offer an article to Counsel! Good ideas came consistently from HHJ Deborah Taylor and Eleanor Laws QC.

Naturally the panel discussed the problems raised by coming back to practice after childbirth. Diversity also recognised younger male barristers who may have caring responsibilities. HHJ Peter Rooke QC, having described himself as the statutory male on the panel, gave a picture of the bad old days in chambers, now gone. Later he stressed the absolute importance of showing your quality, eg knowing the law of evidence backwards.

Advice too for preparing for Silk or judicial posts. Good record-keeping, preparation and getting an independent figure to review your applications. Try to prosecute and defend. Know the criteria. In other words, bring the professionalism which governs your work to your own career path. HHJ Taylor said that the competition on one occasion had been 1,500 applications for 60 judicial placements. There is no ‘we’ – it must be ‘I’, for you must evidence fully your own competencies. The panel also contained one fluent younger practitioner, Emma Fenn, who will go far.

As a top tip, I liked the advice – be brief, be bright, be gone! Don’t whisper or make faces or talk over the judge. Don’t ever make personal attacks on your opponents. Be aware of legal developments. Sitting will improve your own advocacy, as you suffer pleas in aggravation. Preparation must not be too rigid, for part of cross examination is what falls out of the tree. There followed a constructive audience response of mentoring in chambers. Your correspondent’s view is that, ideally, it should continue for at least three years after pupillage.

Near the end, a very experienced old hand, Peter Birkett QC raised the topic of criminal pupillages. The response was how rare they are, particularly in London. That for me was the most sobering moment. The Criminal Bar Association must fight on and chambers must work with them.