2021 Pegasus Scholar
As we meander through Temple Church, a gothic Twelfth Century gem with so much history it just sounds made up, I pinch myself to ensure I’m not dreaming. Originally built by the Knights Templar and consecrated in 1185, it was here that, in 1215, rebel barons dragged King John (yes, the King John from Robin Hood) to the Church to negotiate the Magna Carta, which set out a charter of rights between the king and his people and later served as a source of inspiration for the US Constitution. Shakespeare featured Temple Church in Henry VI, when a member of the House of Lancaster and a member of the House of York stood outside the Church, each plucking a rose from their respective houses to symbolize the beginning of the infamous War of the Roses. The Church was featured in Dan Brown’s novel The Da Vinci Code, but as the rector of the Church (known as the “Master of the Temple”) will tell you, it’s not an exactly accurate portrayal. At some point, lawyers purchased the Church and today it forms an important centerpiece of the English Inns of Court—the central hub for legal activity in London.
I’m pinching myself because I’m finding all of this so fascinating and am still in a bit of a state of disbelief that I’m here. I’m in London on a six-week scholarship with the Pegasus Scholarship Trust. The Trust is an exchange program between the American Inns of Court and the English Inns that allows young lawyers to “learn about the practical working of the common law system in countries other than their own, and to form enduring links with lawyers in those countries.” Essentially, each year two lawyers from the US and two lawyers from England swap countries and learn about each other’s legal systems. We are lucky to have four scholars participate this year instead of two because Covid-19 travel restrictions last year postponed last year’s scholars. I’m sharing a flat in Holland Park (West London) with Kristen Lee, my “Lee sister” from New Orleans. We also share some overlap with eight Temple Bar Scholars, who are here on a similar but shorter four-week stint.
The program is broken down into four components: (1) an introduction to “legal London,” including meetings with top leaders of the English bench and bar, and lunches, tours, and receptions with the four Inns of Court; (2) shadowing various barristers in the courtroom and beyond; (3) spending a week at the UK Supreme Court observing hearings and getting to know the justices; and (4) traveling to Scotland, Northern Ireland, and Ireland to learn about the unique aspects of their legal systems. Please join me on a quick journey through each week.
1. Week One: Introduction to Legal London
This week was a crash course in the English legal system, packed with meetings with London’s preeminent lawyers and judges. Some highlights of what we learned:
A lawyer by any other name?
Since the fourteenth century, the UK’s legal system has been a “split profession.” This means that lawyers are broken into two groups—barristers and solicitors. Solicitors include all transactional attorneys—wills, contracts, corporate formation, etc. Solicitors also handle some aspects of litigation, including trial preparation, management, and client relations. But where the courtroom is involved, you need a barrister, because the court is the barrister’s stomping grounds.
You don’t choose the wig—the wig chooses you.
Have you wondered about the people in British TV shows wearing the funny looking wigs with a robe and collar? Those folks are called barristers. Traditionally, barristers are the only persons allowed to speak in court—called “rights of audience.” There are some exceptions for lower courts and “solicitor advocates.” (Fun fact: Barristers refer to each other in court as “my learned friend.” They are required to call solicitors only “my friend.”). The path to getting there can be quite difficult (more in the next section). Each barrister must belong to one of the four Inns of Court.
Side note: the TV show Silk has tons of great footage of the inns and portrays a fairly accurate depiction of life as a barrister and the interplay between barristers and solicitors. Plus it features my favorite imaginary lawyer of all time—Martha Costello.
Inns of Court—A Step Back in Time
Imagine a tamed down but still majestical version of the four houses of Hogwarts mixed with an old-school university campus, and you’ll find yourself at the English Inns of Court. The inns span Central London from Holborn to Temple, but are tucked away behind commercial stores, offices, and hotels through almost secret passages that you won’t find unless you’re looking for them.
Like Harry Potter debating between Gryffindor and Slytherin, to become a barrister you must choose one of the four inns—Middle Temple, Inner Temple, Lincoln’s Inn, or Gray’s Inn. This is a big choice because you will be a member of your chosen inn for the rest of your legal career. The inn is responsible for much of your training from the very beginning of your career as you’re taking the bar course—you are “called” to the Bar by your chosen inn (similar to US lawyers being sworn in)— throughout your legal career, and even into retirement.
You can’t help but be awed and amazed at the historical significance of this unique and wonderful place. The first performance of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night was performed in Middle Temple’s dining hall with both Shakespeare and Queen Elizabeth I in attendance. The first performance of Comedy of Errors took place in Grey’s Inn. Several signers of both the Declaration of Independence and US Constitution were members of the English inns. In addition to the grand and illustrious buildings, the gardens and parks are designed by master gardeners and offer some of the best examples of traditional English gardens.
A Rose By Any Other Name…
I could write a book on everything that happened in just our first week in London. But in the interests of keeping things succinct, I’ll focus on some of the differences between our systems that we learned during that first week. Although our systems are quite similar in many respects and share a common ancestry, there are some major differences:
- The defendant has no right to remain silent at trial. In the US, a defendant will rarely testify in his or her own defense because the jury is not allowed to make an adverse inference based on the defendant’s silence and, even if the defendant is innocent, they can do more harm than good testifying on their own behalf, particularly in cross-examination. This is not so in the England, and while not outcome determinative, jurors may use the defendant’s silence as an adverse inference when deciding whether they find reasonable doubt. Because of this, most defendants in England tend to testify on their own behalf.
- Plea bargaining is not a thing. Because defendants can’t plea bargain, many many more criminal cases proceed to trial, allowing defense attorneys a lot more trial practice. (Note: defendants will get a credit for pleading guilty at the earliest possible opportunity, but there’s no such thing as the prosecution and defense coming up with a deal and presenting it to the judge for approval). Prosecutors are also strictly not allowed to trump up charges to entice a defendant to plead guilty. They may only charge what they have sufficient evidence to prove at trial.
- Criminal barristers play for both sides. If you practice criminal law in the US, it’s likely you’re a firmly entrenched prosecutor or defender. But in England, it’s common to represent the Crown (government) as a prosecutor one day and as a defense barrister for another case the next day. While there are some “in house” prosecutors, many prosecutors are outsourced. It’s possible that both the prosecution and defense barristers will be from the same chambers.
- Bow down to me: Everyone must bow to the judge when the judge enters/exit the courtroom or when you must enter/exit the courtroom after the judge is already seated. You are also not supposed to turn your back on the judge, but instead must walk backward while facing the judge (people generally just ask the judge for permission to turn their backs).
- Voir dire—what’s that?: Voir dire (empaneling the jury) takes 5 minutes to complete in the UK. There’s no such thing as peremptory challenges and only very limited for-cause exemptions. England thinks it’s a bit silly to believe that members of the jury will not be biased in some respects. The assumption is that everyone will come in with biases, but with enough people the biases will balance each other out. As one judge at the Old Bailey told me, their statue of justice is not blindfolded because “we believe justice should see.”
- No judicial review. Another major difference between our systems is the concept of judicial review. In the US, courts have the power to strike down a rule or statute as unconstitutional. But in England, courts do not have the ability to override any laws passed by Parliament. Instead, you have to wait until a new government forms and repeals the law. Although England has “judicial review,” it refers to declaring a governmental body’s actions unlawful, not to striking down primary legislation.
- No right to appeal. In most criminal and civil cases in England, there is no automatic right of appeal (unlike in the US). Instead, appeals are permissive and unless the lower court or appellate court agrees to take your appeal, you may be stuck with the jury’s or lower court’s decision indefinitely. Speaking of juries, juries are almost never used in civil cases in England (with the exception of a few limited categories including malicious prosecution and defamation). If you do get an appeal, oral argument generally isn’t timed as it is in the US and appellate arguments for one case can last several days.
2. Weeks Two, Three, and Six: Embarking on Mini-Pupillages with the Barristers
The bulk of the program consisted of shadowing barristers and getting a feel for what their daily lives are like and what it took for them to get where they are now. First, I’ll provide some background on how one becomes a barrister and what their jobs are like, and then second, I’ll recount some of my experiences and observations as a mini-pupil.
- Is This Your Calling?: Lawyer education is markedly different in England. You do not need a three-year doctorate degree in law after completing a four-year undergraduate degree as you do in the US. Instead, barristers are “called” to the bar after completing a three-year undergraduate degree, a one-year master’s degree (typically) or two-year conversion course (if their undergrad was not in law), and a one-year bar training course. Although exams are still part of the training course, unlike studying for the Bar here, the training course is geared toward practical training and includes many hours spent in mock trials or moots with heavily experienced volunteer judges and barristers (something I believe we would benefit greatly from in the US).
Once those hurdles are cleared, you must then apply for and be accepted into a one-year pupilage (sort of an internship) with a barristers’ chambers (like a law firm). The pupilage is divided into two “sixes.” For the first six months, you cannot speak in court but you shadow a barrister and help them prepare for court, while continuing practical education with your inns. If your supervisor (called a “pupil master”) signs off on you, then you advance to the “second six” and obtain rights of audience—the ability to argue in court. At the end of the second six months, if your pupil master signs off on you, then you are a full-fledged barrister qualified to practice law.
- Practicing Law—The Barristers’ Chambers: At this point, most barristers apply for tenancy, which is a permanent position with their selected chambers (which may or may not be where they completed their pupilage). There are around 17,000 barristers in England and Wales today. All barristers are self-employed, which means that barristers within the same chambers can represent opposing clients, even in the same case. Because some judges are part-time judges, it’s possible that the judge and both sides’ barristers are all from the same set of chambers (this frequently happens in certain arbitrations). This seems crazy from a US lawyer’s perspective, as we are subject to strict conflicts of interest rules prohibiting anything coming close to this arrangement.
After seeing this in practice, I believe this system works and encourages openness and compromise. Although England’s system is adversarial like ours, it’s a lot harder to be a huge jerk to the lawyer sitting in the office next to you every day than to a lawyer you may see only once in your career. It also avoids the potential gamesmanship where a client hires your firm for something small but then every lawyer in your firm is forbidden from representing anyone adverse to that client, even on an unrelated matter. From my perspective, the English way results in a friendlier bar that’s more focused on acting honorably, resolving cases, and maintaining professionalism and collegiality.
- The Clerk’s Role: Another position for which there is no US equivalent is that of a clerk (pronounced “clark,” for reasons unknown to me). The barristers’ clerk is responsible for client development, organizing and managing the barristers’ calendars (called diaries), and serving as the administrator for the chambers.
The clerk serves as intermediary between the solicitors (who are considered the barrister’s client in addition to the actual client in the case) and the barristers so that the barristers can focus on the fun part—the legal side of the case. Clerks wine and dine and maintain relationships with the solicitors’ firms and negotiate their barristers’ fees, allowing the barristers to focus on the legal side of the business.
While it’s easy to see the many advantages of having someone else do this work and provide support, there may occasionally be disadvantages as well. Junior barristers have little to no say in the work that their clerks assign them—even when the work is not in their wheelhouse or desired subject area. Although a barrister can say no when absolutely necessary, they often can’t or don’t, even when the assignment is to attend court several hours away or is otherwise inconvenient.
- Junior Barrister vs. Silk: In the US, once you become a lawyer you are called a lawyer until you become something different like a judge or professor. But in England, barristers are split into “junior barrister” and “Queen’s Counsel,” also known as “QC” or “silk” (because the robe a QC wears is very fancy and made of silk). “Junior barrister” is a bit of a misnomer as it doesn’t always mean the barrister is junior. Rather, it refers to anyone who isn’t a QC. Historically, becoming a member of the Queen’s Counsel entailed a “tap on the shoulder,” but today it has become professionalized and requires an application and interviews, which are extensive and can take years to complete. A selection panel makes the ultimate decision. Around 10% of barristers have “taken silk” and are QCs. This distinction is included at the end of the person’s name, like “PhD.”
Highlights of my Time as a Mini-Pupil
I witnessed an incredible variety of law practices and participated in a vast range of activities in which barristers are involved during my mini-pupilages at 1 Crown Office Row, Twenty Essex, and Crucible Law. Here are just a few highlights:
- Barristers don’t shake hands (even pre-Covid!): I met so many wonderful human beings at the three chambers I was fortunate enough to shadow, and I’m so grateful for everyone’s kindness and generosity, particularly with their time in getting to know me and explaining how English law works (despite being extremely busy and on the billable hour, just like us). There is a long-standing tradition that barristers don’t shake hands, and the legend is that this dates back to sword-bearing days, when a handshake would show that one was not armed and could be trusted. Because barristers are so honorable and took their duty to the court and to their clients so seriously, they didn’t need to put forth this show of proof. This is the kind of culture that still exists today, and it truly was a privilege to get to know so many people who really took their profession seriously.
- Inquests are alive and well: During my first week with chambers, I was able to attend an inquest into the police’s investigation of Stephen Port, the serial killer. As an American, I had a particularly romantic notion of an inquest, because its history stretches back to ancient times, and they pretty much never happen in the US. But inquests are commonplace in England today. Anytime a death looks suspicious, an inquest is called to determine the cause of death. These take place in a courtroom setting, with a coroner (traditionally a doctor but today mainly lawyers) sitting as judge (occasionally with a jury for serious crimes). The coroner has its own counsel, who are like supercharged law clerks because not only do they perform research and advise the coroner, but they can also ask questions of the witnesses at the inquest. Families will be represented by their own barrister, who also ask the witnesses questions. It’s like the wild west of litigation—although there are rules of evidence that govern inquests, there are almost never objections and much of what is said is irrelevant, speculative, and loaded with hearsay. Lawyers can ask leading questions on direct and questions with no foundation.
- Shipping, warehouse receipts, and bills of lading, oh my!: During my second week, I shadowed a commercial chambers that handled a lot of international shipping disputes. As explained to me by my friend (who literally wrote the book on shipping), shipping has a long and important history in London, and is a major reason why the banking, insurance, and legal industry are so well established here. Those with shipping disputes anywhere in the world can (and often do) choose an English forum to settle their disputes because the caselaw is so well established (and apparently their jurisdiction rules aren’t as tight as ours). I was able to attend a trial regarding warehouse receipts and was amazed at how collegial (and objection free) the questioning of the witness was.
- Snaresbrook Crown Court and the superwomen keeping it busy: During my final observation week, I was assigned to a criminal barristers’ set and ended up spending the full week at Snaresbrook Crown Court (about an hour away from my flat but still in London). There I observed various criminal hearings and a trial with the coolest barristers I’ve ever met, all of whom were women. By the end of the week, I was ready to forswear my civil practice and become a criminal lawyer, that’s how impressive these ladies are. I saw an initial appearance in a human trafficking case, sentencing for drug crimes, sentencing for a DUI, and a hearing regarding mental competency to stand trial. I was able to go into the cells with one of the barristers and watched her compassionately and thoroughly explain options to her defendant client. For the remainder of my time at Snaresbrook, I attended a trial involving a robbery with four defendants. Each defendant had their own barrister but I was shadowing the prosecution barrister, who was fully on her own but managed the case like the rockstar she is.
3. The Supreme Court of the United Kingdom
While most English legal institutions predate American independence, the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom is still in its infancy, dating back to only 2010. Before that, the Court of Appeals was the highest court in the land. The UK Supreme Court receives around 200 appeal requests (petitions) per year, compared to the US Supreme Court’s 10,000. Both courts hear about the same number of cases per year (around 90). But where the US allows only 30 minutes of oral arguments per side, the UK grants sometimes 4 days or more for argument (called hearings). And while US justices have four law clerks (lawyers) assisting them at any one point in time, most of the UK justices share one clerk for every two justices (save for the four most senior justices, who each have one clerk). The court also doesn’t hear cases en banc (with all justices of the court), they hear cases with panels of five (typically), seven, or nine.
The justices are not called “Justice _____,” they are called “Lord/Lady ____.” Up until very recently, the women were also called “Lord.” Much like our SCOTUS justices, who exclusively attend Ivy League universities, the UK justices are all “Oxbridge,” meaning from either Oxford or Cambridge (or both). And just like in the US, there are calls for more diversity in gender (only two of the 11 justices are women), race, and socioeconomic status.
The Supreme Court justices are also members of the Privy Council, which hears cases in the Supreme Court building and is the highest court of appeal for many current (and former) Commonwealth Countries, the UK’s overseas territories, and crown dependencies. The Privy Council hears cases in panels of five. Several other judges from the Court of Appeal and the certain courts in Scotland, Northern Ireland, and the Commonwealth countries can sit as judges on the Privy Council. The cases the Privy Council hears are fascinating and involve countries all over the world.
During my week at the Supreme Court I was assigned to Lord Briggs, who has served on the Court since 2017. We had tea and biscuits in his chambers as he told me about his life and career path, and his avid love of sailing. It was a wonderful experience getting to know Lord Briggs.
At the end of our week with the Court, we were able to have drinks and an intimate dinner with just the scholars and the justices. I sat next to Lord Reed, the President of the Supreme Court and an absolutely lovely person. He’s from Edinburgh and gave me some wonderful recommendations for our upcoming court visit there.
4. Around the UK in Three Days—Scotland, Northern Ireland, and Ireland
The final component of this adventure was a travel week to teach us about how the legal system in England and Wales differs from that in the rest of the UK and Ireland. Here are some highlights:
- Edinburgh, Scotland: Scotland’s legal system was surprisingly different from England’s. It’s considered a hybrid system because it has incorporated both common law and civil law (like New Orleans or Quebec). Back in the day, Scotland incorporated Roman Dutch civil law because many Scots went to Netherlands for university and brought back many ideas they learned there. But we were told this is more of an academic interest than anything because today it is almost all common law in application. This may be because Scotland’s parliament was abolished in 1707, but it was able to maintain a separate legal system. So any updates to the law necessarily had to come through caselaw from 1707 until 1999, when Scotland’s Parliament came into being again after referendum.
My favorite thing about Scotland’s legal profession is the terminology. Instead of the “pupil” trainees in England, Scotland calls them “devils” (and the mentor/supervisor is called a “devil master”). Barristers are known as “advocates.” Instead of chambers, Scottish advocates are organized into “stables” (there are only 12 stables in all of Scotland). Traditionally, the stables were named after their clerks. All the clerks from the different stables work together in one big room at the Faculty of Advocates (the old parliament building). Pre-pandemic, the advocates all worked out of a library in this building, with unofficially assigned seats. Now, as in the US, many advocates work remotely.
- Belfast, Northern Ireland: Our day in Belfast started with morning tea and biscuits with four judges from the county court. The judges were incredibly generous with their time and patiently explained several of the nuances between English and Northern Irish law. A particularly fascinating nuance is criminal terrorism cases (typically involving IRA-type activities) that are still ongoing and surprisingly numerous today. Although some of the cases are fairly new, part of the reason for the frequency of these cases can be explained by the statute of limitations on serious crimes (terrorism, rape, murder)—there is none. There is no right to a jury in a terrorism case, but because of this there is an automatic right to appeal (which, as in England, is unusual). We spent the morning observing several of the judges’ hearings and speaking with them on their breaks about what was going on in the cases. This was an amazing insider look into a wide sample of cases and the judicial thought process in handling these cases.
We went to lunch at the high court with Lady Siobhan Keegan, the Chief Justice of Northern Ireland and the first woman to hold this post (she was also one of the first women high court judges). Lady Keegan is young, energetic, and incredibly impressive. We all felt so grateful for her hospitality and time, knowing how packed her schedule is.
We then took a tour of the Bar/Inns of Court. Similar to Scotland, the barristers sit in a library to work. But the barristers are not arranged in chambers, rather they pay fees to the Bar and get their administrative support through the Bar.
- Dublin, Ireland: The Four Courts of Ireland is one of the most prominent buildings in Dublin, and houses the Supreme Court of Ireland, the Court of Appeal, the High Court, and the Dublin Circuit Court. Work began on this structure the same year as our Declaration of Independence was written—1776. Much of the building was destroyed in 1922 by IRA forces opposed to the Anglo-Irish treaty, and is still in the process of being rebuilt today.
Ireland has one inn of court: King’s Inn. Founded in 1541, King’s Inn today provides legal professional training to become a barrister and continuing legal education for barristers. In fact, King’s Inn houses a professional full-time law school.
Postscript: Merci beaucoup
There are so many people for whom I owe a tremendous debt of gratitude. First, thanks to Cindy Dennis, Pegasus Program Organizer Extraordinaire, without whose tireless efforts in building long lasting relationships we would not have had half of the opportunities we did. Thanks as well to Cindy’s English counterpart, Georgina Everatt, for setting up our placements, organizing our Scotland/Northern Ireland excursions, and inviting us to special events. I must also thank the Pegasus Scholar Selection Committee, who took a chance on me and passed on their baton. And to Justice John A. Pearce and masters of the bench Judge Michele M. Christiansen Forster and Judge Diana Hagen for writing me phenomenal letters of recommendation, which opened the door to this opportunity and without which I surely would not have received an interview.
For hosting me, I would like to thank One Crown Office Row chambers and Charlotte Gilmartin and Peter Skelton QC; Twenty Essex chambers and Philip Edey QC, Julian Kenny QC, Duncan Matthews QC, David Lewis QC, Edward Gilmore, Josephine Davies, Maria Kennedy, Courtney Grafton, Manual Casas, Joshua Folkard, Richard Greenberg, Sam McDowall, and Arron Zitver; and Crucible Law chambers and Martin Goudie, Clea Topolski, Louise McCullough, Libby Anderson, and Leila Gaskin.
At the UK Supreme Court, special thanks to Lord Briggs, Lord Reed, Nicholas Wright, Ayo Onatade, Isabella Buono, Jackie Sears, and the rest of the members of the Supreme Court for hosting us.
Thank you to Michael Polak, Shaun Espirit, and Joanne Kane for inviting us to young barrister events and making us feel so welcome. And to Jamil Mohammed and Constance Whippman for the most amazing breakfast spread and good company. Thank you to Marty Rolle, Glyn Trevillion, and Clare Morel de Westgaver of Bryan Cave for hosting us at the Society for English and American Lawyers event and lunch. The four Inns of Court each hosted us for lunches and receptions, with special thanks to Brigadier Tony Harking OBE, Tony Charles, Guy Fetherstonhaugh QC, Judge Deborah Taylor, Justice Alison Foster DBE, Lord Justice Dingermans, Mark Hill QC, Kieron Beal QC, Greg Dorey, Anne Sharp, Sir David Richards, Faye Appleton, Victoria Wallace DL, and Christa Richmond.
We wouldn’t have been able to have this experience were it not for the American Inns of Court, and especially Judge Kent Jordan, BG Malina Dunn (Ret.), Jesse Binnall, and Thomas Leighton. Thanks to Bar Council Derek Sweeting QC and Christian Wisskirchen. The impressive Stephanie Boyce and Donna Evans from The Law Society. Justice Knowles CBE from the National Pro Bono Center for talking with us about access to justice. We were also pleased to meet with the Chancellor of the High Court, the Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales, and the Master of the Rolls. And of course Judge Leonard QC from the Old Bailey, who allowed us hold a sawed-off shotgun following a trial (something I never thought I would have done, especially in England!).
In Scotland, we owe a debt of gratitude to Mark Lindsay QC for spending almost his entire day giving us a tour of the Faculty of Advocates and explaining Scotland’s rich legal history and tradition. And to Ruth Crawford QC for welcoming us into your office and allowing us to marvel at your phenomenal medieval book collection.
We are grateful for Terrence Dunlop for coordinating our Northern Ireland visit, including getting to meet Judge Stephen Fowler QC (Recorder of Belfast), Judge Jeffrey Miller QC, Judge Donna McColgan QC, and Judge Patrick Kinney in the morning. We were pleased and indebted to the Lady Chief Justice Siobhan Keegan for hosting us for lunch, and honored to also dine with Judge Fowler and Justice Rooney.
I don’t know what we would have done without our fearless and dedicated Dublin tour guide John McNally, who really went above and beyond what was required and made us feel like royalty as he spent two days catering to our every need. We must also thank Judge Barniville and Judge O’Connor for their generosity with their time and for hosting us for dinner. And to Mary Griffin, the CEO of King’s Inn, for allowing us to tour the Inn and get to know your history.
Finally, I’d like to thank my amazing co-scholars, who really made this experience what it was and accompanied me to an unreasonable number of musicals and plays: Anthony Franklyn, Kristen Lee, and Matt Zorn.