Wednesday, 30 April 2008

London Elections

I'm certainly ready to vote tomorrow. I'm frankly petrified at the idea of Buffoon Boris getting in. I think it will mean a disaster for public services, crime and anti-terrorism, and ethnic minorities. And London being taken seriously as the capital ever again.

A Facebook group shares my sentiments.

Having just spent 2 and a half hours getting home from central London to my suburban family home, I can safely say that we need all the investment in London transport that we can spare. At the moment, there's too much congestion, too many rubbish bus drivers, and simple things like rain manage to put the whole system in meltdown.

Surprisingly, I'm still in a good mood after all of that!

The actual voting process looks pretty complex, with 3 separate ballots and a second-choice section - I wonder how many people will invalidate their ballots?

Tuesday, 29 April 2008

Bureaucracy, ici? Mais non!

'Ze Gallic shrug - key to blending in amongst the locals.

A comment on my post below, from Mr P, reminding me of the need to keep records of dining sessions, had me harking back to my time at a Parisian Uni.

I was ostensibly there on an exchange programme, but for various reasons (incompetence of those in charge of the programme factored highly) I ended up having to do a lot of organising myself.

For a city that is only two and a half hours away from my native Londres, it was a world away in terms of the student experience. We all complain about how dire University administrators are, about how the library never has enough copies of X textbook, or how the computers are really slow, how lecture rooms are cold, Facebook petitions and Student Union motions to complain against an electronic timetable online that provided some people with the wrong dates for example at my uni. We are a nation that is becoming expert in the art of the complaint.

But, proving Maslow's theory, I started to think back on how lucky I had been at my UK uni. Slow computers? At least we had computer facilities- French students had no such luxuries. I recall being the only student in a lecture room of 600 with a laptop, the locals were all scribbling away on their funny graph paper notebooks.

Yes, that's right 600 students in a lecture. At least, that's what the people who wrote the timetables decided would work. Without consulting the facilities people who might have told them that that lecture theatre only held 450 people, including 50 sat on the floor/ stood up. Through a 2-3 hour session. Which inevitably meant turning up half an hour early for classes if you wanted a look in. This is the socialist 'equality of opportunity' approach, it seems!

Having previously preferred the fashionably late approach to lectures, I quickly learned to change my habits. Especially as lecturers (if that's what you can call people who stood at the front reading from their book- verbatim) shunned the use of microphones, and so if you were in the back you really were there only to be in the spirit of things than to actually hear/learn/take any decent notes.

So, no computers, libraries with few up to date books, exams where you had to bring your own paper (no joke), over crowded lecture theatres, lecturers that didn't care about what you had to say unless you had at least 10 years higher education - which was surprisingly common, given the seemingly stupendous amount of over-qualification of the French student body.

That was one of the things which struck me about the whole experience. High unemployment levels, it seemed, but yet the workforce seemed massively overeducated.
For most purposes over here, a degree is more than sufficient. 3 years study in France, the 'license' level might as well have been A-levels. I knew one guy who was tutoring students privately who had a Phd and still couldn't get a job. This in a country with no split profession (i.e couldn't get a job as solicitor or barrister). And I say overeducated rather than overskilled- a lot of the students in my tutorials were certainly 'book smart' but were no good at problem questions, or thinking outside the box.

In many ways, I wonder whether entrance to the Bar is going the same way: i.e. ever higher standards needed to get in. Where a decent bachelor's used to suffice, the sharp competition now necessitates Masters, LLMs, previous career experience, and Phds, which now seem much more commonplace. The difference is, of course, that in Paris, it cost me 160 euros to sign up for the year, and would have been a similar price to stay on for further years. So it's no great loss financially to stay on at uni there to improve your prospects, whereas over here you're talking tens of thousands of pounds for the GDL, BVC, LLMs etc. 'Qualification inflation' here, given the costs and investment required surely threatens diversity in a way that simply doesn't apply in France, not to the same degree at least.

The other thing which sticks out in my mind is the abiding memory of paperwork. On actual paper, using old fashioned carbon copies, written in curly cursive. The weeks it took to actually enroll on the course, the signing and countersigning of documents, and finally triple signing in a different department in a different part of the city. Heaven forfend that you lose a document (I got a severe dressing down for this- organisation has never been a strong point, you may be getting that sense!).

And after signing up for the course, you had to sign up for the actual lectures/tutorials. I'm not sure how big the 'year' was- probably 1-2000, but there were about 600 in a subset following a particular branch of law, myself included. We were told that registration for tutorial sessions for this subset would be done within a 2 hour slot on a particular day in room A23.

We, and the other 600 students turn up to room A23 where we are promptly told that they will be taking a short break because they haven't had a lunchbreak yet and will be back in 5 minutes. 45 minutes later, they open the door. The single door. In the office are 2 people waiting to fill in, by hand, the timetable details for 600 students, a process probably taking 10-15 minutes per student. They had 1 hr 15 remaining in the 2 hour slot.

I was luckily at the front of the queue, by serendipity rather than design I might add, I have no idea what happened to the many who presumably were not seen.

Later on in the year, I was talking to a woman in administration and asking her how the levels of red take and bureaucracy didn't drive them mad. She looked at me askance and I assumed I had mispronounced something, or used the wrong tense. No, she explained , my question was grammatically correct, it's just that they didn't really see this as being 'bureaucracy', they would use that word to describe communist Russia or something...!

So, clearly, it's all relative!

Sunday, 27 April 2008


In my eagerness to be Super-Efficient-Bar-Student next year (I will do the BVC, work evenings, do FRU, learn a language, and write the constitution for a small country or two) I may have overlooked a few things.

Like the need to dine. That will be restricted by whatever evenings I'm working, doh. It's a shame, I think I'd have clocked up about 3 sessions already if I'd thought ahead. Although they were at Middle and prob over 3 years ago so may not count. Oh well, dining will be fun - the food will be good at least! And it will be very nice to go back to Cumberland Lodge if I get a spot there.

I may have to go shopping for new suits etc. I could take my parents to dine a few nights, that would be nice. I could even take Boy's parents (although Boy is being a pain in the unmentionables at the moment so maybe not).

I do hope I'm not surrounded by a bunch of keenos though. (my own keeness is irritating enough). Last time I went on one of those dinners, I was sat next to two very nice barristers (one a judge actually) but the student opposite had the biggest chip on his shoulder. He insisted that he was much better off for having gone to Manchester rather than Oxford (the alma mater of one of the barristers I do believe) and then continued on to name drop that he was related to David Pannick, QC. Which is fine, except that when the barrister tried to talk about Pannick's work he seemed spectacularly ignorant of it. I mentioned his Times articles in an attempt to further the conversation and was brushed aside.

It seemed to me (and I am in a spectacularly bad mood today, so my hindsight may be more black-than rose tinted) that he was a snobbish boor who had no social skills whatsoever. Being an 'oxbridge reject' is only a problem if you make it one. And going on about how Manchester was soo much better and he was soo glad he hadn't gone to Oxford just smacked of sour grapes and defensiveness. It's also never a good idea to put down the achievements of others- i.e talking about how 'rubbish' and 'narrow minded' an Oxford education makes you...when sat with an Oxon grad! I do wonder where the slightly simian fool, with all his gold rings ever ended up.

Murphys law suggests he'll be in my BVC group!

Bring it on in any case, I can't wait- I'm longing for some intellectual stimulation. All this temping is, to put it most delicately, doing my nut in!

Thursday, 24 April 2008

Cutting it fine

In retrospect it was probably a bad idea to book my flights before checking whether I needed a visa. I had assumed I wouldn't need one to do the Bar Exam in NY, I've gone over before on the visa waiver programme and as you can stay for 90 days I thought I'd be fine.

I actually ended up booking my flights for longer than I'd initially planned, because I realised a bit after signing up for the Bar course itself and planning flight dates that I would have to stay a bit longer to take an additional ethics exam (to actually be admitted to the Bar) and so this means staying 10 days longer than anticipated. But because I'd dismissed the visa issue as being an issue in my mind I totally forgot about it.

Until today when I suddenly realised that mid-May to mid-August may very well take me over the 90 day limit- possibly about 92 as a quick guesstimate. Cue panicked search for the US Embassy online, which tells me that a visa can be processed in 5 working days.

That's good, I thought, I'll have time to spare. Cue call to the US Embassy to book appointment to arrange said visa. Upon which I'm told they don't have any slots before the END OF MAY. Except I'm leaving on the 15th. And starting my course on the 22nd.

Got my tickets and calendar out again, and recounted the days to see how much I would have to change my flight by (assuming I would have to pay over the odds for a new outbound flight).

On recount- I'm off for 89 days. Hope glimmers in my eyes. Recount, and it's still 89 days. I'm not sure why I was so out the first time!


I'd rather not be messing about with US immigration, thank you very much!

*kisses passport profusely*

Now, onto the next very important issue. I could do with a fancy passport cover...maybe Penhaligons do a nice leather one...

Clearly, I have my priorities in order! Oh well, maybe when I grow up I will be more organised. I will even keep my room tidy.

Tuesday, 22 April 2008

Exams and all

Lots of blogs, or rather their lovely authors, are caught up in the joy that is exams, or assessments. (As an aside why do they totally change the lingo for the BVC? Exams become assessments, tutorials are small group sessions or SGSs, ditto lectures...does a rose by any other not involve exactly the same amount of preparation/boredom...?).

Reading these, particularly Swiss Tony and Android (and indeed the devotedly absent for revision, Legal Lass!), has had me thinking about my examination experiences. I say it's had me thinking, but breaking out in cold sweats and tossing and turning through the night would be more apt.

My experiences have, as I imagine is common, been a mixed bag. I am by nature, more of an 'exam' person than an 'essay' person for two reasons. I have issues streamlining all the craziness and confusion in my head onto paper when I have what seems like vast swathes of time ahead of me. In an exam there's only so much time for loopiness to spill out on the 'copie'. Secondly, I'm a bit of a lazy bugger so urgent cramming at the end of the year much more suits my style than working continuously all year.

However, until last year I've always found that I did better when I didn't really care for the subject much. If I found it interesting, I tended to ignore the basics and go for those flighty, pretty, interesting peripheral areas of interest. Case in point, my first year at uni I studied Constitutional and Administrative law. Now, I do heart the Public law. Grand themes, ideas, philosophy, history, and above all you can legitimately be totally cynical about government and power. I remember reading lots of things, that weren't at all on the reading list (I may have lost my reading lists quite early on anyway, organisation never a strong point niver) and trotted it all out joyfully in the exam. And as for my dissertation, I planned to wow my examiner with a thoughtful redaction of a new theory of constitutional law.

Only two problems with this. The stuff I wrote in the exam was obviously completely irrelevant and ignored what the question was actually after. As for the essay...well it seems dear old Kelsen might have gotten there first, and in significantly better style. Apparently a Virgina Woolf stylee stream of consciousness was not what the professors at my uni were looking for.

Fast forward to the third year, (skipping over the general disaster that was my second year where I managed to miss all the exams for medical reasons and had the joy of waiting all summer to sit them in September- not an experience to be recommended).
Now, I had a dissertation on human rights, and a module in International Law. I heart the human rights and the UN, and all things to do with how people should be nice to each other, and high flighty ideas about statehood. Ringing any bells?

I didn't pay much attention to the reading list, and followed my interests, getting quite into the subjects. I may have actually *gasps of shock and awe* enjoyed a few moments of my third year as a result. But don't tell anyone.

So fast forward again to the examination, and in an experience frighteningly similar to the first year, the exam was actually...ok. It verged on enjoyable. My ideas flowed, and I couldn't write fast enough. I had an argument in response to each question, and I thought I was able to use my wider reading to good use.

I leave the exam room, chatting with others (always a bad idea). 15 minutes later I realise several things. First, there are a lot of people in tears. There is talk of complaints to the examiners that subjects covered in the exam were not represented by the syllabus, or indeed any published materials. Which makes it difficult for a poor undergraduate. Secondly, people were talking about things in questions that I had TOTALLY missed, and I had seen completely different issues in the problem question. Thirdly, and most stomach-lurchingly, that was exactly what had happened in my first year exam.

So you can assume I was a little bit worried come results day. My first year enthusiasm and interest in Public law resulted in that being my lowest mark of my degree. Amazingly, and I still think to this day that it was a typo, I did rather well in the international law exam. In fact higher than I had ever done on an exam, or in any assessed essay.

So what do I take from this? A couple of things. First, that it's always a bad idea to do a postmortem of the exam with other people because it only makes you feel bad. Second, that you never know how an exam really went (ditto interviews) unless it's something like you left half way through. Finally, I think I actually might have learned something on my degree if I could write well enough to get my ideas across this time!

What I haven't learned however is how not to break down into a complete panic crazed, sniveling wreck the night before an exam. Or for the entire two months of revision period/exams. The Boy (I often meet in bars) will attest to the many phone calls at all times of day and night that ran along the lines of:

'I can't possibly do the exam I can't I will fail I don't know anything I haven't done any work it's so awful I wish I had worked harder why didn't I work harder Oh My God my whole future lies in the balance and I didn't do any work and now I only have myself to blame because I will go in and I won't know anything and I won't be able to answer anything and it'll be awful and I'll I won't get my degree and then I won't get a job and then I will have to work in a shop for ever and that will make me depressed and I'll get sacked because I hate working in retail and I won't be very good at it because it won't be interesting and then I'll get fat and I'll be unemployed and have no money or self respect because I'm too lazy and I'll have to live at home for ever and my parents will be so upset that I'm a failure and it's my fault I didn't work harder but now it's too late because I can't learn EU in 3 hours and my life is over because waaaaaaa'

That's the abridged version. Clarity of thought was not aided by the mountains of caffeine, lack of sleep, exercise, daylight, and failure to consume anything that wasn't made primarily out of chocolate, cheese, or biscuit. I'm surprised Boy is still around.

Oh dear. I hope everyone else has some better coping strategies!

Saturday, 19 April 2008

The nature of the beast

Have a good weekend!

Friday, 18 April 2008

Working 9-5, not a way to make a living.

Wannabe barristers probably share a few common traits (at least in their own minds). Intelligence, eloquence, liking the sound of their own voice, and a distinct rejection of authority and being told what to do. At least I assume the last one is true, it certainly is for me. I can't wait to be my own boss again!

Have had a week of hell temping in a law firm which was quite nice, and in employment law (which I like) but a couple of real jobsworth types managed to make my week hell!!

Argh. Working for the man is no way to live. I reckon I could write a book on how to manage people, and how best to support and motivate your employees to get the best out of them. It basically involves not treating them like crap, and assuming incompetance, dishonestly, and showing utter lack of faith and trust in them.

I think it's a self fulfilling prophesy - treat people like you don't expect much from them, and you won't get much from them.

Anyway, all that doesn't matter because I will be in NY in less than a month!

And then I will be a girl walking into a (New York) Bar Exam! Can't wait....

Monday, 14 April 2008

So, I have to like...use my brain?!

Little to do at work these days, so have been working on my first FRU opinion when bored.

I realised today: Law is Hard!

I hadn't realised how tricky being a lawyer actually is! It's not like a problem question, like we had at uni, you have to consider the power relationships, and whether you want to keep the employer on side, whether you have evidence to back up the claims and what ultimately your client (hypothetical still, mind) really wants and what's best for them. It's quite a game, balancing it all and trying to work out what the other side will do...

And before you can do any of that, you have to REALLY know what the law is. Can't fudge it as you did in the good 'ole exams (or more aptly, smudge it...which was a tactic used by a friend when he couldn't quite remember a case name so left a squiggle of ink, smudged with his finger in the hopeful the examiner would give him the benefit of the doubt).

And the law really is a complex matter.

Oh dear, it's a bit late for these sort of revelations!

Thursday, 10 April 2008

A little knowledge is a dangerous thing...

A friend from uni, lovely girl, had some landlord problems recently which has resulted in her and her boyfriend being threatened by the landlord and he now wants them out.

They sent an email round seeking advice, and I responded that if they wanted to stay there then they should try and maintain amicable relations, maybe write him a letter explaining the situation (because in person wasn't working). It seems they disregarded this and responded with a letter written as if they were solicitors involved in an aggressive litigation. Which only put his back up even more.

I got two solicitor friends to advise them, and pretty much their advice boiled down to: assess what you want, look at your contract, if you want to stay, keep it amicable and don't go in guns blazing.

They seem to have completely disregarded this advice- from 3 separate people, and it's just not helping the situation.

I guess when you are able to use a tool like legal knowledge, it can be tempting to overuse it at first. However, being litigious isn't in anyone's interests in this kind of problem.

The sad result will probably be that they will continue to be hassled by the Landlord, who is now himself seeking legal advice in response to their (basiaclly amounting to) threats of litigation (he had some threats of his own) and they'll end up needing to find a new flat whilst in the middle of exams.

I feel really bad for them, but I've done my best and they seem to have disregarded my advice, and the advice of 2 professionals who kindly gave up their time to look at the issue.

Signed up for a year of pain

Handed over my deposit cheque at ICSL yesterday. The poor secretary might have needed to pry it out of my hands, but they have it now.

So I'm officially signed up for the BVC next year, woo!

Actually quite looking forward to it too.

Wonder what I'll do along side to suggestions.

Wednesday, 9 April 2008

Gots to pay those (BVC) bills...

So, part of my 5-year plan (that always makes me think of Stalinist Russia, is that just me?) is to do as much as I can before actually attempting to get a pupillage. Load up the old CV, and frankly try and learn more about the world. If I'm going to be locked into a profession for 30,40, 50 years then I want to doss about for a bit longer, thank you.

So on graduation, I didn't follow on the conveyor belt to LPC or BVC along with the other 95% of my year. Firstly, I wanted to get some experience. Second, I wanted to work out what area of law I actually wanted to practice in (seems so different in practice than when studying in your degree). Third, I wanted to get some better references having fallen out with my personal tutor (that's a post for a different day, probably one when I'm feeling bitter).

Also, I wanted to earn some money. Part of my plan for the year involved gallavanting around the world. No Thai beaches for me, but maybe some legal type work in Europe or the US?

So I temped for 5 months, earned enough to pay my overdrafts and credit card and to fund a stint on Death Row in the States. I keep referring to it as that, I of course mean that I was on internship, not that I was incarcerated unfairly. Or that I killed anyone, although have harbored such thoughts for previously mentioned tutor....Moving on!

The internship and few months in the US was AMAZING. It was so nice, and interesting, and really lit a fire under my bum. Figuratively speaking. I am so committed to doing good, social interest work. I always have been, but before you really see what it's all about, it's easy to plump for the security and shoe-buying power of corporate work.

I'm now back, and have to temp for another month to cover my costs for my next 3 month stint in the States (New York this time).

Going from really really interesting work to admin is really soul crushing. Going from working out a way to bring down the Death Penalty, and preparing cross-examination filing and typing. Total culture shock.

Still, it's a means to an end!

PS- I don't really have a 5 year plan. I'm kinda just stumbling along...

Law students, competitive? Surely not!

My first post arose from my awful interview (thanks for the kind comments saying it probably wasn't that bad).

Before I was going in, I was thinking about why I was nervous. Was it because the Bar is an incredibly competitive profession, particularly at the lower end and especially getting into it?

Not really. I've never been too bothered about what anyone else is doing. That probably sounds quite arrogant, but why should I care- if everyone else gets a first in an essay and I barely pass, my only concern is what did I miss? I've never been one for the blood-thirsty fight....can't we all get along?!

In theory, competition should make us better. Like companies, it streamlines processes and makes them more efficient. For me, wanting to get into a profession where everyone has a double first, has scholarships and prizes coming out their ears, and has written the constitution for a small country whilst singlehandedly saving a class of orphans and sailing down the Amazon...(well it feels like that).

So, my philosophy is not to be intimidated by other people's CVs and achievements. Look up to them, yes, learn from them, yes. Let that make me feel bad because I didn't quite realise early on how I had to maximise every contact and opportunity? Life's too short.

Anyway, there's always room at the top!

Now there's fighting talk. I may just have recovered from that interview. Even if it involved talking about sexual offences and unprotected sex to 3 middle aged men for 15 minutes (bearing in mind this is an issue I studied 3 years ago).

And I may have forgotten the meaning of some words in the interview and used them anyway *cringe*.

Right, back to the fighting talk! Bar, here I come!

Monday, 7 April 2008

A girl walks into a Bar...

...and hasn't the foggiest why.

"Why law, why the Bar?"

These were the first questions asked of me by 3 lovely-seemings barristers today, at a scholarship interview for a BVC award.

I respond with a rabbit-in-the-headlights look, and didn't really improve much beyond that throughout the remaining 25 minutes.

Did it go well, you ask? Well, I bought a lot of chocolate on the way home. A lot. Course, on the way home I also thought of all the bright, keen things I should have said to sell myself better. And then I decided to act on Law Minx's suggestion of starting a blog, if nothing else than for cathartic relief after that horrid experience.

So, this is me. Mel. Why do I want to go to the Bar? Lord only knows- apparently the easy life is not for me.