on 11 May 2004
Every young barrister spends their year of pupillage, following older barristers and learning the essentials of how to do the job. Advocacy can't be studied in books - the only way to learn is by experience. Harry Mount's legal memoir of his year as a pupil barrister is hilarious - every unbearable minute of it. As pupil to a succession of snobbish and patronising middle-aged barristers, he learns the many riduculous conventions of the bar like not shaking hands with other barristers, not talking during tea and wearing turned-up trousers and cuff-links in every shirt.
It's not serious of course - very little to do with the law at all in fact. But Mount is not trying to offer a genuine critique. He's in the entertainment business. This is a risible read and at times, really funny. Many lawyers dislike it because it presents a bad image of the bar and all its pompous history and etiquette. They fail to see the humour. Mount is not saying that all barristers are patronising, self centred, rude, arrogant and intolerant. He's just saying that most of them are!
As a profession that has yet to drag itself into the 20th century let alone the 21st century, there is much to be learned for all lawyers from this very entertaining volume. Its essential humour lies in its proximity to the truth, not its distance from it. My Brief Career is a great way to spend a few hours laughing out loud.
on 20 May 2004
Delightful, disgraceful, delicious and a really good laugh. This is a seriously witty book that had me giggling on page after page. Funnier than Mortimer, more stylish than Denning - best book about the silly side of the law for a long time. Has great appeal!
on 21 April 2004
I thoroughly enjoyed this funny story of a year in the life a pupilbarrister. It made me laugh out loud, not least because the odiouscharacters in it are so true to life. Having worked with lots ofbarristers over many years, I am delighted to read an honest and veryamusing account of how pompous and smug they can be in day to day dealingswith other people. Harry confirms that even the late George Carman turnedout to be a real loser outside the courtroom.
Most solicitors will tell you in private that the majority of barristersare insufferably arrogant, regarding themselves as superior to everyoneelse. With wit, sarcasm and irony, this short, but compelling memoirdelivers the truth in spades. Well done Harry Mount. If anything wereneeded to encourage long overdue reform of the British legal system, thenthis entertaining and revealing little book will certainly add somesparkle to the debate.
on 12 April 2004
Although I don't doubt that this is a book based on (and I mean, 'based on': don't miss the disclaimer at the beginning) some real experiences, and although it is acceptably well-written, this is a flawed book which paints a deeply misleading portrait of the Bar today. Mount's problem is that because his research is so poor, probably even he doesn't realise that.
The book describes Mount's pupillage year, the last stage of training before a barrister can enter practice on his or her own account. And obviously - because otherwise it wouldn't have made a book worth writing - he has a terrible time, and 'discovers' that barristers are still the stuffy, anti-social creatures he imagined them to be, living in a world that has not changed since Dickens was writing about it. By the end of the year he doesn't even want the job he's applying for, doesn't get offered it anyway, and then finds happiness as a journalist.
Which is all fine, so far as it goes. It's true that many pupil barristers don't, in the end, get the opportunity to work at the Bar. It's also true that by the end of their pupillage year quite a few of them don't actually want that opportunity anyway. But what Mount's book fails to explain - quite possibly because he doesn't know - is that every pupillage is different, just as every set of barristers' chambers is different. Mount makes it clear that he idolised the late George Carman, probably the best-known barrister of his generation thanks to a series of high-profile appearances in libel cases. It appears to be this which led Mount into a Chancery pupillage, because his chambers "specialised in libel" (although he later says that it "specialised in commercial and land disputes" and only 'dabbled' in media and libel law, and since he doesn't have the balls to name the set it's a bit difficult to confirm which is right).
In some sets of Chancery chambers, age-old practices such as the Chambers Tea (at which pupils are, Mount reports, not allowed to speak) do persist. He frequently tells us that he can summon no enthusiasm for the dry, somewhat complex legal problems he's dealing with, and the difficulties he experiences in solving them show that he doesn't actually possess the talent to practice that sort of law. But it could all have been so different. Pupil barristers in chambers which specialise in criminal law spend a lot more time out at court both on their own and with other barristers. They deal with real people and not dry legal issues. Their pupil-masters are likely to be about half the age of Mount's, and overall I should be surprised if they identified even one of the anecdotes in this book with their own experience.
What's most odd is that Mount clearly has some interest in criminal law, because in a sequence of 8 or so pages in the middle of the book he gives us a resume of Interesting Criminal Cases I Have Heard Of. This gives him the opportunity to get the word 'fellatio' into a book where it otherwise wouldn't appear, but has nothing whatever to do with his experiences as a pupil and is essentially just padding out an effort which only takes a couple of hours to read anyway. The irony of it (sadly unintentional) is that it demonstrates his mistake in going to the chambers he did. Carman himself started as a criminal barrister, and Mount might have been better advised to follow him, but he clearly hadn't bothered to research his pupillage before embarking on it.
This suspicion about sloppy research is confirmed by a throwaway remark Mount makes halfway through, when he describes a well-known American judge from the middle part of the last century, Judge Learned Hand, as a Native American. This is, to be fair, a reasonably common misconception, but equally it takes about five minutes on the Internet to discover that it's not correct. That Mount couldn't be bothered to do that research tells us a good deal about why he wasn't cut out for a Chancery career, and - if we're being cynical - about why he found journalism a much better fit.
In the end both the story he tells and the way he tells it demonstrate that Mount wasn't actually good enough to get the job he spent a year applying for, even if he'd wanted it. He ought to have realised that in advance, but instead he's chosen to blame the system and to whinge about how boring and unfair it all is. Most gallingly, he is either naïve or arrogant enough to assume that he can generalise about an entire profession having apparently met about twenty of its members. Read this book if you must, but realise that it tells you much more about the author's failings than those of the Bar.
on 1 July 2005
I enjoyed reading My Brief Career even though it only took me only 3 hours! One point to note with this book is that the letters are large and pages are well indexed so it is a short read.
It is, at times, very funny (almost laugh out loud funny) and offers an interesting insight into pupilage. I am not sure however if it accurately reflects what most people experience during their time at the Bar. Furthermore, throughout the book I got the feeling that many of the criticisms Harry Mount was making were essentially premised on the fact that he chose a profession that didn't fit his personality - hence he found pupilage rather dull. He is clearly much better suited to being a journalist.
That said, I have given this book 4 stars. It is very readable. It is light reading - great for a plane flight or holiday. I don't think it would put me off the Bar but it certainly gives an interesting insight into what it could me like.
on 31 March 2004
This is quite a funny book. But it's not as hilarious as its billing would suggest. Mount's terrible year as a pupil barrister reveals many things - most of them centred on how awful English barristers are up close. Our hero is clearly much too nice for this crowd. But what puzzled me is why Mount would want to join such a smug, pompous, self-important bunch of people as he portrays them. It is not a question to which we get a proper answer, except that he clearly idolised the late great George Carman QC.
In this (very slim) volume, we have some funny anecdotes, some sad tales and some self-pitying whingeing. It's certainly an easy read though - maybe a couple of hours from cover to cover. And that's the real problem with it: Mount's brief career receives only very brief treatment - maybe 1/3 the length of the average book. Sorry if I seem greedy, but I wanted more for my money. Made me smile though. Just a bit more next time please, Mr Mount!