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Customer Review

68 of 106 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Caveat emptor, 12 April 2004
By A Customer
This review is from: My Brief Career: The Trials of a Young Lawyer (Hardcover)
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 naÔve 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.
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