Alex Aldridge meets the next generation of literary lawyers and asks what it takes to get published
With their weakness for long-winded sentences, concern with preserving reputation and grinding 24/7 workloads, lawyers aren’t the sort of people you’d immediately associate with creative writing. But the link between law and literature has always been strong. And where Charles Dickens, Henry Cecil Leon and John Mortimer once walked, now come the next generation of lawyer-novelists.
One Temple Gardens barrister Tim Kevan – AKA Times Online legal blogger BabyBarista – is the lawyer-turned-writer of the moment. The commercial disputes and personal injury specialist’s first novel, BabyBarista and the Art of War, will be published by Bloomsbury in July.
Having begun BabyBarista as an independent blog three years ago, Kevan was contacted by The Times with an offer to host the blog on its website about six months after he started writing. A book deal followed soon after. “What has happened is beyond my wildest dreams,” says Kevan, who did most of the writing while “sitting on trains to various courts”. He adds that he has no problem adapting his style to make it accessible to non-lawyers: “Barristers are, by nature, storytellers. And the human interest side of life at the Bar makes great material for books.”
More tricky was keeping his identity quiet as speculation as to the identity of BabyBarista raged around the Inns of Court (the blog was written anonymously until Kevan outed himself earlier this year). “I was keen to keep my name under wraps in the beginning, as I enjoyed the anonymity of the writing, though given that it was genuinely fictional and that I was writing in the voice of a pupil barrister, I didn’t arouse too much suspicion.”
Based in Devon, where he is taking a few years off to surf, write and run an online seminars business, Kevan is set to return to practise law in the near future (he still holds a door tenancy at 1 Temple Gardens), having found that he misses the camaraderie of life at the Bar. He has no plans to give up the writing though, with a BabyBarista sequel based on his continuing Times Online blog already underway.
Another lawyer drawing inspiration from the legal profession to fulfil his creative urges is Andrew Iyer. By day, Iyer (pictured) heads up Ince & Co’s energy litigation team. By night, he pens John Grisham-style thrillers. He’s currently working on his third book, The Discovery, having already crafted two thrillers, Domino Run and The Betrayed. All the books feature lawyers in lead roles – the first starring a City solicitor, the second a partner in a provincial law firm and the third an in-house lawyer.
Iyer got into creative writing in his teens, contributing short stories to his school magazine, before going on to write plays at university. Alongside his two novels, he has also penned a professionally-performed play about football called The Big Game and an off-Broadway musical revue, Living in America.
Where does he find the time? “Mainly after work and when I’m travelling on business – which is something I do fairly regularly as an energy lawyer,” responds Iyer. “It takes discipline, but once I get going it actually helps me to relax.” He adds that the case management skills he has honed through his years as a litigator have helped him when “developing the mechanics of a novel”.
Although Iyer is passionate about writing, he is realistic about its downsides – “the solitude, the obsessive element of honing a particular plot, the financial uncertainty” – and has no plans to leave his day job. His advice to aspiring authors has a correspondingly down-to-earth theme: “If your sole intention is to get published, then you’ll probably be disappointed. Focus on writing the novel for the sake of it, because you enjoy it. If you do that, you’ll probably end up with a better draft.”
Unlike Kevan and Iyer, barrister and children’s author Frank Hinks QC mostly steers clear of the law when in writer mode. “There are a couple of times when I’ve drawn inspiration from the law – in the Magic Magpie, I based a character on a notorious Chancery division judge – but generally I get my ideas elsewhere,” says the Serle Court Chambers silk. As for the style of writing, Hinks describes it as “the antithesis of anything I ever drafted at the Chancery Bar – chalk and cheese”. A flick through his latest book, The Kingdom of the Deep – a story about some boys magicked to an underwater kingdom by a witch (fortunately, they’re rescued by a cat) – confirms this.
Hinks wrote his first full-length children’s adventure when he was 16, but it wasn’t until he had children himself – providing a captive audience on which to perfect his storytelling skills – that he started thinking about writing seriously. The recession of the early 1990s provided him with a perfect window of opportunity: “Suddenly all the property work just disappeared and I found myself sitting in my room at Lincoln’s Inn with just enough work for three days a week, at which point I thought: ‘Right, this is the time to write up the stories I’ve been telling the kids.’”
But Hinks’ decision to diversify his practice to include authoring children’s books (for which he also does the illustrations) didn’t meet everyone’s approval: “At first when my senior clerk came into my room while I was working on an illustration, he’d look at me as if I was snorting cocaine,” he recalls. Happily, the doubters have since come around, with Hinks now ‘out’ as an author/illustrator: “For much of my life my intellectual side was fulfilled, but my creative side wasn’t. At the moment, though, I’m satisfying both.”
The strictly adult writing of ex-Allen & Overy (A&O) senior associate Deidre Clark is a long way from The Kingdom of the Deep. Having spent two decades doing 70-hour weeks as a corporate lawyer with Simpson Thacher in New York and then A&O in London, Clark suddenly found herself with free time on her hands after a move to A&O’s less hectic Moscow office. She decided to put it to use by embarking on a sexually-charged novel about expat life – written under the pseudonym Deidre Dare. After several months of posting chapters on her website, the A&O management in London got wind of what Clark was doing and dismissed her, leading to a flurry of media attention and an unfair dismissal lawsuit.
“The whole thing was awful – the worst time of my life,” she recalls. “There was this gigantic scandal, my family were very upset, and from January to March it was very bad. But then, as human beings do, I adjusted to the situation.”
The bright side of all of this was that she attracted an editor and agent for her book and got a weekly column with a Russian English-language newspaper, The Moscow News. The $200 per week that she earns from the column is not quite A&O rates, but it’s just about enough to keep her ticking over while she waits for her book to be published and fights the unfair dismissal case. “I have enough money for a year or so, but I’m still facing a crisis – my hope is that my book will support me,” adds Clark.
How to get published
•Court publicity. Getting into a bust-up with her employer over erotic writing published on a website featuring semi-naked photos of herself worked for Deidre Dare, but it cost her a top-paying job.
•Self-publish. Frank Hinks QC published his first batch of short stories under the name ‘Perronet Press’ – a publishing house he set up himself. After the initial success of those books, Hinks decided to continue self-publishing. His most recent book, The Kingdom of the Deep, was reviewed in both The Guardian and The Telegraph.
•Persevere. “You’ve got to be thick-skinned,” says Andrew Iyer, a partner at Ince & Co and author of two legal thrillers. “I never actually managed to get an agent, but I kept sending out my manuscript and eventually secured a publishing deal directly.”
•Blog. The blogosphere may contain a lot of rubbish, but that means when something good comes along it tends to get noticed, as BabyBarista author Tim Kevan discovered when The Times and two publishing houses came calling after stumbling upon his fictional blog about life at the junior Bar.
here to see the original.
"Barrister-turned-writer Kevan seems to have secured more plaudits than a Nobel prize winner with his first novel, a romp through London’s Inns of Court. Baby Barista is fast, furious and effervescent, a Bucks Fizz-meets-Machiavelli of a book. Fans might care to slip a book token amid its pages – Kevan is penning a sequel."
Surely legal professionals are as safe a group of road users as you are likely to find? Well not according to a study from ‘across the pond’. In the
An insurance company in the
Average accident rates per 1,000 people in each group were calculated in the study and the results were quite shocking. For every 1,000 doctors and lawyers, there were 109 and 106 road accidents each year respectively. The figures for speeding tickets for these groups were also above average, with 4.4% of doctors and 3.7% of lawyers being caught driving at excessive speeds each year on US roads. In comparison, firefighters and pilots were amongst the safest professions, with respective rates of 67 and 75 accidents per 1,000 people per year.
The company which released the research has suggested that the longer hours worked by lawyers and doctors means that when it comes to driving to or from home, it is likely to be dark, and they are likely to be more tired than professionals in other industries. Whilst there are obviously differences in both the cars driven and the rules of the road, it would be interesting to see if members of the UK legal profession dealing with compensation claims have a similarly poor record when it comes to safe driving.
Author: Neil Worrall
From blog to book deal
October 26, 2009 by Writers, Artists and Insiders
Back in 2007 I had been practising as a barrister for some nine years when I started writing a blog about a fictional young trainee barrister who I called BabyBarista, a play on words based on his first impression being that his coffee-making skills were probably as important to that year as any forensic legal abilities he may have.
One of the most satisfying things I found about blogging was the immediacy of the publishing process. You think it up, type it out on your keyboard and then publish. It also allows the writer in many ways to busk or play around with ideas and see how they work.
It’s a strange thing to say but I discovered that this bold, irreverent and mischievous voice along with a collection of colourful characters had simply jumped into my head and the words started pouring on to the page. I was hopeful it might raise a few smiles, but in my wildest dreams I hadn’t imagined quite the extraordinary set of circumstances which then unfolded.
First it received a glowing comment in a legal magazine and off the back of that I emailed a few publishers and started getting interest as well as taking on a literary agent who had approached me direct. In the meantime, The Times kindly offered to host the blog and finally, I was offered a book deal with Bloomsbury – all within the space of less than three months.
Since that hectic start, it’s been a long haul. I took a break from practising as a barrister and moved to North Devon, where not only have I been able to go surfing a little more frequently but I also finished the book. It finally came out in August and does seem to have been well received with broadcaster Jeremy Vine describing it as “a wonderful, racing read – well drawn, smartly plotted and laugh-out-loud”.
The book is called BabyBarista and the Art of War and centres around BabyB’s first year in chambers where he is fighting his fellow pupils for the coveted prize of a permanent tenancy. It’s a fictional caricature of life at the Bar and includes characters that probably exist in most workplaces. Alongside the pupillage race is an altogether different battle with BabyB’s corrupt pupilmaster whose dishonest fiddling of chambers’ records all starts to unravel and threatens to embroil BabyB’s entire career.
With the first book finished, I’m now working on book two in the series and very much enjoying life down here by the sea.
What can (and can’t) a blog do for a writer? “Blogging is definitely one tool which might help some writers. The need to keep it up-to-date can provide discipline and the diary format gives an immediate structure, particularly for first person narratives.” Read more in our full interview with Tim Kevan.
Tim Kevan is a barrister and writer and the author of ‘BabyBarista and The Art of War’ published by Bloomsbury.
From Blogger to Bloomsbury: BabyBarista and The Art of War
Many of you will be familiar with Tim Kevan as the barrister behind PI Brief Update, PI Journal and Law Brief Update.
You may also be aware of his involvement alongside Daniel Barnett in the innovative CPD Webinars, which offers you the full benefit of CPD instruction for your whole office, without the hassle of having to travel anywhere.
You may be less familiar with the fact that he co-authored Why Lawyers Should Surf with Dr Michelle Tempest before Bloomsbury published his first fiction novel ‘BabyBarista and the Art of War’.
‘BabyBarista and the Art of War’ is a comedy revolving around one pupil barrister’s attempts to secure the only tenancy place available in a character rich set of chambers. The ‘Art of War’ in the title refers to Sun Tzu’s influential book on military strategy which BabyB’s pupil master presents him with on his first day:
“Litigation is like war, Baby Barista. Read this and learn.’
Instead of deploying Sun Tzu’s strategies to assist him in court, Baby B focuses on how he can secure the coveted tenancy spot at the expense of his three fellow pupils. Financial pressures at home serve as justification for his actions.
I generally try to keep away from legal fiction, but I must say that I really enjoyed BabyBarista, particularly through its link with the ‘Art of War’. The book was also made more enjoyable for me as a result of my assumptions that there must be a few individuals at the English bar squirming at lightly veiled descriptions of their worst characteristics.
‘Everyone will be able to identify him as being ‘X’ and her as being ‘Y’, I thought.
But when I asked Tim about this he clearly pointed out that this was not the case - even after I had asked him the same question, in a different way, approximately fifteen times.
“Not in the slightest – the book is fiction – full stop.”
“But how, then, did you come up with such rich characters if they are absolutely 100% fiction?”
Tim then explained;
“For me they were almost like real characters in my mind. I wanted to write a legal thriller, but what came out, initially as a blog, was this comedy. The characters just came into my brain and I tuned, almost like a radio, into their frequency.”
“The blog, http://babybarista.blogspot.com/, was picked up by the Times Online and then, following a review by the Lawyer magazine, I emailed a whole load of publishers. Bloomsbury got back to me after that and I also managed to get a literary agent around the same time.”
“ The support of the Bloomsbury editors and my literary agent was invaluable in terms of helping me with the structure and character development. (i.e. BabyB’s private life, aspect of his mother’s life, physical details, romance etc). They helped me to introduce different angles to the story, making it a more rounded, fuller novel as opposed to the blog, which was more like a race to the finishing line.”
Writing is probably seen as being a solitary existence in which one labours away on an idea for months unsure as to whether it will ever see the light of day but Tim’s experience shows that this has perhaps changed.
Using a free tool like Blogger, Tim could immediately access a publishing platform for his creativity and thereby permit the characters to grow and develop within an environment where he could measure take up, reaction and returning visitors. Suddenly there was an audience, returning for the next instalment. Think of a legal Belle Du Jour, without the sex, but with wigs.
As Tim says;
“Writing a blog is definitely a very useful tool in that it facilitates the process of writing in a first person narrative and it is also a very good way of presenting your work”
In terms of spreading word of his blog Tim did use his own newsletters but he also says that getting involved in the legal blogging community helped in that he promoted the blogs of others and they, in turn, promoted his. The legal editor of the Times Online became a member of his audience and this editor’s suggestion that the Times Online should host his blog drastically increased Baby Barista’s reach.
For Tim the path has ultimately lead him from online to offline, from free to paid for and in Tim’s explanation of the effort Bloomsbury and his literary agent put into helping him turn a blog into a novel one feels that £11.99 (or £8.36 on Amazon) is a price worth paying for a well crafted, highly enjoyable chambers based comedy.
Life at the Bar – BabyBarista and The Art of War by Tim Kevan
written by Shirah Zirambamuzale on Dec.03, 2009
BabyBarista and The Art of War by Tim Kevan
(Bloomsbury 2009. ISBN 9780747594642)
I agree with many that this book may be a true portrayal of life at the Bar, but I would also argue that this is true of many successful professions and success in general. Based on a Times Online blog by the same author, the book traces the life of a law student who acquires pupillage at a prestigious set of chambers in London. An Oxford law graduate with a first, the student is in stiff competition with other baby barristers with top-class degrees from Cambridge and Harvard. And, as if this was not enough, BabyBarista has to contend with his mounting debts and those of his mother, a working-class single woman who has borrowed heavily to pay for her son’s legal education. This background sets the plot where BabyBarista is left with no option but to outwit his fellow competitors by all means necessary. Through a combination of dubious tricks and the aid of his manual, Sun Tzu’s The Art of War, BabyBarista concocts a series of measures which see him facing moral dilemmas, fighting to pay off his mother’s heavy debts and competing for the only tenancy available at Chambers. Beneath all the drama, tragedy and comedy found on every page of the book, the author also provides a satirical yet vivid account of life at the Bar. The book portrays most barristers as being arrogant, pretentious, corrupt and unrealistically aloof. Solicitors too are not spared as some are painted as being money hungry ambulance-chasers while others are ‘ClichéClangers’ and ‘skilled in the creative art of billing’. It isn’t all ghastly portrayals, however, as the book also has several examples of barristers who have coped with the pressures of the legal profession and gone about their business with integrity. One thing that I sympathise with is the debt one incurs during the endeavour to become a barrister, but the appalling thing is that the financial difficulty does not end with one succeeding at the Bar but evolves into one continuing a lifestyle they cannot afford just to fit in with the other tenants at Chambers. Finally, I was very impressed with the author and his style of writing, as it was imaginative and very captivating, and contrary to the preconceived notion that life at the Bar is tedious and not half as exciting as we soon discover in the book. Overall, this book reflects well on life at the Bar. Another issue that the book competently addresses is the notion of the ‘class ceiling’ and the bias of established chambers towards the Oxbridge class. This book, however, suggests that this traditional bias may be nearing its end. The author perfectly highlighted this when he captured a moment when an ageing barrister bemoaned the changing face of the Bar, complaining about the fact ‘… that over half of our next-door chambers’s [sic] tenants are now non-Oxbridge’. One can be optimistic from this alone. This, as the author puts it, is ‘the wonderful modern Bar’.
Back in early 2007 I had been practising as a barrister at 1 Temple Gardens for some nine years and was enjoying the life of a common law practitioner based in London. One of the wonderful advantages of being a barrister is the independence that being self-employed brings with it and the ability to be able to do other things as well as practising if so desired. So it was with me that I started doing some writing about a fictional young barrister doing pupillage who I called BabyBarista, a play on words based on his first impression being that his coffee-making skills were probably as important to that year as any forensic legal abilities he may have. It’s a strange thing to say but I discovered that this bold, irreverent and mischievous voice along with a collection of colourful characters had simply jumped into my head and the words started pouring onto the page. I wrote it as a blog and was hopeful it might raise a few smiles but in my wildest dreams I hadn’t imagined quite the extraordinary set of circumstances which then unfolded. First The Lawyer Magazine commented “If this is a fictional account it is genius”. I then emailed a few publishers and started getting interest as well as taking on a literary agent who had approached me direct. In the meantime, I was contacted by Alex Spence of The Times and he very kindly offered to host the blog and finally, I was offfered a book deal with Bloomsbury Publishing of Harry Potter fame - all within the space of less than three months.
What are lawyers really like?
Now, if this doesn’t provoke a whole heap of comments, no doubt mainly derogatory, nothing will. This being the silly season it seems like an ideal time to ask the question. And I’m not going to tell you the answer. Instead I suggest you read Tim Kevan’s new book “Baby Barista and the Art of War”, just published by Bloomsbury and which is based on his blog in The Times. Tim is also a barrister, albeit he is currently taking a break from practising in favour of surfing in Devon and walking his dog.
It’s a thoroughly amusing read and should be required reading for anyone contemplating a career at the Bar (or as a solicitor, we don’t come out too well either). It’s the story of a “Pupil” (newly-qualified) barrister training in Chambers trying to outwit and outmanoeuvre the three other pupils in the hunt for the holy grail at the Bar; a tenancy in Chambers. The characters are all vividly drawn and credible; the situations the characters find themselves in all give a real flavour of litigation from the side of the practitioner. There’s plenty to amuse both lawyers and non-lawyers alike.
It’s not just a comedy though. He also touches on big issues such as the independence of the Bar which will become much more of a live issue now that solicitors and barristers can go into partnership together since the introduction of Legal Disciplinary Partnerships last April. For instance,
“For all their supposed independence, most barristers seem to live in a state of complete paranoia and spend so much time kowtowing to solicitors that their independence is worth even less than their pride”
You’ll also read the best explanation of why you shouldn’t sign up for a no win no fee agreement to fund your case, but instead get legal expense insurance in advance so that the lawyers don’t start worrying about how they are going to get paid. No win no fee agreements do create a conflict of interest between lawyer and client and the question of how they (we) get paid becomes “a big fat ugly screaming beast jumping up and down on their head”. Too true.
It’s a good holiday read – list price is £11.99, but considerably cheaper from Amazon.
Blogger Tim Kevan's diary of a trainee barrister desperate to win a job is fascinating, subversive and pretty much impossible to put down.
The Northern Echo 29/8/09
POSSIBLY the funniest blog-turned-book to hit the shelves this year, Tim Bevan’s diary of a trainee barrister desperate to win a job is fascinating, subversive and pretty much impossible to put down.
Babybarista and the Art of War - A new fitting new young barrister to join the set of Rumploe and others
Its rare I ever feel compelled to review a book much less on this site but this is an exception. Babybarista was initially a blog published by the Times newspaper. The identity of the author was kept confidential and the blog was widely read. I came to it late. The authors identity was recently revealed and he is a widely and well respected Barrister in his own right.
The book is a “rollicking read” and it to my mind exceeds the hype on the cover. Personally I thought the story a promising hybrid between the great works of John Mortimer (Rumpole) infused with a feel of James Herriot. When finished I wanted to read the next instalment and I hope one arrives darn soon!
The plot is as one would expect from a Barrister tight and precise. The characters are sharply and quickly defined and that’s good because it leaves the story to concentrate on the central theme which is the unnatural selection fight between the central character “babybarista” and the three other young hopefuls. In the story we see how the dog eat dog world of the advocate is played out and how on occasion the skills that will keep this barrister afloat in the career ahead start to take shape in a world of hidden alliances and submerged risks. Somehow even though some of the things babybarista does are darn sneaky you still kind of think that he’d have survived anyway……
By the first chapter I was hooked and a few chapters in chuckling out loud expecially where some of the exchanges between the senior barristers and the Judges took place. I always wondered what happened to those whom in a sort of Harry Potter manner had the “sorting hat” of life select them for a life at the bar. I do hope this is not how it really is but yet how some of the barristers treat the Solicitors in the book makes me wonder if its not a bit more honest than it pretends. Tell you what …you buy a copy and let me know. Its a veritable bargin and worth every penny. I hope the author reads this and whats more some television producer does too because I could see this as a TV program I really could.
The link to amazon is below:
BabyBarista serves up a cool, dark brew-haha
By David Giacalone
[Review of Tim Kevan, BabyBarista and the Art of War (Bloomsbury Publishing PLC, published August 3; about $25 including shipping from the UK to the USA; also at Amazon.com U.S.)]
Because I’ve retired from weblog punditry, Walter has generously let me borrow the Overlawyered pulpit to tell you about Tim Kevan’s first novelBaby Barista and the Art of War, which is based on Kevan’s Times Online weblog BabyBarista. If, as I expect, you like your summer reading laced with a generous — and consistently humorous — serving of confessional lawyer bashing, I think you’ll want to end or extend the season with this enjoyable new novel.
A chorus of rave reviews, many of them gushing out of Tim’s chummy-old-chap network of British blawgers the past two months (see, e.g., Charon QC,John Bolch, GeekLawyer, and Jacquig, plus one more sober Yank, Colin Samuels), have already well described the book and its portrait of a greedy, self-serving, mendacious Bar. So I will not go into great detail about the plot or the characters. As always, I have two basic questions when reviewing a book: 1) Was my time spent reading it a good investment? and 2) Who (if anyone) is likely to benefit from (or enjoy) reading it? For this novel, I’ll add a third question: Is there a way for folks here in the former colonies to overcome our cultural differences and get more out of BBAW?
As you can guess by now, I think my time was well-used reading BBAW. I was expecting a fun story that confirmed my belief that many avaricious lawyers tend to charge too much and serve their own interests before their clients’ needs or the demands of justice, and I got it. The well-paced and planned plot has the protagonist, the newly degreed “BabyBarista,” spending an apprenticeship year in “pupillage” to a group of barristers — trying to beat out three (and eventually four) other young lawyers for a “tenancy” position in the barristers’ chambers.
Prior reviewers have correctly noted that BabyB is far from an admirable character. As the title of the book suggests, he quickly decides that pupillage is like war, and models his behavior after the ancient Chinese military strategist Sun Tzu (plus tactics from the movie Wall Street, with a dash of the mischief and romance of Ferris Bueller). Despite occasional qualms of conscience, BabyB “plots, lies, and manipulates his way through the twelve months of pupillage” (Charon QC). Despite all his dirty tricks and the feeling that he just might become like the experienced barristers he holds in such low esteem, it is hard not to like and root for Tim Kevan’s BabyB.
Although the characters (except for BabyB’s best friend Claire) are all given merely descriptive names — i.e., OldRuin, TheBoss, TopFirst, BusyBody, Worrier, The Vamp, UpTights, OldSmoothie, etc. — Kevan gives the major figures enough depth to allow us to sympathize with some, loathe others (while also seeing their humanity), and recognize many of them from our own lives. Running feuds between several of the characters come alive through witty dialogue that often also advances the plot.
My own alter ego ethicalEsq was bemused but not surprised by UK lawyers acting very much like the worst segments of the American bar: taking huge fees for little work, entering settlements at their clients’ expense (to assure a fee, or to get to a golf course or an early lunch), exploiting underlings, disrespecting a “litigant in person” (pro se) party, making it dangerous to raise sexual harassment charges, etc. It was heartening to hear BabyB warn clients about the risks of no-win-no-fee (contingency) arrangements, and enlightening to see how personal injury claims are fabricated. For the entire 266 pages, the Bar’s foibles and vices are laid bare, but with a light (if exaggerated) touch rather than a heavy hand.
Charon QC got it right and says it better than I could:
[Tim Kevan] paints a wonderfully surreal picture of the Bar, stretching belief but at the same time leaving the reader wondering where the inspiration came from. . . .
I liked the way Tim used his experience of practice to parody different scenarios, different styles of work and personality, and some of the changes the legal profession is going through. His section on claim farms and their handling of accident claims is just wonderful. We have a judge who plays online bridge during hearings, an Insurance company which settles cases with a barrister by playing Battleships – the old game from childhood – and we have general mayhem and riot. . . .BabyBarista is a Hogarthian romp, a parody, a satire with edge and I have no hesitation in finding for Tim Kevan and recommending it to you.
I agree with Colin Samuels at Blawg Review that the ending was “a bit too abrupt and convenient” — which is to say, I would happily have continued reading a longer, more-developed version. Colin is also correct to point out that the book becomes easier for some within the Bar to dismiss because of its “exclusive focus on the misfeasance, malfeasance, and nonfeasance within BabyBarista’s chambers without even passing looks at others.” Nonetheless, without detracting from the worrisome truth behind the satire, I think the author spends enough time on the good qualities of OldRuin and Claire to reassure the reader that not all lawyers are scoundrels, and that BabyB may redeem himself eventually. The focus on the dark side of the profession gives BBAW its bite and its comedic punch.
So, who should read this book? Any lawyer with a sense of humor and a desire to face the demons of our profession; and anyone thinking about entering the profession but worried about losing their soul in the race for money and status. Also, tort reformers and other policy wonks looking for reasons to trim the sails of the legal profession, but who don’t mind momentarily lightening up on the topic. And (despite a plethora of inside-the-profession jokes and references), Jack Cade, Dick the Butcher and the rest of the general public, who so often want to “kill all the lawyers.”
On the other hand, folks like former D.C. Bar President John C. Keeney Jr. — who blames pop culture for the profession’s bad reputation and who asked that fellow lawyers “all join me in refusing to laugh at lawyer jokes” (Washington Lawyer, November 2004) — should probably stay away. Ditto the “prudes, puritans, and professional sour-pusses” in the Bar who are easily offended by any suggestion that lawyers can be sexy or engage in sexual relations, or who don’t understand the use of irony and satire in the war against sexism.
Despite all of the above praise, I want to recommend a little more work for my weblog friend Tim Kevan. I think he could and should use his BabyBarista website, or Barrister Blog, to present an appendix to BBAW for Non-Brits. A lack of knowledge of the workings of the UK legal system detracted a bit from my understanding and enjoyment of the novel, and may also affect many other lawyers and non-lawyers outside of the UK. We need a brief description of the roles of barristers and solicitors, and how they interact, along with more details about the organization within chambers, and the legal education process.
We also need a UK to USA glossary (or a full-blown primer on UK-English as a Second Language) to explain all of the words, idioms and cultural references in BBAW that are quite foreign to Americans (especially Baby Boomers and our elders). Tim wrote last month about the problems of translating the book into Chinese. Much is lost in translation for those of us brought up on American English and culture, too.
Blame it on my lawyer personality, but I was compelled to look up an awful lot of words and phrases, for example:
twigged – to understand, usually after some initial difficulty
bovvered – from “bovver,” troublemaking or rowdiness by street gang youths (from the Cockney pronunciation of “bother”)
“quite likely” – a phrase used to annoy others when they ask you a question
Brummie – a resident of Birmingham, England
“not a patch on you” – not be nearly as good as somebody or something
. . . and many more words, phrases, geographic and social/class references, and other allusions (e.g., Robin Reliant) in BBAW. Reading the book was enjoyable and worthwhile, despite my ignorance of UK lore and life, but it might have been sublime if I didn’t have to scratch my head and head to Google so often.
Finally, in case you’re worried about the emotional and mental health of the legal profession after reading BBAW, you should know that Tim Kevan has written (with psychiatrist Michelle Tempest) an antidote to what ails the Bar and his BabyB. It’s called Why Lawyers Should Surf, and it uses the metaphor of surfing and the ocean flow to help lawyers find the tools to fight the profession’s high-dominance personality traits, and the “skepticism skills” that can make successful lawyers, but can bring great stress and distress to our personal lives. As the summer ends, or Labor Day ushers in more responsibilities and deadlines, let Tim wind you up with BabyBarista and the Art of War, and then soothe your psyche with lessons from ocean surfing.
Disclaimer. It was not until I finished reading the book and glanced at the Acknowledgements page that I discovered my name among well over a hundred people Tim thanks for their “invaluable help in making BabyBarista.” My name must be there because of the cheerleading I did as a fellow blawger for his Barrister Blog and my envious reporting of Tim’s coup landing the BabyBarista weblog at the TimesOnline. I had no hand in the novel’s content or structure.
P.S. If you’re interested in a witty first novel by another lawyer, with fully-developed characterization of the lawyer-protagonist, plus more actual lawyering, and an excellent explanation of the psychology and strategy that goes into making a personal injury negligence case and bringing it to trial, see “An Almost Life” by Kevin Mednick (The Permanent Press, December 2007;reviewed at f/k/a).]
David Giacalone formerly blogged at EthicalEsq. and f/k/a.
Hard cases and harsh verdicts out of court
Reviewed by Robert Verkaik
The Bar is home to one of the country's oldest institutions: an anachronism of a profession that stubbornly clings to its quill-and-pen rituals in a modern world shaped by internet developments. Its four fusty Inns of Court and the barristers who inhabit them are ripe for satire. Tim Kevan's blog, BabyBarista, is the most recent attempt to exploit the Bar's peculiar practices for comic effect. Viewed from the perspective of a trainee barrister, his fictional reports from the coal-face of the courts paint a picture of a profession peopled by pompous egomaniacs who have long lost touch with the real world.
For those who have followed the adventures of BabyB, the richness of detail in Kevan's observations gives the distinct impression that what he is writing about is much closer to the truth than the wide terms of his blog's legal disclaimer would have us believe. Kevan spent 10 years practising as a barrister in London and much of his blogging is informed by what he saw.
Legal reformers have long argued that the Bar is a closed world where professional advancement is still based on private education, nepotism and unholy alliances between judges, barristers and the litigation- funding solicitors. But what we discover in Kevan's book of his blog is far worse.
Bigotry, sexism and greed characterise the relationships between the men and women lawyers in charge of London's powerful and wealthy chambers, while justice is a courtroom shibboleth that justifies the business of making money out of law. Kevan ridicules almost all of it, including the system which rewards barristers for adjourning trials and the cab-rank rule which is suppose to stop lawyers from refusing to take briefs they don't like.
Into this world embarks BabyB, who wins a funded pupilage at a middle-sized set of chambers in Grays Inn. He soon discovers that his summer job in Starbucks is of much more use than anything he was taught at law school. In between his coffee-making and photocopying duties, BabyB is expected to massage the ego of his corrupt pupil-master while keeping the instructing solicitors sweet.
BabyBarista and The Art of War does more than poke fun at the Bar. It is a blog with a plot. BabyB soon learns that if he is going to be taken on as a tenant (membership of chambers) he will need to see off several well-placed rivals. What unfolds is a fight to the death where no holds are barred and no punches pulled. In the ensuing farce, the intrepid young barrister becomes a scheming Machiavellian at the centre of a series of intrigues intended to ensure that his name is the only one that emerges from the tenancy selection process. For all those aspiring advocates who believe they are entering a glamorous or even principled profession, this book is essential reading.
John Mortimer once described the process of undertaking pupillage as one of life's "splendid miseries". In BabyBarista and The Art of War, Tim Kevan provides a startling portrait of the year-long quest for tenancy by his eponymous hero, BabyBarista. Describing the gruelling year of pupillage as "a sort of upper-class reality show in microcosm", the book chronicles the progress of BabyBarista, who engages in all manner of brief-swapping and bed-hopping schemes in the hope of securing his prize.
BabyBarista began life as a blog written by Tim Kevan who was taking time out from his practise at 1 Temple Gardens. It quickly became a hit and was picked up by The Times, who offered to host the blog, expanding its audience out of the niche world of the legal blogosphere and into the mainstream. Whilst it was originally written anonymously, Kevan chose to "out" himself as the blog's author earlier this year, after much speculation as to who was behind the BabyBarista mask.
Written in a lively and engaging style, BabyBarista has more than enough laughs to keep the reader on the right side of the dubious ethical path plotted by the central protagonist as he takes on his fellow pupils, TopFirst, BusyBody, Worrier and ThirdSix. Taking Sun Tzu's Art of War as his guide, BabyBarista weaves an increasingly tangled web as the year unfolds, as he attempts to keep on the right side of his pupilmaster, instructing solicitor and the Bar Standards Board. But Kevan also tackles the more thorny questions of professional misconduct and the financial hardship suffered by many members of the junior Bar.
Whilst Kevan may not present life at the Bar in the rosiest light, he clearly has a genuine affection for the profession. Characters such as OldRuin (described as Dumbledore meets Clarence, the angel from It's A Wonderful Life) and TheBusker are drawn with real warmth and understanding. BabyBarista is part of a long-standing tradition of legal fiction, and it is inevitable that comparisons will be drawn with Rumpole and the hugely overrated Henry Cecil.
But it is the world of the blog to which BabyBarista owes the most. One suspects that BabyBarista would be as much at home in the backstabbing, corporate world of Jeremy Blachman's Anonymous Lawyer as he is in the Inns of Court. The very nature of a blog as an "online confessional", lends itself well to the often isolated world of the legal profession. This popularity is reflected in the lively mix of legal bloggers, where Simon Myerson QC's Pupillage and How to Get It, and th slightly more tongue-in-cheek Charon QC, jostle for position with bloggers like Law Minx and Android's Reminiscences.
Kevan is currently working on the sequel to BabyBarista. On the strength of this first instalment of the story, I hope it will not be the last as BabyBarista has certainly earned the right to stand alongside Rumpole in the pantheon of legal fiction. Genuinely funny, BabyBarista deserves to become compulsory reading for prospective pupils and pupilmasters alike.
Thom Dyke is starting pupillage at Hardwicke Building in October.
Baby Barista and the Art of War by Tim Kevan
The Times review by Iain Finlayson
Write about what you know, is the baseline advice to first-time novelists. Kevan, who practiced [sic] as a London barrister for a decade and writes a blog for Times Online, seems to have taken it to heart. His novel is presented in diary form, a year in the life of Baby Barista, ambitious young London lawyer, part-time Starbucks barista and pupil barrister, who pitches his youthful wits against three competitors for the big prize - a place in a prestigious set of chambers. Baby’s relentlessly racy, rumbustiously Rumpolean humour is faintly reminiscent, in a high-end, modern manner, of the series of funny, frothy, sometimes fatuous novels of Richard Gordon, beginning with Doctor in the House and the single legal novel, Brothers in Law. He comes across as a spirited student of Sun-Tzu, Machiavelli, Brigid Jones and the Artful Dodger.
Bloomsbury, £11.99. Buy it from Books First.
NB Due to a mistake by The Times, this review first appeared in hard copy on 15 August 2009 in a slightly different version of which the corrected version read as follows:
BabyBarista and the Art of War by Tim Keven
(Bloomsbury, £11.99; Buy this book; 288pp)
This is “The Legal Apprentice”, a high-concept TV show disguised as a smart book. It is faintly reminiscent of the funny, sometimes fatuous novels of Richard Gordon, beginning with Doctor in the House and the single legal novel, Brothers in Law. BabyBarista, part-time Starbucks barista and pupil barrister, pitches his wits against three rivals for the big prize: a place in a prestigious set of chambers. Keven’s book began life as a blogspot, went to The Times as a column, and has now been clapped between soft covers. He comes across as a spirited student of Sun-Tzu, Machiavelli and The Artful Dodger.
'An upper class reality show'
Pupil-to-be Thom Dyke reviews blog-turned-novel ‘BabyBarista and The Art of War'
John Mortimer once described the process of undertaking pupillage as one of life's "splendid miseries". In BabyBarista and The Art of War, Tim Kevan provides a portrait of the year-long quest for tenancy. Describing the gruelling year of pupillage as "a sort of upper-class reality show in microcosm", the book chronicles the progress of BabyBarista, who engages in all manner of brief-swapping and bed-hopping schemes in the hope of securing his prize of a permanent position at chambers.
BabyBarista began life as a blog written by 1 Temple Gardens tenant Tim Kevan. The blog quickly became a hit among the legal blogging community. It was picked up by The Times, which offered to host the blog, expanding its audience out of the niche world of the legal blogosphere and into the mainstream. While it was originally written anonymously, Kevan chose to out himself as the blog's author earlier this year after much speculation as to who was behind the BabyBarista mask.
Written in a lively and engaging style, BabyBarista has more than enough laughs to keep the reader on the right side of the dubious ethical path plotted by the central protagonist as he takes on his fellow pupils, TopFirst, BusyBody, Worrier and ThirdSix. Taking Sun Tzu's Art of War as his guide, BabyBarista weaves an increasingly tangled web as the year unfolds, attempting to stay in favour with his pupilmaster, instructing solicitor and the Bar Standards Board. But Kevan also tackles the more thorny questions of professional misconduct and the financial hardship suffered by many members of the junior Bar.
While Kevan may not present life at the Bar in the rosiest light, he clearly has a genuine affection for the profession. Characters such as OldRuin (described as Dumbledore meets Clarence, the angel from It's A Wonderful Life) and TheBusker are drawn with real warmth and understanding.
BabyBarista is part of a long-standing tradition of legal fiction, and it is inevitable that comparisons will be drawn with Mortimer's Rumpole of the Bailey and the work of judge-turned-writer Henry Cecil. But it is the world of the blog to which BabyBarista owes the most. One suspects that BabyBarista would be as much at home in the backstabbing, corporate world of Jeremy Blachman's Anonymous Lawyer - another novel that started out as a blog - as he is in the Inns of Court. The very nature of a blog as an 'online confessional', lends itself well to the often isolated world of the legal profession. This is reflected in the popularity of blogging among lawyers, particularly in the US.
On the strength of this first instalment of the story, I hope it will not be the last. And it looks like it won't as Kevan is currently working on a sequel. Genuinely funny, BabyBarista deserves to become compulsory reading for prospective pupils and pupilmasters alike.
BabyBarista and The Art of War by Tim Kevan is published by Bloomsbury. Thom Dyke will start pupillage at Hardwicke Building in October.
Baby Barista and the Art of War by Tim Kevan
This book’s genesis is in an anonymous blog started in 2007. The book emerges as a cross between The Talented Mr Ripley, Rumpole and Bridget Jones’s Diary.
The reader is pitched into Baby Barista’s manipulative, scheming and, often, downright evil battle to gain tenancy over his competing pupils. The plot burns up the pages and the characters that range within are all highly observed and coloured with Kevan’s acerbic wit.
Few people have names other than the nicknames bestowed by Baby Barista. This technique alone seduces smiles. They include Old Smoothie and The Vamp; there is a junior clerk “Fancies Himself”, while solicitors provide the characters of “Slippery Slope” and “Cliche Clanger”. There are some decent moral legal figures such as Old Ruin and The Busker. However, it is the selfish, lying, money-grubbing and duplicitous lawyer characters who dominate the narrative.
It would have been refreshing if Kevan had lingered longer over his decent lawyers to counterbalance his voracious characters. However, the emphasis on the grotesque does have the effect of ratcheting up the plot.
Ultimately, the book is a gallop of a read. It is a clever legal romp, a comedy mixed with ruminations about life, liberally peppered with black humour and layered in farce. It firmly proclaims, and disclaims, that it is fiction but there are many Bar absurdities from which Kevan has accurately drawn. As to whether any of the cast represent generic legal characters lurking in the profession, all I can say is that you may very well think that; I couldn’t possibly comment.
Baby Barista by Tim Kevan, Bloomsbury Publishing, £11.99
Review by Kirsty Brimelow