Sarah Pitt meets a barrister-cum-author whose irreverent look at the legal profession has even the Bar Council laughing.
BabyBarista and the Art of War By Tim Kevan. Bloomsbury, £11.99
So what’s so funny about being a barrister? The answer is here, in Tim Kevan’s hilarious account of the life of the fight for supremacy among pupil barristers in a London chambers. Our hero BabyBarista is up against three other competing for the prize to be taken on permanently at the end of the year of pupillage, by fair means or foul.
In diary format, the book – originally a blog on The Times Online – sees the author sink to increasingly levels of low cunning as he seeks to outwit his fellow pupils, who include the arrogant TopFirst, Cambridge graduate with a prize-winning CV and ego to match. As it says on the cover, “it’s sort of Big Brother, but with little horsehair wigs”.
Tim, 38, now lives in Braunton, North Devon, where he goes surfing at the merest hint of a swell. His book, though, published this month, started life as a blog he wrote while working as a barrister on London, something that consumed 10 years of his life.
With its catalogue of larger-than-life – some might say grotesque – characters the novel struck a chord with an audience far wider than the legal profession (though it made Tim’s colleagues in chambers laugh too). Steeped as he had been in the legal environment for so long, his characters just flowed from his imagination.
And they are all deliciously ghastly. There is BabyBarista’s oily, corrupt pupil master TheBoss, the raking-it-in sexist OldSmoothie, constantly sparring with female contemporary UpTights, and the kleptomaniac JudgeJewellery, who can’t stop herself nicking cheap earrings from high street jewellers CheapAndNasty and wearing them to court.
Tim says he enjoyed being a barrister just as much as he enjoys lampooning the profession in his fiction (he is planning to return to the Bar when writing permits). But he can see there is more to life than arguing legal points in a stuffy courtroom. He is the author, with psychiatrist Dr Michelle Tempest, of the motivational book Why lawyers Should Surf.
In BabyBarista and the Art of War, it is lawyer TheBusker, into surfing, who laconically wins his cases without even trying, by leaning back in his chair and suggesting, as his opponent gets increasingly heated, that they all stop sweating the small stuff. In one case, in a court in Minehead (the Somerset seaside town where Tim grew up), he persuades a judge, in a few calm words, that pilfering can be excused as an example of the age-old tradition of “gleaning”.
“My two favourite barrister characters are OldRuin and TheBusker,” says Tim. “Those two characters are how a barrister should be, whereas the others are caricatures mostly. They are grotesque, but you still like writing about them, and reading about them.”
BabyBarista gets his name from the coffee-making that seems to be his most crucial responsibility as a pupil barrister; TheBoss is most particular about the way he wants his coffee ground – finely “so that it has as much surface area as possible”.
BabyBarista is not Tim. He is from the generation below, the twenty-somethings, who might plausibly be adept at the most contemporary methods of stitching up opponents; setting up fake e-mail accounts and using mobile phones as covert camera. “I’m 38, but his is really a voice 15 years younger than me, and I love the fact that his voice just popped out,” says Tim. “He is really modern, up to these modern tricks.”
While the book has drawn comparisons with Rumpole, John Mortimer’s barrister would be old enough to be BabyBarista’s grandfather or even great-grandfather. Tim himself looks back on his own year as a pupil-barrister fondly. In his case three out of four of the pupil-barristers were given a tenancy, and, no, he didn’t resort to the same strategies as BabyBarista to get his place, though he makes excuses for his fictitious creation’s behaviour, saying “it is a very stressful year”.
The book flowed all the more easily and hilariously because it was made up, he says. Even his professional body, the Bar Council, has been sufficiently tickled by his depiction of the pantomime that is chambers life to recommend the book for holiday reading.
A particular gem is his description of afternoon tea, which none of the barristers ever miss.
“Despite the fact that the members collectively earn enough to buy their own factory, the chocolate biscuits are always treated as a great delicacy, probably due to the fact that chambers only provides the cheaper plain biscuits for client conferences.”
It’s reassuring to know they’ve got their priorities right.