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.