30.8.09

Leading American Blogger reviews 'BabyBarista and the Art of War'

Very nice review of 'BabyBarista and the Art of War' from leading American blogger Colin Samuels on his blog which you can read Infamy or Praise which you can read here and below. It is also re-printed at Blawg Review. To order the book at a heavily discounted £7.19 (incl p&p) on amazon, click here.
I'm often frustrated by book reviews for the simple reason that most tend to avoid answering the question "Is this book worth reading?" I'll not make that mistake in writing about Tim Kevan's BabyBarista and The Art of War. This is a book worth reading; it's entertaining and insightful, building upon the best aspects of the much-praised BabyBarista blog and providing greater depth and color (or should that be colour?) to its characters and stories. It's not a flawless novel, but it's well worth your time. Kevan's publishers were kind enough to send me a pre-release copy for review (the book will be widely available on 3 August), but I enjoyed it so much that I ordered a copy for a friend rather than part with my own. I can't think of higher praise to offer than that.
Kevan is a witty and observant writer, skills he's honed at his formerly-anonymous blog. While many other blogs have had decidedly mixed results in translating what worked online into dead-tree success, Kevan shows a keen appreciation of his online audience's tastes. He keeps his pacing brisk without being too choppy; he adds to the roles played by secondary and incidental characters without losing focus on BabyBarista and his circle of friends and rivals; he offers insight into the arcane and insular world of the barrister without playing-down dark satire.
BabyBarista and The Art of War focuses on BabyBarista's death march through his year-long pupillage, a final-stage apprenticeship during which law graduates gain work experience with practicing barristers and compete with other pupils to for a position as a barrister in an established chambers. He describes the process in his diary of his first day:
[T]he ordeal through which the Bar Council continues to force its brightest and best.... A sort of upper-class reality show in microcosm every one of your foibles will be analysed and where a blackball system exists so that if you annoy one person, you're out. [Y]ou're playing to the lowest common denominator. Attempting to be as inoffensive as possible in the sound knowledge that it won't be the votes in favour that get you in but the lack of votes against.
The novel's principal characters come to life without intrusive exposition. BabyBarista is spare with details of his own situation, but what he provides to his friend, Claire, to his mentor, OldRuin, or directly to us serves to illuminate the financial desperation which drives him to succeed in his pupillage both by displaying his own merits and by subtly destroying his fellow pupils' chances. His three (later four) co-pupils seem at first to be mere caricatures of familiar personalities — Worrier is details-obsessed to the point she's unable to function professionally; BusyBody's instinct to be everywhere, to have her hand in every project, and to be all things to all people makes her a whirl of unproductive but frenzied activity; TopFirst's stellar academic achievements and social connections mask a wicked soul. As time goes by, however, these characters acquire greater depth and by the time a fourth pupil-competitor joins the fray, all of their behaviors become understandable. This is not to say that they, or BabyBarista necessarily, become invariably sympathetic characters, but they become real, something mere caricatures cannot be.
BabyBarista's pupillage experiences provide some startling criticisms of the practice of law generally and the pupillage system particularly. BabyBarista and his mother have essentially locked themselves into a high-stakes wager that, against exceptionally-long odds, BabyB can complete his climb from modest origins to lucrative barristers' chambers. As he nears that objective, the added (often unreasonable) financial pressures of the pupillage year heighten his sense of desperation and drive him to trade what he knows to be right for expedient gains or short-term personal or professional advantage. He laments that "[I]t's no different to bear baiting or cock fighting. They plunge us into debt before we get here and then leave us to fight it out, Deathmatch style." Later, after a particularly appalling incident, he warns that "[W]hatever you do, don't let the lawyers start worrying about getting paid. However much they protest otherwise, it's there in their mind. Not even at the back of their mind." His experiences highlight a system which seems designed in part to focus pupils' and barristers' minds on their own finances rather than clients' best interests and to effectively filter out those without independent means from the practice of law.
The practicing barristers who mentor BabyBarista illustrate both the best and worst aspects of legal practice. OldRuin provides an aspirational view of the lawyer as a professional, held by others and himself to a higher standard of conduct; he is at times unrealistic about the realities of modern legal practice and unwilling to challenge its more base practitioners, but he also offers some insights which should make clear to all of us who practice law that ours is a profession and not merely a business. TheBoss is a cautionary tale from start to end; he behaves unethically and cowardly, but even he becomes more real as we come to understand that he is like a Ghost of BabyBarista Yet to Come (apologies to Dickens). TheBoss is in many ways the product and victim of the finance-obsessed side of legal practice which afflicts BabyBarista; whereas BabyB sees the riches of practice, rightly or wrongly, as his and his mother's salvations, for TheBoss it has become a damnation, trapping him into an increasingly-desperate cycle of misdeeds to perpetuate his lifestyle and social position. In lesser hands, characters like OldRuin and TheBoss would be like the stereotypical angel and devil perched on the protagonist's shoulders, whispering in his ear, but Kevan writes his secondary players far less clichéed.
As I've said, though, BabyBarista is not a flawless novel. Structurally, the ending is a bit too abrupt and convenient; considering how effectively Kevan paced and plotted his novel to that point, he could have arrived at his destination with greater style and less haste. More broadly, while Kevan ventures beyond the constraints of his successful blog, he doesn't venture very far beyond. It seems that BabyBarista's chambers are meant to be at least somewhat representative of other chambers and of the larger bar. Nonetheless, the exclusive focus on the misfeasance, malfeasance, and nonfeasance within BabyBarista's chambers without even passing looks at others' (despite his extensive interaction with Claire and other pupils in the shared library and elsewhere) creates an impression that BabyB's chambers are an aberration. This tends to undercut the universality of his struggles and experiences, diminishing them as broader commentaries on pupillage and legal practice. Those on the inside of the profession, barristers particularly, will relish the satirical elements but may find it somewhat too easy to dismiss Kevan's deeper criticisms when his satire strays a bit too far in places into broad comedy. If readers find Kevan's insights into the practice of law easier to dismiss for these reasons, that's an opportunity lost; these issues deserve to be considered and discussed seriously.
It's churlish of me to note that what Kevan's done, he's done very well, but to then mark him down a bit for expanding on an excellent blog but not transcending it. Please understand, however, that this is the criticism of someone who greatly enjoyed BabyBarista and The Art of War and recommends it highly, but who can still imagine how much more it might have been.

26.8.09

BabyBarista reviewed in Counsel Magazine (click to enlarge)

Nice review of BabyBarista and the Art of War from Thom Dyke in Counsel Magazine which you can either read below or by clicking on the image on the left.

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.

25.8.09

Another review for BabyBarista in The Times

Another review of BabyBarista and the Art of War in The Times which you can either read below or click here.



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.

10.8.09

BabyBarista reviewed in Legal Week

Great review of BabyBarista and the Art of War from Thom Dyke in Legal Week which you can read below or click here.

'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.

7.8.09

Great review of 'BabyBarista and the Art of War' in The Times newspaper

Great review of BabyBarista and the Art of War in The Times newspaper yesterday. To read it either click here (second review down) or see the text below.


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

1.8.09

BabyBarista reviewed in Western Morning News (click to enlarge original or see text below)


























Comic capers in chambers
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.