My Brief Career

I’ve just read My Brief Career by Harry Mount. The blurb says

Harry Mount’s hilarious account of his hellish year as a “pupil” – a trainee barrister in The Temple – has all the horror of a Dickensian tragedy and all the charm of Bridget Jones’s diary.

An expose of what goes on behind the ancient walls of London’s Inns of Court this fascinating story dares to reveal the grim secrets of one of England’s most archaic institutions.

Well the Dicken’s comparison overeggs it but is a funny and sometimes painful account that certainly confirms my already deep distrust of the workings of the British legal system. It paints many barristers as profoundly dysfunctional antisocial creatures… generally the worst sort of people to expect to help solve a dispute. Nowhere was this awkwardness more apparent than tea time in chambers, when they would all gather for tea and fail utterly to manage more than the most rudimentary of conversation with each other. I liked this observation:

For international people-watchers, chambers tea is a useful illustration of how Englishmen prefer to conduct their lives through actions rather than words, that convention is all; the esteem they win in return for what they do comes before acting on the impulses of what they feel. Brilliant as members of chambers were at the practice of law, they showed no particular interest when it came to talking about it – they would have become plumbers if plumbing had been the best paid and most respected of all jobs.

Mount describes an institution trapped in ancient rules and rituals, which seems to postively despise human warmth, based on a narrow, bureaucratic belief in the value of rules over more human judgement.

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