Sunday, 14 March 2010

Court Craft

Authentic peer review in the legal profession is rare.

The practice of law can be lonely. Certainly the time spent drafting, reading and preparing is mostly spent in solitude. When it comes to appearances in the Magistrates' Court, it's rare to be accompanied to court by anyone except your client - not always the most reliable indicator of how you went.

Your opponent or the presiding magistrate may be forthcoming with their assessment of your efforts, but they do not always have your best interests at heart (though, notably, some do). It's very easy for practitioners to go on making the same mistakes in their advocacy (in style and substance), year after year through their careers, without anyone bringing these flaws to their attention or suggesting alternative approaches.

If this is true of practitioners, it's even more so of the judiciary. How often do they get the opportunity to watch one of their brothers or sisters at the grindstone, running a practice court or deciding cases? Never. Reading a transcript or having it described later is not the same thing.

The Judicial College have been running a project to provide constructive criticism to the judiciary in an informal setting. The promotional video can be found on the JCV's website here.

Like all sorts of voluntary training, it's inevitable that those who need it the most will use it the least. But it's a step in the right direction.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

The following might be a better left for another time but something about your observation about the "lonely practice of law" struck a chord with me.

1) In the first ten years of legal practice I think everyone is obsessed by rules. It is a consequence of admission being a series of essays and examinations that focus almost exclusively on the law as a system of rules and the practice of law the mastery of them.

2) In the second decade of practice (if one makes it that far) less reliance is placed on the rules. Like an aged athlete the practitioner relies upon guile, experience and perhaps bluff to win the day. That is not to say that practitioners of all stripes do not use these skills. Knowledge of the law is simply not the panacea it once was.

3) In the third decade of practice (I expect that it will get rarer that lawyers have such a thing as it becomes increasingly common to have several careers in a lifetime) while law and winning are still important I suspect we become more conscious of the consequences of our cases on the lives they affect. That or we start counting the days to retirement and taking expensive holidays.

I know a lot of practitioners who do more pro bono work as they approach retirement than at any other time in their legal careers. It is, obviously, partly the advantage of being financially and professionally secure. I think it is also the desire to do work which is relevant and beneficial.

It is probably clear (if what I have said above is true and I think that it is) that the reasons we entered into practice commonly go missing for some time in the middle of our careers. If we are lucky perhaps we find them again toward the end.