Diary of a Reader: The Bar Practice Course, COVID-edition

Week one, day one

Bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, seventy-one readers present for duty at 9am. Thirty-five log onto Zoomland from home: trackpants on; shirts pressed; cameras positioned; mics off. Thirty-six attend in real life. The first test of the Course is a COVID Questionnaire. Mostly everyone fails. Who puts a “Yes” answer in the middle of Five “No’s”? The hyper-competitive types start to get jumpy. “Was this a test?”. “Am I off the Island?”. Onwards to temperature control. Masks on. Seats taken. Do not approach within 1.5m of your fellow reader.

Week one, day two

I’ve counted “these strange times” and “you’re on mute” twenty-seven times today. A drinking game is born.

Week one, day four

The personalities begin to reveal themselves. First, the “I started in May” cohort, never missing an opportunity to moan about the tragedies that befall the reader subjected to a restricted practising certificate; cue the humble brag about the vast amounts of “good work” they had to turn down. Can often be found imparting the large volume of acquired wisdom from three months of COVID-practice to anyone who cannot escape. They’re excited to “have peers”, but also exhibit a jumpiness around other human beings explainable only by having become a sole trader during lockdown. Second, the quasi-British-accent types. They’re not from the motherland, but they sound like it, kind of? Can be found casually dropping anecdotes about the wonderful time they had at Oxbridge.

Finally, the “I-have-a-question” -ers. Most days, they are invaluable, displaying enough attention and interest for all seventy-one of us. Some days, they ask questions at 12:59pm and I wonder how to have them disappeared.

Week two, day one


Week two, day three

The Zoomlanders have been turning their cameras on and off. There is a warning. They must be kept on. Use the bathroom in allocated bathroom breaks. I wonder whose job it is to watch the Zoomlanders. I wonder if this is all a real live Panopticon.

Week two, day four

Mr Senior Counsel delivers a talk on barristerial conduct. Much is made of the humble handbag – who knew it was so divisive?? – which must never be carried while robed or placed on a bar table. Mr Senior Counsel acknowledges he is in dangerous territory, but has signed off the speech with Mrs Senior Counsel. A lively group-chat debate ensues about whether someone should try asking him how one should carry breast pumps to court, and whether they can sit on the Bar Table. Deference prevails and no-one dares.

The pearls of wisdom come fast and hard: “Don’t dress like a grungy undergraduate”. “Come to work in a suit”. “Even if you don’t have work”. The most comforting piece of advice was to use those suited-work-free days to wander around Phillip Street. Someone might notice you, he opines, and give you a brief. I am equal part bemused and pleased. Who knew all it took was wandering around Phillip Street in a suit? But do solicitors not just email?

There is a lengthy exposition of where you can and cannot eat lunch while wearing a bar jacket. I start thinking about lunch and lose track of the geography.

Week two, TGIF

Most of the day was left unscheduled to deal with technical difficulties, of which there were none. There is one session scheduled: readers’ bingo. Unfortunately, not many of us know how to play bingo. Someone seems to have missed the millennial-memo. It transpires that in E-Bingo, the winner is pre-determined and known to the organisers. One brave soul suggests we might just announce who was supposed to win and be done for the day. The suggestion is rapidly quashed. We have not understood “good old fashioned fun”.

Week three, day two, 6:00pm

The advocacy games. The coaches, on the whole, are fantastic. Giants of the profession who volunteer to teach the humble reader the art of advocacy. Unfortunately, with each new coach comes a new and direct inconsistency. “Write out your questions”. “Do not write out your questions”. “Write out your opening”. “Do not write out your opening”. “Ask leading questions until you get stopped”. “Do not ask leading questions in XIC”.


The advocacy coaches have commenced the war stories. And the reverse engineering of those war stories to create a general rule upon which success is dependent.

Week three, day five

One of the few certainties which emerge from COVID-19 is that Zoom drinks are invariably excruciating. We’re buoyed by the idea there will be trivia. We’re sunk by the revelation it is barristerial-conduct related trivia. Handbags and Robes? Definitely Not. Red Heels with Robes? Apparently Not (But have they met the Chief Judge in Equity?)

Week four, day one

A new week! A new case! A Mock Trial!

Week four, day two

I prepare my fake case in earnest. The hyper-competitive types consider retaining experts.

Week four, day three

Mr Speaker decides that today is a good day for the Socratic method. Cue the collective panic. The Zoomlanders have a clear advantage, fingers poised on a keyboard to Ctrl+F the answer in the recommended reading. The real-live people are grateful only for the masks which hide the terror from everywhere but their eyes.

Week four, day five

Both life and terror have gone from our eyes. Except the I-have-a-question-ers. Inexplicably. They still have questions.

Postscript: Baby barrister, day one

It turns out in real life there are no advocacy coaches cheering you on in court, nor judges that give you a second run at your motion, nor plucky readers to ask the terrifying Silk the stupid questions for you. Ensconced alone in Chambers, I think fondly of the Course and my seventy new friends. Maybe I’ll see if someone wants to play a round of Bingo until a brief comes in. #takemeback