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15 March, 2010  
Tea is for Tippy

Life of a tiffstaff … Bright, ambitious and, when it comes to the crucial things, hopeless … Introducing Tippy, our new blogger filing from within the concrete cage at Queens Square

imageIn the heart of a brutal concrete building in Queens Square, behind courtrooms boasting ‘70s decor-in-decline or the sleek lines of new millennium minimalism, an army of little helpers is performing a solemn morning rite: The Brewing of the Judicial Coffee.

Menial tasks are imbued with grave import when performed for judicial masters and mistresses.

The ceremonial scrubbing of HH’s breakfast bowl, encrusted with the stubborn remains of Bircher muesli (wise tipstaves tarry not over dishwashing, lest the milk sets like superglue), the hasty polishing of the silver tea service pre-11.30am adjournment, the lunchtime dash to David Jones Foodhall: part of the administration of justice, all.

Even the smell of burnt toast lingering in the chambers’ corridor has a whiff of prestige about it, I fancy.

And therein lies the attraction of this most curious of posts. Why (ostensibly) bright young graduates-at-law – future barristers, partners, politicians, along with feckless sorts like yours truly – clamour to don shapeless frock coats, stiff with the perspiration of scores of their predecessors, to spend a year of their prime acceding to judicial whim.

The prestige.

A clerkship in a top firm seems nasty and pedestrian in comparison, though it might help get one’s foot in the chamber’s door.

“So, you’re a manservant. Or a handmaiden, rather”, my pal James surmised recently over an unleisurely lunch at Silks.

We bonded in the Law School enrolment queue, united in dislike of a Commerce/Law boor who termed our choice of Arts “brave”.

J has given the profession the flick for the putatively greener pastures of management consulting.

It’s fair to say we’ve both sold out somewhat since the days of lolling on the Main Quad lawns, mocking undergraduate mooters and corporate cut-outs.

“Nay, Jimmy,” I counter coolly. “A glorified handmaiden.”

I reflect upon that crucial distinction as I drip coffee down the corridor back to chambers.

I may not buy wholly into the judicial mystique, but I will own that I milk the glory of the gig rather shamelessly.

To wit, I affix a pompous little signature block (“Tipstaff to The Hon …” etc) to the base of all my email correspondence, work-related or no.

I drop references to cases “We” heard and judgments “We” delivered into casual conversation with friends and family.

And I have cultivated a stately expression for use in the courtroom, seated on the bench to the left of HH, which I like to think bespeaks both piercing intelligence and a certain beneficent forbearance of fools.

It’s mostly in the eyebrows.

Occasionally I don’t quite pull it off. Yesterday I smacked myself in the forehead with the gilt-tipped staff, muffing the delicate courtroom manoeuvre that is Pushing In The Judicial Chair while gripping the staff in one hand.

The humiliation put me off my game somewhat. But it’s early days yet.

I remind myself of that bracing fact as I round the corner into chambers.

The Associate greets me with her customary lack of enthusiasm.

Like most of her ilk, she is apt to consider the fresh crop of up-starts to infiltrate the courts more puffed-up and lacking in life skills than the last. And there are some smug twats in our ranks, alas.

It’s lucky I’m so sharp.

As I raise my right hand to tap demurely on HH’s door, holding the coffee cup precariously aloft in my left, The Associate speaks.

I freeze, fist in mid-air.

“Didn’t Judge want tea?”


Reader Comments

Posted by: Anonymous
Date: March 17, 2010, 9:08 pm

Whoever wrote this would be well-advised to consider that their experience does not necessarily reflect the experience of all other SC Tipstaves, many of whom conduct meaningful work (among more-menial tasks), and consider themselves fortunate to acquire knowledge from some of the most brilliant legal minds in the country. Also, I wonder whether anyone else was overcome by the hypocrisy emerging from the lines: 'And there are some smug twats in our ranks, alas'...'Itís lucky Iím so sharp'. If sarcasm was intended, that is not how it came across. Sorry, got to go now - have meaningful (and menial) work to do.
Posted by: Anonymous
Date: March 17, 2010, 9:09 pm

Anonymous above should lighten up. You sound just like a smug twat.
Posted by: Anonymous
Date: March 17, 2010, 9:10 pm

I look forward to the comments about the rivalry between NSWSC tippies and Fed Court associates (the latter being seen as a more illustrious position- I have never heard of a Fed Court associate making tea!)
Posted by: Anonymous
Date: March 18, 2010, 9:27 pm

Associates have a far better title. Game over.
Posted by: Anonymous
Date: March 18, 2010, 11:06 pm

And the work is so much better. Many fed court judges require associates to have practised for a few years first and, accordingly, are seen as being more integral to the work the judge does rather than someone who simply runs around after the judge. Of course, I assume that the Fed Court also has its share of "know it all" associates, and it is probably the case that there is an inverse relationship between the haughtiness of certain associates and the amount of time they have spent in the real legal world!
Posted by: Anonymous
Date: March 20, 2010, 8:28 pm

Although I was generally amused at "Tea is for Tippy" I thought I should put it out there that the blog is completely inappropriate and unprofessional. As a former tippy, I can assure all of you non-believers that not all tippys make tea/coffee and most do work that ends up in judgments. In fact, as a recent Supreme Court graduate, I would suggest that it would not be too difficult to ascertain the identity of Anonymous purely based on the information provided - Judge drinks tea (not so common), tippy is required to polish silver (not very common) and judge is relatively self sufficient and, therefore, does not give tippy work (again, very rare). I, myself could narrow it down to 3 or 4 Judges. Perhaps instead of writing a blog about your less than exciting experience you should go into chambers and offer to do some work. Alternatively, if you are that disenchanted you should quit - there would be 100s of grads waiting to take your place. And for the record - Supreme Court is far "superior" than the Federal Court!
Posted by: Anonymous
Date: March 20, 2010, 8:31 pm

The comment above shows what humourless little prats are infiltrating the legal profession.
Posted by: Anonymous
Date: March 20, 2010, 8:49 pm

In my experience, each judge operates her or his own fiefdom in which they exercise ultimate control over the duties and tasks that their staff perform. I had a great year, doing buckets of research, watching Counsel win and lose cases and learning from one of the best legal minds in the country. There were others with experiences similar to mine, yet some had a more mundane and thankless year. I agree with Anonymous, the experience of one is not necessarily that of others. It is also somewhat axiomatic that as a Tipstaff you get out of it what you put into it. The article above therefore should not be seen as a 'typical' experience. Perhaps it could be seen as the experience of a typical twat (note - the only reason I posit this last thought is that it exemplifies the apparent disdain that our anonymous author has for his/her colleagues - it doesn't feel so nice when you are the one being judged).
Posted by: Anonymous
Date: March 20, 2010, 8:58 pm

You all need to grow up. After one has practised law for 25 years or more , the bleak reality dawns: deriving income through personal exertion as a lawyer is debilitating. Go and read what Ian Barker has to say in his contribution to the Michael Kirby celebration encyclopedia Posted by Tiger Snake
Posted by: Anonymous
Date: March 22, 2010, 4:50 am

Oh my. Some of the comments above made me laugh almost as much as the blog! Is it not self-evident from the context and the content of this blog - not least the juxtaposition of "smug little twats" and "It's lucky I'm so sharp" - that the "voice" of the tippie is a *character*? And that a character, and the author of that character, are different people? Sadly, it appears that Anonymouses 1, 6 and 8 have suffered the sad misfortune to have been born without any antennae for satire. Dear Mr Ackland, it might be a good idea to chuck a "this is fictitious" tag on the side of this blog, to calm the feelings of the pompous and humour-deficient of our profession. Let's hope such types can read the small print, even if they can't read between the lines.
Posted by: Anonymous
Date: March 22, 2010, 5:23 pm

It is said that HH accosted Tippy last week. And hence the lack of updates. Perhaps Tippy has been dishonourably discharged from her appointment?
Posted by: Anonymous
Date: March 23, 2010, 1:04 am

To the author of 'Tea is for Tippy' - GET SOME NUTS!!! Mr T
Posted by: Anonymous
Date: March 24, 2010, 8:16 pm

Oh all of you, just shush. Shush. I'm one of the author's cohort and am personally delighted to see this article go to print (or air?). It's not only intimidatingly well-written; it's also a perfectly composed balance of incisive observations, ballsy revelations, cryptic red herrings and self-deprecating/self-referential remarks. It's also damn funny. It's funny in a way that hits home with the readership. Its potency is clear, for it has stirred up the jealous insecurity and wonder of the entire 2010 Tipstave/Researcher cohort - as the comments above make plain. T is for trenchant! Looking forward to more!
Posted by: Anonymous
Date: April 2, 2010, 10:43 pm

(Wipre tear*).... I thought this article was hilarious. As a current Associate in the Supreme Court, I watch with amusement the daily adventures undertaken by HH's Tippy. The world of the Tippy revolves around HH's endless need for proficient legal research balanced against HH's daily demands for coffee, lunch, the daily news paper, a clean jobot, the mail, a freddo frog at morning tea, a letter sent to the CJ and yes sometimes even a cup of Twinings.... this is not so "rare" as Mr Anonymous No. 6 would have you believe. In fact, sometimes we all share a pot of Twinings at HH's request, albeit in separate rooms from each-other, but only because HH has a penchant for singing along to classical music behind the privacy of the chamber door. In fact, when the need arises I have often provided (in abundance) a selection of Twinings to other HH's, when they have run out of their own earl grey, english breakfast or even (as my HH prefers - Russian Caravan). Furthermore, I myself assist the Tippy in the delicate task of buffing the ole silver tea set with a bit of silvo. It's a 2 man job and rather necessary when based at Darlo, as I believe that HH would not like to know that the rats have been in the cutlery again.... (Sniff*)
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