Sixty fledglings in last month’s bar practice course in Sydney meant that it was the second-biggest group ever.
We were like little penguins, newly hatched, blundering clumsily but eagerly towards the shore, blissfully oblivious to the pitfalls and predators that lay ahead.
Penguins can’t fly – much like readers – but they flap around pretending they can.
Our first session on pleadings was presented by Tony (Drill Sergeant) Payne SC, who fired a relentless barrage of questions around the room at readers plucked mercilessly from the roll.
Five lucky readers had impromptu speeches lobbed at them that had to be delivered from the front of the class the next morning.
That was in addition to the statement of claim we were drafting overnight and the reading we were doing for the sessions in the week ahead.
The Drill Sergeant’s approach was effective. In two or three short days we were all pleading not only in tort, contract, and bailment, but also for mercy, sleep, and a drink. (It starts early.)
Our advocacy training began with one of the simplest and most common applications – an adjournment – but different approaches were taken by different instructors.
One group was asked to dance and sing “Do Re Mi” before reciting passages from To Kill A Mockingbird and Why a Duck? with as much conviction as possible.
Another had their adjournment application described as a “shemozzle”. (This may well explain the variety at the Sydney bar.)
When silks stepped in to judge fictional applications in the Local and District Courts, several groups unwittingly walked into a bloodbath – with at least one reader flayed by the bench into giving critical concessions.
The magistrates and judges were tame by comparison.
Applications in the Supreme and Federal Courts were reminiscent of the Kobayashi Maru, which I was informed by one geeky reader can only be won by changing the rules.
Readers were sent in to defend untenable positions with affidavits that were patently flawed.
Judges responded appropriately. Little penguins were swallowed whole, whale-like, with each opening of the judicial jaws.
It was later explained that this was necessary preparation for a “ticking brief”.
But a few readers actually managed to escape an untimely dismissal by producing from their sleeve a supplementary affidavit or an amended notice of motion. They have not truly faced death.
Gossip abounds. Despite the fact that the importance of reputation was drilled into us, one senior barrister was left speechless when a reader interjected during her presentation with a quip that carried imputations of prostitution.
At least four readers were sent to the Headmaster’s Office for a “talk”.
Punctuality was taken very seriously, with the most punctual attendee being Chris D’Aeth.
In fact, by our second week we had earned the description “worst-behaved group ever”.
However, there were still plenty of good apples.
One reader was nominated by his peers for a “best dressed” award for his unique collection of imported three-piece suits.
The same reader went on to win the “I Opine” award for best use of the word “opine” in a casual setting.
A relatively large clique of sociable drinkers also emerged, making consistent appearances at both scheduled and unscheduled events.
There appeared to be significant overlap between this group and the gossip group.
Of course, there were the usual types: the young whippersnappers who make up for experience with giddy enthusiasm; the experienced solicitors who make up for enthusiasm with jaded cynicism; the rambunctious readers who attempt to make up for everything else by talking; readers with no discernible interest in the law at all; readers with an interest in the law bordering on obsession.
On the whole, it was a fairly good flock. Most of us should make it to shore.