Law and Disorder: Confessions of a Pupil Barrister, by Tim Kevan

This is a lively, amusing, funny, cynical, compelling fiction about the life of a pupil barrister – Babybarista – in a set of chambers in London. It’s also, in its way, quite horrifying: if only half of the stories in this book are true, then the public’s view of the law courts as a fishtank full of hungry sharks is totally accurate.

One major problem –and the premise for this book – is the system still practiced in many chambers of accepting four or more newly qualified ‘baby barristers’ for a year’s pupillage, when it is known from the outset that there will be a tenancy available for only one. To an outsider, or parent of a barrister – like me – this seems immoral; to Mr Kevan, who survived it, it provides the setting for an orgy of black comedy. ‘Life is war’ his pupil master says; and from day one, the young barristers learn this lesson. Like baby birds, they are in a nest where only one can survive; the cuckoo kills the rest.

The justification for this system, one barrister explains, is that the lawcourts themselves are a theatre of conflict, where backstabbing, deception, and dirty tricks abound. To survive in these courts, and (occasionally) defend your clients, a barrister needs to have learned these lessons early, in the cut-throat battle for tenancy.

I read this book shortly after reading The Homicide Chronicle, by Ralph Shamas, a US defense attorney (now a judge) who is so concerned with justice that he claims he would never defend anyone if he did not actually believe in his client’s innocence.  There could be no greater contrast between that book and the world Tim Kevin portrays, where –just as in several John Grisham stories – the vital and over-riding concern of almost all the barristers is quite simple: their fees.

Ouch. So what is the truth? Halfway between the two, I would hope. But Mr Kevan’s view is very persuasive. This is a really enjoyable book: amusing, entertaining, witty, very easy to read. I will definitely read the next.

Unfortunately, the author has been seriously let down by his publisher, Bloomsbury. I read this book on kindle, and the editing and formatting of the ebook are truly awful; there are errors all over the place. A reputable publisher like Bloomsbury should do much, much better. Perhaps the paperback is edited properly: I hope so for the author’s sake.  He writes well; his editors should do their job too.

About Tim Vicary

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