No Fee - No Win
Friday, August 19, 2016
Justinian in Briefs, Cheese, Folders, Junior Junior, NSW Court of Appeal

Junior Junior's phone hasn't rung for weeks ... Cultivating the appearance of busyness ... Smoke and mirrors ... Fake briefs ... Knowledge of cheese ... The critical importance of the correct sized folder  

NOTHING quite prepares a young barrister for her pro bono client's declaration that he earns more money than she does.

I've taken on a few freebies lately. It's not that I'm a charitable person - after all, 80 percent of my income is spent on coffee and wine. 

No, it's because when the tumbleweeds begin to roll through chambers, the pro bono stuff presents the only opportunity to get on one's feet and convince the head of floor that taking you on as a licensee wasn't a huge mistake.

It will come as no surprise, then, that I've recently come through a very quiet patch. For several weeks the phone didn't ring. Out of desperation I asked my clerk if the phone still worked. She assured me that yes, it did. In fact, she said, it was the only thing in my room that worked.

As my levels of desperation rose, I began to realise the importance of maintaining an appearance of busyness. My experience at the bar has thus far been an exercise in smoke and mirrors, and there was a risk my inactivity would irreparably impugn the fake facade of barristerdom, which I had worked so tirelessly to cultivate. 

Of immediate concern were the innocent questions of passing colleagues as to what I'd been doing with my time. I needed to have a quick response at hand, something that sounded plausible in its unremarkability. 

I settled on the following stock answer, which could be varied as the circumstances required:  

"Oh, I've just come from the [insert name of list]. Tell you what, [insert name of judge or registrar] was [insert level of fairness followed by anecdote about hard cheeses]."

I became quite practiced at regaling passers-by with fictional accounts of the Admiralty List and Stilton, but it was still not enough. My stock response was invariably delivered while standing in the streets empty-handed. I needed a prop, something ready at hand that I could carry, giving me an aura of barristerdom.

I needed a fake brief.

If I could give any young barrister a piece of advice, it would be this: when you construct your fake brief, make sure it has a worn, dog-eared appearance. 

The folder should be white in colour. If possible, the chosen folder should be 38mm in diameter and have two D rings as required by the Court of Appeal rules. 

Carry a 38mm folder around and people will assume that you've developed an appellate practice mere months into your career. Carry around a 40mm folder and people will assume you are a fraud with no practice at all.

The folder should contain scrap paper which is heavily tabbed. It also doesn't hurt to highlight and annotate pages at random intervals. That way, if you're having a coffee somewhere you can have your fake brief open and pretend to be looking through the material. 

People will think that look of strain and frazzlement on your face, which is actually because your rent is overdue and your calendar is bare, is down to your ceaseless hard work.  

"Look at her," people will say. "Even when she has a coffee, she's working. No wonder she's briefed to appear in the Court of Appeal."

If there is the lesson to be learned from this, I don't have time to figure it out. I'm far too busy. I've actually just come from the Equine Detinue List ... 

Article originally appeared on Justinian: Australian legal magazine. News on lawyers and the law (http://justinian.com.au/).
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