Stepping into the court room

A tense silence descended over the room as the cross interrogation of the witness began under the stern and watchful eyes of the Master…No, you haven’t walked into the latest episode of Silk, but in fact the first day of the PSC (Professional Skills Course) advocacy training.

The course is compulsory, so trainees are required to attend, even if they have no intention of ever participating in a real court room drama. This month we have all taken part in the course, which was held internally at the Leeds office.  As we set out from Manchester, a few of us felt a little apprehensive about donning our metaphorical wigs, particularly bearing in mind the fact we had long ago made the decision not to become a barrister.  

At the outset of the course we were forced to confront any lingering qualms about public speaking by walking straight to the front of the room and introducing ourselves to the trainees (most of whom we’d already met through the Bedford trip or subsequently in practice inductions) and our tutor.  Once the introductions were out of the way, we were split into teams to analyse the pre-course reading that we had been provided with.  After a welcome lunch break, we were plunged straight into out first advocacy applications.  This involved working in pairs to present a Chambers application to the acting judge for the day and was very similar to the LPC advocacy course.  During our applications we were observed by some of the other trainees and our tutor to help provide feedback, which did prove very useful.

Thankfully we were all staying in a hotel in Leeds for the duration of the course, which meant that we could avoid the evening commute.  It also gave us the opportunity to socialise with the other trainees and sample some of the local restaurants and nightlife.

The second day of the course comprised the opportunity to practice ‘examination in chief’ and ‘cross examination’ on some trainee witnesses.  Interviewing the opposing team’s witnesses in cross examination was a lot of fun, as we were allowed to use leading questions, and so could trap the witnesses into admitting all kinds of things, if they weren’t careful! 

Having covered the main elements of a trial in the first few days, we were ready to play our parts in a mock trial. Although it wasn’t quite as dramatic as the opening might suggest, we were required to act in character and remember that our tutor had now taken on the role of the judge and had to remain impartial.  Everybody managed to complete their speeches without any mishaps and the verdict returned by the judge seemed quite fair.  Overall we all enjoyed the course and even if we’re not planning to step into a barrister’s shoes any time soon, it was definitely a worthwhile experience, which helped to develop some useful skills. 

Having returned to Manchester, we are now busy preparing to welcome this year’s vacation placement students next month.  We are looking forward to meeting those whose applications were successful and giving them a taste of what life as a trainee is really like.  If you are reading this in preparation for a vacation scheme at Pinsent Masons and have any questions then don’t hesitate to get in touch!