Aug 28, 2019

Written By Rajesh Vora

Barrister work experience: marshalling

Aug 28, 2019

Written By Rajesh Vora

Marshalling is an excellent way to learn about the legal profession from a different angle. Read on to discover what exactly marshalling entails and how you can secure such an experience.

For those of you who are not aware, marshalling involves shadowing a judge. Ordinarily, one can marshal for anything between one day and one week. I have marshalled twice, once for three days and once for a week.

How useful is marshalling?

Both times were invaluable and I can’t stress enough how useful it is to marshal a judge if you aspire to the Bar. It stands out on your CV and it is really quite a useful experience.

Also, if you like the feeling of your power kicks, you might be interested to know that during cases you are usually allowed to sit on the bench next to the judge, and so it can feel like counsel are making submissions to you too! 

Marshalling is by no means a substitute for mini-pupillages but complements them very well.

Indeed, marshalling is best experienced after having done a mini-pupillage or two because it allows you to see the final stage of the legal process and to witness – it is useful to see the result of all the work done by the solicitors and barristers.

It shows you what you will be working towards as a practitioner: your day in court.

> Fancy yourself as a future barrister? Get the low down.
> Want to find out more about mini-pupillages? Click here.

Why marshall?

Having done a few mini-pupillages and stints of marshalling, I can honestly say that while mini-pupillages give you a good insight into life at the Bar and that particular chambers, marshalling affords a unique ‘bird’s eye view’ of the legal system.

Bear in mind that most judges used to be barristers and so they are experts. As a result, they have a kind of clarity of expression that you don’t get with barristers. To put it colloquially, they will ‘tell it how it is’.

In my experience, judges are very open about their work and their impartiality makes them useful resources, as they will be frank, for example, about the merits of a case or the strengths and weaknesses of counsel’s advocacy.

Don’t be surprised if a judge criticises a barrister’s performance or case once back in chambers! Finding out what advocacy styles strike a chord with a judge is useful for preparing moots, debates and most importantly in practice.

How to get on a marshalling scheme:

There are three ways to secure marshalling.

1) For those of you who are lucky enough to have a contact through family connections, chase this up as it’s the easiest way.

2) Contact your Inn of Court as they all offer formal marshalling schemes.

3) If you’re not a member of an Inn yet (shame on you, join one!) or if you’re going to be a solicitor, then you can simply contact your local Crown or county court.

To do this, you’ll need to phone the ‘court manager’ or ‘listing officer’ at your chosen court and enquire whether marshalling is offered there. The contact details are easily found on the HMCS website.

Next, send a copy of your CV and a covering letter to your point of contact explaining why you want to do marshalling and your dates of availability.

> Don't know how to write a covering letter? Never fear, our advice articles are here.

If you do manage to arrange some marshalling then make sure you’ve got all the basics covered: get a dark suit, research the judge you’re shadowing and write a thank you email to your court contact.


During the marshalling…

When you first meet the judge it’s a good idea to enquire how they wish to be addressed.

When I marshalled at the High Court I knew the proper mode of address was “‘my Lord”’ or “‘my Lady”’, but most of the judges I asked, asked to be addressed by their first names.

However, not all will be so humble; when I attended my local Crown court the judge at my local crown court preferred to be addressed formally at all times.

When marshalling, try to walk the line between barely speaking and babbling endlessly.

As a rule of thumb, only speak when spoken to until you’ve built up rapport with the judge. I don’t want to paint all judges as too self-important to converse with “‘mere students”’.

But realistically, when nervous, you’re quite liable to say something stupid or worse, say something pointless.

Getting to know the judges

In reality, situations vary with each judge; some chat to you for 20 minutes about life, the universe and everything, others are inclined to plonk you on an armchair and wince every time you disturb the sacred silence!

During one marshalling stint, I was lucky enough to be able to sit with four different judges.

This turned out to be a rare blessing as I was able to see the sheer dissimilarity variance between the judges: some would offer me a coffee (always decline) and chat to me for ages about the intricacies of the cases they were hearing. 

Others would adopt a look of intense annoyance if you so much as rustled a newspaper.

One judge peered up from his papers every few minutes, clearly savouring my inner turmoil as to whether I should ask an intelligent question or simply sit quietly until it was time to go to court.

What to expect from marshalling…

The variety of things you are able to observe will vary from court to court and from day to day, so don’t expect every day to be packed with murder trials and heated cross-examinations.

One day I watched what seemed like a hundred bail applications, which are interesting at first but fast become tedious.

Another day I got to see the conclusion of an interesting rape case and on one day I saw next to nothing in court, reduced to simply flicking through an issue of Counsel in the judge’s chamber for a few hours.

If you get a particularly kind judge, they may offer to take you to lunch one day, as is sometimes the case during mini-pupillages. However, this is by no means ‘the norm’ and should not be expected.

I myself was treated to lunch in my Inn one day and had a rare opportunity of an uninterrupted conversation with the judge one to one, which was brilliant.

At another court, I was allowed to eat lunch in the judges’ dining room every day and was privy to some very interesting conversations.

I probably learnt as much about life on the bench and at the Bar during the lunches with judges as I did during a whole mini-pupillage.

It really was quite good fun, but if you are lucky enough to dine with several judges, just sit, ask questions and observe, resisting the urge to chime in with anecdotes amounting to “‘me too”’. They probably don’t care and you’ll learn more if you don’t talk. 

Lastly and of crucial importance is remembering to send the judge a thank you letter or, at the very least, a thank you email.

If you’re lucky enough to secure some marshalling, make the most of it, it goes by quickly and you may well find yourself wishing you were back there during your next land law lecture. 

Bona Fortuna!

> If you're keen to build your work experience in preparation, head over to our Law Jobs section.