Like many school children who wish to become lawyers, I devoted many hours of my misspent youth to sitting on the sofa with my eyes glued to the television watching Ally McBeal, Elle Woods, Alan Shore and the like powerfully pontificating and dramatically gesticulating around the court room. The oratory skills of these fictional lawyers would win over even the toughest judges, reduce bewitched juries to tears and naturally allow them to win every case that came their way.
Having grown up watching these court room dramas it felt more than a little surreal to be facing my first court appearance as a litigation trainee. Although I had been taught civil court procedure in great detail on the diploma, as I travelled to the Sheriff Court everything that I had previously known seemed to disappear out of my head; I clung to my book of Sheriff Court Rules like it was a comfort blanket.
Walking into the court room felt rather like arriving on your first day at High School. Everyone seemed to be older than me and to know what they were doing. First year trainees cannot wear gowns and therefore my fellow first years and I – in our freshly pressed, brand new suits – stuck out from this professional crowd of robed figures, looking not dissimilar to children who had borrowed their parents’ suits and come to court to see “real lawyers” work. Trying my hardest to ignore the nerves building in the pit of my stomach, I sat down beside my second year trainee (and designated traineeship “buddy”) and waited for my case to call.
When my case finally called a wave of anxiety and adrenaline poured over me. I walked on shaking legs to the bench all the while repeating the phrase “Good morning my Lord, my name is Pugh and I appear on behalf of the pursuer” over and over again in my head. The whole thing was over in a matter of moments. In a shaky voice I asked for my case to be continued and the Sheriff granted my motion. He even gave me an understanding little smile aware, no doubt, that this was my court debut. When I sat back down I was filled with the desire to do more cases. I had caught the court bug and wanted to be back performing under the court’s spotlight as soon as possible.
Unfortunately my second experience in court was not as straightforward as the first. I had to deal with a fuller case load and the Sheriff seemed to take against the enthusiastic if slightly overwhelmed trainee in front of her. Dealing with Sheriffs is an important part of learning to be a litigator however, and although the experience was unpleasant and disheartening at the time, I’m trying to take it in my stride and learn from it.
I feel very lucky to have the opportunity to get so much court experience this early on in my traineeship. Hopefully with all this practice by the time my litigation seat comes to an end I will have advocacy skills to rival any of my favourite televisual litigators. Just call me Sally McBeal.
On September 5, 2014