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Obiter Dicta: the perils of instructing

Obiter Dicta: the perils of instructing

By Tully Anders

Young Persons 


Obiter Dicta is the column that provides you with a refreshingly frank assessment of life as a junior lawyer.

Welcome back to another edition of Obiter Dicta. The last edition must have slipped through the cracks at HQ all the way to publication, so your humble but also cunning correspondent thought ‘why not give it another shot?’. ICYMI, Obiter Dicta is the column that provides you with a refreshingly frank assessment of life as a junior lawyer. I can confirm no punches have been or will be pulled here, especially when said punches are of the air in celebration of a win. Anyway, onwards…

Damp. That’s how your humble correspondent would describe his first experience instructing counsel at trial.

Recently, your correspondent was involved in proceedings in the Supreme Court regarding a priority dispute between creditors. Countless hours were given to the cause in preparation of trial: affidavits, chronologies, briefs, court books, court book indexes and offers of compromise. Counsel were ready. We were ready. Your humble correspondent was lucky enough to be given the opportunity to instruct counsel for a few days of the trial. Who was I to say no?

Now, references to a certain Australian film about a man and his home in Coolaroo may be a bit old hat these days. Nevertheless, your correspondent almost squealed with excitement when senior counsel leant across the bar table and asked for a glass of water.

Your correspondent dutifully complied and poured senior counsel a large draught of Adam’s ale. Unable to lean back and bask due to the erect posture required by the bench seats in the Old High Court where the trial was being held, your humble correspondent took a moment to mentally pat himself on his back and contemplate whether that moment represented the pinnacle of his fledgling legal career.

In the midst of congratulating himself, it happened: senior counsel reached for le verre d’eau to quench his thirst after taking the judge to a long line of authorities which stood for the proposition that the other party’s case was rubbish. In doing so, senior counsel knocked the large draught of water over straight onto your humble correspondent’s awaiting lap and all over his Hush Puppies.

‘How can something like this happen?’ I thought to myself, incredulously. Surely it is a pre-requisite before taking silk that a barrister can handle him or herself with a glass of water? A glass of water is a barrister’s tool of trade. I’ve got serious doubts about the selection of silk in this jurisdiction if a barrister of many years’ experience could be so clumsy with a glass of water. If it happened to me, it could happen to you. The lesson here dear readers: pack a poncho when going to trial.

Sitting at the bar table with soggy slacks and socks, your correspondent was thinking to himself that at least he could settle in for a few hours whilst counsel traded blows, when junior counsel leant across the bar table and asked for me to hand up an amended chronology to the judge’s associate. I stood up and faced the court room. Those onlookers not privy to senior counsel’s loose grip on spherical objects shot me strange glances. I could hear what they were thinking: “Goodness me; surely he could have waited?” “That’s commitment to the cause right there: not leaving his post despite severe bladder issues”.

Unperturbed, I took the amended chronology and handed it up. It was as an opportunity to air dry.


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