2017 British Pegasus Scholar Report
I was not sure what to expect from my Pegasus Scholarship when I set out for Washington, DC on a cold October morning. After two years of civil practice, I hoped that this early-career sabbatical would provide engaging work and an opportunity to immerse myself in American law.
What followed was a six-week tour through America, marked by the depth and breadth of the experiences that had been arranged for me. Instead of working at one law firm, the American Inns of Court dispatched my co-scholar and I and across seven different states and to hundreds of different events. We beat a frenetic path from the sober, reserved Wilmington, Delaware to the ostentatious, scorching streets of Los Angeles, California and back.
The American Inns of Court’s main aim in this endeavour was to teach us about the differences between the US and the UK’s respective legal structures. The starkest was immediately obvious - the American division between individual state law and the federal system. We soon learned that this is a country with fifty-one legal super-structures operating in parallel.
To familiarise us with the national system, we visited federal courts in Delaware, Florida, Los Angeles and the Californian countryside. We were able to observe the country’s top judges in action before having lunch with them afterwards. Each was generous with their time and in many instances was bemused to hear of legal London’s various idiosyncrasies.
Back in Washington, DC I shadowed the Chief Judge of the Court of Federal Claims, which decides large civil cases brought against the federal government. We were able to compare notes and discuss similar British cases in which I am involved.
The American Inns of Court committee also exposed us to a variety of federal law enforcement agencies, with security briefings from the FBI and a tour around the Pentagon being particular highlights.
In the state courts of Florida, Virginia, Los Angeles it was a somewhat unsettling experience to see jury trials in most civil cases - something entirely alien to me as a British civil practitioner. The process of jury selection was another shock. We saw the advocates ask a wide array of personal questions to the jury with the aim of eliminating those likely to be unsympathetic to their respective cases.
The difference in formality from the federal courts was unmistakable—the judges were familiar and easy-going, and the advocates were able to dress and act more casually than their British counterparts.
We were also taken to see criminal law in action in the state courts. The vast proportion of the cases we saw involved opiates and guns—a far higher level, I was reliably informed by my co-scholar, than could be expected in the UK. I enjoyed the chance to rekindle my interest in this side of the law, which I have not encountered since my studies.
Our experiences were put into context by fascinating trips to see how the law is enforced on the streets. These included a ride-along with the Virginia state police, trips to the police HQs in Orlando and to a jail in Virginia.
We also visited the appellate courts. Appellate advocacy is very different in the US and the UK. In the USA, advocates only receive about fifteen minutes to argue their cases, with the key to winning a case lying in the production of definitive written submissions in advance. The judges are far keener to intervene on advocates, who are permitted about twenty seconds before the relentless stream of interruptions commences. The culmination of our placements was a day at the Supreme Court in Washington DC observing a commercial case, having had the chance to see a preparatory moot the day before.
The death penalty remains the most internationally visible distinction between the British and American systems. We learned from the District Attorney in Los Angeles how each decision to seek the death penalty is taken, and heard about both the human and monetary cost of prosecuting those cases. On the defence side, experienced capital defenders in Orlando and Washington talked us through the variety of delaying tactics and methods that are used to defeat a capital case. We also had the chance to be walked through the defence of one of the 9/11 conspirators by his government-appointed counsel.
In almost every city we visited, we were given the opportunity to address members of the local legal community. We gave presentations on the British legal system and were able to explain to those in attendance the significance of the division between barristers and solicitors, the fact that criminal barristers in the UK prosecute and defend, and the impact of Brexit on the UK’s legal system.
Sharing our experiences, learning from and debating with American lawyers is at the heart of the cross-border collaboration that the Pegasus Scholarship is designed to promote. It was hugely valuable.
The scholarship was not, however, confined to the law. Arriving in Washington one year after Donald Trump’s election and just as the first arrests were made in Special Counsel Mueller’s inquiry into that election, it was impossible not to become engrossed in American politics.
The American Inns of Court committee organised a fascinating array of political activities for us. I enjoyed guided tours of the Senate and the House of Representatives, met the chairman of the Republican National Committee and attended the influential Federalist Society’s annual convention. I was also able to experience hands on campaigning when assisting a putative Democratic candidate for Virginia’s 5th congressional district with fundraising for her primary selection.
Over the course of the four weeks I spent in Washington, DC, I met with various political figures, from Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, Solicitor General Noel Francisco, Labour Secretary Alberto Costa, Senator Chuck Schumer and several of the Supreme Court justices.
Finally, visits to the CNN studios and a backstage tour of the world-famous ‘Newseum’ provided an alternative view of politics from the perspective of the press, which is rapidly adapting to the unique challenge posed by the new President.
Despite our packed schedule, there was also plenty of time for fun. Our incredibly kind hosts in Orlando arranged visits to the Kennedy Space Center, an NBA basketball game and a trip to Harry Potter World at Universal Studios.
In Los Angeles we had a guided tour of Beverly Hills, dined out in Hollywood, visited the original film set of Jaws and received a personal tour of the RMS Queen Mary.
In Washington, DC our hosts arranged a trip to a petrifying Halloween night which involved being ambushed by a chainsaw-wielding maniac, a ludicrously well-attended college football match, a day at Thomas Jefferson’s ranch Monticello, a night out at Mean Girls: The Musical and an evening of Bob Dylan’s Never Ending Tour.
Undoubted highlights of the trip were the formal celebrations, to which I was honoured to be invited. The American Inns of Court Celebration of Excellence in the Supreme Court building was a wonderful evening, with the great and the good of America’s legal system gathered in the courtoom and ante-chambers for a black tie dinner. I was pleased to find that my head of chambers David Pittaway QC was in attendance representing the British Inns of Court as the Treasurer of Inner Temple.
On the other side of the country, we were privileged to attend to a ball to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Long Beach Bar as guests of the Ball-Hunt-Schooley Inn of Court.
Finally, my trip culminated with the Federalist Society’s annual black tie ball, addressed by their protégée Justice Gorsuch, attended by over a thousand people and held in the elegant surroundings of the Grand Hall of Union Station, Washington, DC.
My time in the USA proved an unparalleled experience. I am so grateful to have been chosen for the scholarship, and equally thankful for all the time and effort my volunteer hosts put into executing our schedule and answering all my questions. There were far too many wonderful people to mention all by name, but the outpouring of goodwill and kindness was extraordinary.
I am looking forward to visiting all these new friends when I next find myself in the USA and welcoming any of them to Temple when they come to London.
Theo Barclay is a barrister practising from Hailsham Chambers, a leading commercial and medical law chambers based in Temple, London. He has been in practice for two years, focusing on a mixture of commercial and public law. Barclay has appeared in courts throughout the UK in commercial disputes from major frauds to professional liability claims. He is also building a practice in media and sports law matters and has acted as a junior barrister in major commercial trials from group actions to complex misrepresentation claims. His practice has an international focus as he is frequently asked to advise on jurisdictional and conflicts of law issues. He has acted for the British Government throughout the long running Kenya Emergency Group Litigation, in which many elderly Kenyans seek damages for alleged abuses they suffered during British colonial rule in the 1950s.
Barclay studied History at Brasenose College, Oxford University before completing his legal qualifications at City University, London. He is a Hardwicke, Lord Haldane, Lord Denning and Wolfson scholar of Lincoln’s Inn and was called to the Bar in 2013. He has a deep interest in politics and international relations, and frequently writes for various newspapers and journals on legal and political matters.