2012 Temple Bar Scholar Report
As the world discovered during the 2012 Olympic Games, London offers much to see and experience. For lawyers-particularly American lawyers-legal London should be at the top of the list. The Temple Bar Scholarship provides a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be immersed, for one month, into the legal life of the United Kingdom. It was an invaluable experience for which I am grateful.
The first week of the program was a whirlwind introduction to legal London and the practice of law in the United Kingdom. Beginning with the Opening of the Legal Year Ceremony at Westminster Abbey, each day brought new places to see and people to meet. We visited courts such as the Old Bailey, the Royal Courts of Justice, and the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom. We dialogued with leading members of the bar and judiciary, including the President of the Supreme Court, the Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales, and the Master of the Rolls. And we spent an afternoon at each of the four Inns of Court-the ancient institutions that still call every member to the English bar.
What struck me most during this first week was the generosity shown toward us by each person we met. Although all had full schedules, it was not unusual for our hosts to spend over an hour with us, sharing thoughts about their lives and experiences. The conversations were wide-ranging, covering such topics as the historical foundations of law in England and America, the recent changes within the judiciary of the United Kingdom, and the best attributes of successful advocates and judges. As we discovered over the following weeks, an enthusiasm for passing on one's experience to the next generation of lawyers is characteristic of the English bar.
During the second and third weeks of the program, we had the opportunity to sit in chambers with leading barristers. Glen Davis QC and Lloyd Tamlyn of South Square, and Stephen Kenny QC of 7 King's Bench Walk, graciously allowed me to observe their work and answered my many questions. Much of the day to day work of a barrister looks like that of a lawyer at any American law firm-meeting with clients, drafting briefs (or skeleton arguments, as they are called in England), and presenting arguments to courts. One notable difference, however, is the independence of the barrister. In England, each barrister is essentially a solo practitioner. Although they join together in sets of chambers for administrative reasons, each barrister's work is his own. Because the chambers tend to specialize in particular areas of the law, it is not uncommon-quite surprisingly for American lawyers-that two barristers from the same chambers will be retained to represent opposite sides in a legal dispute. I observed this firsthand when barristers from one of the chambers I visited appeared in court against each other in a multi-billion-dollar lawsuit.
On a more substantive level, it was striking how much more international the practice of law is in England compared with the United States. Historically, the sophistication of the English legal system and the scope of the British Empire made England a natural forum for the world's disputes, and this tradition has continued through to today. England's Commercial Court, which we had an opportunity to visit, routinely hears business disputes involving foreign parties and activities. This of course benefits England's economy-legal services are a major export. But it also benefits the parties appearing before the court, who may not be able to obtain a fair hearing in their home jurisdiction. In fact, for a country like Honduras, which recently established certain "development zones" that operate under a system of laws for which the Privy Council in London is the court of last resort, the stability provided by the British judiciary can be a source of assurance to companies looking to invest. The historic internationality of England's legal profession thus seems to be on firm footing.
After experiencing the life of a barrister, we spent the final week of the program at the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom, where we were each hosted by a Justice of the Court. This was a truly unforgettable experience. I had the privilege of sitting with Lord Reed, one of the Scottish Justices and a newer member of the Court. Lord Reed was exceptionally generous with his time, and did all he could to include me and my colleagues in the work of the Court. The other Justices also graciously welcomed us, even treating us to a memorable dinner in the House of Lords. After dinner, the Justices took us up to the room in which they met as the Appellate Committee of the House of Lords, where they showed us a painting of the last business conducted by that committee before it left the House of Lords and became the Supreme Court in October 2009. Many of the current Justices were identifiable in the painting, a reminder of how much has changed in such a short time.
While at the Court we also had the opportunity to observe several oral arguments. For American lawyers accustomed to arguments lasting less than an hour, sitting through a one-and-a-half day presentation-the average in English courts-was a new experience. It was tempting to try to determine which is the better approach to advocacy, and my colleagues and I had more than one conversation along these lines with English lawyers. But there may ultimately be no resolution to that debate because oral argument in the two systems simply serves different purposes. In the United States, the emphasis is on written submissions, and oral argument is merely an opportunity for the judges to clarify their understanding of the what they have read. There is no expectation that every point will be made; in fact, the expectation is that the lawyer will focus on the most critical points. In England, by contrast, the focus is on the oral presentation, and there is an expectation that the lawyers present their entire argument orally or risk forfeiting a point, leading, of course, to longer arguments with more time spent covering the facts and the details of each issue. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the presentations we American lawyers believed to be the best were often viewed by our English counterparts as too brisk and cursory, while those they considered the strongest were to us slow and tedious. Maybe we simply prefer what we are trained to expect.
In sum, the Temple Bar Scholarship was an unmatched opportunity to experience legal London up close, and to interact with its leaders. Our experiences certainly brought to light various differences between the English and American legal systems, some of which I have discussed above. But in focusing on the differences it is possible to lose sight of all that the two systems have in common. Much has happened in the 236 years since the Declaration of Independence, and the legal professions in England and the United States have often responded to new challenges in different ways. But the two systems will always share a common heritage, and there remains a great deal we can learn from each other. It was a privilege to have the opportunity to become better acquainted with our British counterparts, and I am grateful to all who made my participation in the Temple Bar Scholarship possible.
Christopher DiPompeo received his J.D. from the University of Pennsylvania Law School with highest honors, where he served as editor-in-chief of the University of Pennsylvania Law Review and as president of the Christian Legal Society. He was the recipient of the 2008 Burton Distinguished Writing Award, given yearly for the 15 best student-written comment articles. He received his B.A. in economics, magna cum laude, from the University of Maryland Baltimore County. After law school, Mr. DiPompeo served as an associate for Jones Day in Washington, D.C. He is currently a judicial clerk for Chief Justice of the United States, John G. Roberts, Jr.