Katherine Mims Crocker
2014 Temple Bar Scholar Report
We came from Michigan, Russia, South Africa, and Virginia, all by way of stopovers for school from California to Connecticut. And we came, more immediately, from Washington, D.C., where we had learned a thing or two about the American legal system. We converged on London, however, knowing that we could learn many new lessons in the birthplace of that system-lessons that we might have heard echo across U.S. courts and law firms but that we hoped to perceive most clearly in their original milieu.
Our instruction began immediately. Our first week in "legal London" featured an introduction to the Inns of Court, institutions that trace their lineage to the Middle Ages but that continue to play an active role in the lives of barristers today. The Inns-colloquially known as Gray's, Inner, Lincoln's, and Middle-flung open not only the physical gates surrounding their spectacular libraries, courtyards, banquet halls, and chapels, but numerous cultural gates through which we were able to glimpse such distinctively British concepts as pupillage, Queen's Counsel, benchers, and (of course) fish-and-chips Fridays. The warmth with which the Inns welcomed four wide-eyed Americans foretold a hospitality that we were humbled to encounter at every door we entered. Those doors are too many to name, but they included the Law Society, the Bar Council, the National Pro Bono Centre, and the workplaces of several preeminent jurists. Each stop of that whirlwind week impressed upon us the importance of establishing connections between and among disparate wings of the profession-the expert and the novice, the charitable and the commercial, the litigator and the counselor, the bench and the bar, the American and the international-rather than siloing ourselves along educational, ideological, experiential, or geographical lines.
During the second and third weeks, our tutelage expanded to include substantive legal lessons as we embarked on assignments in individual barristers' chambers. Scurrying down Chancery Lane, carrying binders and perhaps even a wig into the Royal Courts of Justice, and soaking in trial and appellate arguments in courtrooms alternately ancient and modern, we continuously gleaned bits and pieces of British statutory and common law. Some sounded comfortably familiar-challenging an administrative ruling as essentially arbitrary, determining whether a contractual breach was material. Some sounded entirely novel-the European Union's intricate telecommunications licensing scheme, complex chartering agreements among international shipping companies. But more than any actual points of law, we will remember the signature barrister's spirit of independence. Formally self-employed and banded together as chambers via mere "tenancies" in common buildings, barristers work in a far more autonomous manner than do the firm-dwelling American attorneys with whom we are most familiar. Assistants are few and far between. A team of more than two lawyers seems rare as well. Both upsides and downsides quickly come to mind upon even a casual comparison of the systems. But we will undoubtedly draw inspiration from the sense of personal pride and workmanship with which the barristers we shadowed approached whatever tasks they undertook.
Our final week, which we spent observing the work of the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom, stood as the capstone of our educational journey. Fresh off serving as law clerks to Justices of the Court's U.S. counterpart, we were eager to compare and contrast. Much is the same-above all, the sense of civility among all involved and the special bond between the clerks (called "judicial assistants" there). But much is different as well. We were especially struck by distinctions in the form and function of oral argument. In the United States, appellate arguments serve to sharpen and, ideally, help resolve a sticking point or two at the heart of the case. Discussion is usually limited to sixty minutes (as in our Supreme Court) or even less. Advocates are often highly skilled rhetoricians accustomed to making impassioned pleas for justice. In the United Kingdom, by contrast, appellate arguments are far more likely to be comprehensive in scope and conversational in style. Hours-or sometimes days, as with one case we witnessed-may be set aside for a single argument. Although lower tribunals mostly conform to traditional judicial formalities, the Supreme Court generally eschews robes, and the bench sits flush with the floor. It is not uncommon for a barrister politely to interject to correct what he perceives as a misstatement by his opponent. The causes of these characteristics are doubtless complex-some historical, some cultural, some practical. But the effect is refreshingly simple. "We're all in this together, just trying to find the right answers," the Lord Justices seem to say. "So, let's talk." Indeed, throughout our time in London, it became clear that what might be described as a communal approach of sorts resonates throughout much of British law-from the "cab-rank rule," whereby barristers generally cannot discriminate among potential clients, to the expansive system of publicly funded legal aid (which, despite recent reductions, covers much more ground than in the United States). Again, advantages and disadvantages surely inhere in the differing systems. But much American litigation could perhaps benefit from a dash of the British "let's-talk" mentality.
Interconnection, independence, and community: the lessons we learned are in some ways complementary and in others, contradictory. But one could hardly expect anything else from lessons learned in England-home to olden traditions and contemporary innovations, to a society that is both aristocratic and progressive; to royal weddings on one side of Westminster and the House of Commons on the other. And these lessons barely scratch the surface. We came from places not only across the United States, but across the globe, and we had spent years upon years devouring legal knowledge. Yet we learned more during a single month within the narrow confines of legal London than we could have anticipated. We are immensely grateful to the American Inns of Court for the opportunity, to the British Inns for their hospitality, to the barristers whom we shadowed for their kindness, to the Justices of the U.K. Supreme Court for their candor, to the judicial assistants for their humor, and to the many others who made the Temple Bar experience unforgettable for their time. And although I have taken the liberty of speaking for my fellow scholars for much of this report, I must close by thanking each of them for their map-reading skills, their adventurous palates, and what I am confident will be our lifelong friendships.
Katherine Mims Crocker currently serves as a law clerk for Associate Justice Antonin Scalia of the Supreme Court of the United States. Previously, she served as a law clerk for Judge J. Harvie Wilkinson III of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit. She graduated first in her class from the University of Virginia School of Law in 2012, where she was a member of the Order of the Coif and served as articles development editor for the Virginia Law Review. During law school, Crocker earned many awards and honors including the Faculty Award for Academic Excellence and the Z Society Shannon Award. Her law review note, "Securing Sovereign State Standing", was published in the Virginia Law Review and has been cited favorably by a number of legal scholars; and she has an article pending publication in the Georgia Law Review. Crocker graduated cum laude from Harvard University with a bachelor's degree in History and Science.