Christie Hebert

2018 Pegasus Scholar Report

The life of the law has not been logic: it has been experience.
—Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.

When Supreme Court Justice Holmes wrote the above words, he intended to highlight how the common law has evolved through judges’ intuitive understanding of problems and solutions rather than through the application of long-established legal principles or philosophy.  Justice Holmes likely did not contemplate how the Pegasus Scholarship, a scholarship exchange program where attorneys visit London for six weeks to learn about the British legal system, could affect the practice of law and the legal profession. Justice Holmes’s words, however, aptly allude to the immeasurable need for and impact of the Pegasus Scholarship. To put it simply, if the life of the law is experience, then legal practitioners must be enriched through a pressure cooker of experiences that force them to challenge and explore their intuitive understanding. For me, the Pegasus Scholarship more than achieved that objective.

Once-in-a-lifetime opportunities and thought-provoking conversations filled each day of the Pegasus Scholarship to the brim. A comprehensive description of the scholarship’s six weeks cannot be captured in an easily digestible report. Instead, I offer a short snapshot followed by some of my takeaways and observations.

The first week of the scholarship featured a whirl-wind tour of legal London. As part of an American delegation, my co-scholar, Patrick Holvey, and I met with leaders from a variety of the United Kingdom’s legal institutions. Somewhere between conversations with the Master of the Rolls, the President of the U.K. Supreme Court, the administrators of all four Inns of Court, and legal practitioners with varied subject-matter expertise, I began to gain deeper insight into how England’s legal profession is structured and how the U.K. legal system operates.

During the second week of the program, I began a three-week placement with 2 Temple Gardens, a set of barristers’ chambers, where I shadowed barrister Andrew Bershadski. Andrew arranged for me to attend an array of court proceedings in and around London with barristers from 2 Temple Gardens and integrated me into a research project that required a deep dive into British and international case law. Additionally, Andrew and I enjoyed numerous discussions comparing the English and American legal professions, and he included me in his professional networking efforts. Near the end of my time at 2 Temple Gardens, my co-scholar Patrick and I traveled to Edinburgh and Belfast with Pegasus Scholars visiting from New Zealand (Yvonne Wang) and India (Rohan Kothari). At both locations, our group of scholars met with leaders of the Scottish and Northern Irish legal professions, which are distinct from the English legal profession, and attended an assortment of court proceedings. Upon returning to London, I transitioned to a two-week placement with 3 Hare Court, a different set of barristers’ chambers, and shadowed Olivia Wybraniec. Spending time with Olivia and 3 Hare Court exposed me to Privy Council proceedings, asylum and immigration cases, and a massive commercial court trial.

This description provides only a rough outline of my Pegasus Scholarship. I welcome longer, more detailed conversations (Ask me about the Westminster Bridge Inquest!). But here, I focus on four key takeaways and observations in an attempt to broadly share some of the lessons I learned and demonstrate the value of the Pegasus Scholarship.

1. Immersion in the U.K. legal system provided insight into the values and structure of both the American and British legal systems.

In general, legal practice in the U.S. and U.K. has the same bones. Civil and criminal cases largely follow the same path in both jurisdictions. Powerful differences, however, exist. Observing these differences helped me better understand both my own legal system and alternatives. For instance, in the American legal system, the jury plays a more central, venerated role than in the British legal system. Civil cases in the U.K. are always tried to a judge rather than a jury. Where juries are used—in criminal cases and inquests (inquiries into sudden or unexplained deaths)—people in the courtroom do not stand when the jury enters or exits the room. And, at the conclusion of these cases, the judge first summarizes and comments on the relevant evidence before the jury receives the case. Such a practice would likely be grounds for a mistrial in the American system.

In addition, the Pegasus Scholarship exposed me to an alternative concept of judicial legitimacy. The wall behind the judge’s bench in each English courtroom displays the monarchy’s coat of arms with the motto “Dieu et Mon Droit” (God and My Right) prominently visible at the bottom. Relatedly, the Queen officially appoints appellate judges to the bench on the advice of the Prime Minister and recommendation of a judicial selection committee. Thus, as these elements signify, the monarchy and the divine right of kings serves as a source of legitimacy for the British court system. In contrast, much of the legitimacy and power of the American judiciary appears to derive from the citizens themselves and from the force of the judiciary’s decisions. For example, most judges are appointed by elected officials or are elected themselves. Furthermore, federal courts display the great seal of the United States, which includes the motto “E Pluribus Unum” (Out of Many, One). By comparison, Texas state courts exhibit either a plain wall or the state seal, which features only the words “The State of Texas.”

Engaging in a constant compare and contrast exercise during my scholarship experience, I learned much about both the American and British legal systems.

2. The U.K.’s split profession, which divides legal services between barristers and solicitors, provides advantages as well as disadvantages.

Repeated engagement with barristers and solicitors helped me understand how the split profession functions and the rationale behind such a split. Although solicitors and barristers are both lawyers, solicitors serve a client-facing role while barristers serve a court-facing role. Only barristers have rights of audience, i.e. the right to file the equivalent of motions and appear before tribunals.

The solicitor–barrister division allows the two categories of attorney to specialize, thereby enabling both categories to develop expertise and save time and resources. A barrister becomes highly skilled at oral advocacy while relieving the solicitor of the time-consuming task of traveling to and appearing in court. A solicitor, by contrast, cultivates skills in client management and in the transactional components of legal practice. Moreover, the court itself benefits from the split profession. In executing their court-facing role, barristers serve a greater assistive function and have a stronger duty to the court, often working with opposing counsel and the court to reach agreed or favorable outcomes. Removed from lay client demands, barristers appear to have more emotional distance from their cases than American attorneys and regularly offer impartial insight into the strengths and weaknesses of a party’s position.

On the other hand, the solicitor–barrister divide reduces accountability. For example, the solicitor drafts the witness statements while the barrister relies on these statements in court, potentially without knowing the specifics of the statements’ manufacture. This can result in the presentation of flawed or even inaccurate witness statements to the court. If a solicitor fails to properly prepare evidence or manage a case’s deadlines, it is more difficult for the court to hold that solicitor personally accountable, especially because that solicitor may not accompany the barrister to hearings or trial. Alternatively, a barrister may blame his or her poor performance on a solicitor’s errors such as the late provision of case materials.

3. A centralized justice system administration enables targeted pursuit of goals such as accessibility and efficiency.

For example, under centralized leadership, online streaming of trials and hearings has increased. Video of every argument before the U.K. Supreme Court is available on the court’s website. Cases before the Court of Appeal (Civil Division) are live-streamed on the judiciary’s YouTube channel. Lower-level courtrooms feature audio-capture equipment to enable later review of proceedings. These technological initiatives help to make the courts more accessible to the public.

Moreover, the civil system administration is exploring adding case officers to process uncontested matters such as divorce and probate via an online portal. And civil cases over a certain dollar value are required to include a case and costs management conference, where a judge sets a budget and timetable for the case. Intentional revision of the civil procedure rules reduced the use of Latin phrases (pro se litigant v. litigant in person) to make the legal system more accessible for non-lawyers. Each of these measures seeks to make the court system more accessible or efficient. Without centralized leadership providing support and direction, such efforts would likely be more scattershot.

4. The four Inns of Court foster cohesion and collaboration in the barrister profession.

Part professional association, part social club, and part educational institution, the Inns help transform the barrister occupation into an honored profession. In order to become a barrister, a candidate must be called to the bar by one of the Inns. This establishes the concept that being a barrister is a calling rather than a mere job.

Among other things, to qualify for a call each candidate must participate in a series of qualifying sessions. These sessions include both educational and social requirements, enabling candidates to learn more about the profession and form relationships with their peers and experienced barristers. Qualifying sessions and Inn dinners are charged with historical symbolism, thereby connecting the Inns and their members to the deep historical roots of both the profession and the U.K.

After a candidate becomes a full-fledged barrister, the Inns continue to provide support and opportunities. For instance, Patrick and I attended a Saturday training session hosted by one of the Inns, Middle Temple, where highly experienced barristers helped junior barristers sharpen their direct and cross-examination skills. In addition to building the skills of its members, each Inn also offers delicious lunch buffets during the work week. Served in the great hall of each Inn, these lunches provide barristers a place to connect with colleagues or bring clients and visitors. Finally, although there is some friendly competition between the Inns, they work together to address problems faced by the bar at large. For example, the Inns are exploring new ways to structure the barrister qualification process to promote greater socio-economic diversity in the bar.

Articulating the above four observations only skims the surface of my Pegasus Scholarship experience. As these four examples illustrate, the Pegasus Scholarship afforded me a comparative perspective that deepened my understanding of both my own legal system as well as the U.K. legal system. I am incredibly grateful to the American Inns of Court Foundation, the Pegasus Scholarship Trust and selection committee, the Inner Temple, and the Lloyd Lochridge Inn of Court for this opportunity. A thank you also goes to Sellisha Lockyer for arranging our placements and the trip to Edinburg and Belfast. To my hosts, Andrew and Olivia, your generosity and hospitality will never be forgotten. Thank you! I look forward to returning the favor one day. Cindy Dennis, both Patrick and I cannot thank you enough for serving as our point of contact and facilitating our entire scholarship experience. You help make the scholarship the meaningful experience that it is! Finally, a special thank you goes to Patrick Holvey, who shared countless observations, pictures, and meals with me during our scholarship.

The Pegasus Scholarship forever changed the paradigm of experience shaping my practice of law. Harnessing that experience, I will apply the comparative perspective I gained for the entirety of my career. And although Justice Holmes was not referring to the need for the Pegasus Scholarship experience when he wrote that the life of the law is experience, the need for such experiences to broaden and refresh our intuitive understanding is plainly a corollary of his thesis.

Christie Mason Hebert of Austin, Texas, is a law clerk for Judge Sam Sparks of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas. She is a member of the Lloyd Lochridge American Inn of Court and serves on the American Inns of Court Young Lawyers Task Force.

A graduate of Davidson College, Hebert earned her bachelor of arts degree in economics. She attended the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs and the University of Texas School of Law concurrently, earning a master of public affairs and a juris doctor degree in December 2015. She was administrative associate editor of the Texas Law Review as well as a teaching assistant. She received the Dean’s Achievement Award in Legal Research and Writing and the Beck Award for Research and Writing.

While in law school, Hebert was a summer associate at the firms of Jones Day and Beck Redden LLP, both in Houston. She also served as a law clerk with the U.S. Senate Office of Legislative Counsel and as an intern for Judge Ronald H. Clark of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas. After graduating, she served as a law clerk in the Civil Litigation Division of the Travis County Attorney’s Office. Upon completion of her clerkship and Pegasus scholarship, Herbert will join the firm of Johns & Counsel in Austin.