Evelyn Blacklock

2019 Temple Bar Scholar Report

An unwitting visitor to the Temple Bar area of London might wonder if he had stumbled into a scene from Bleak House, as barristers in wigs and robes bustle through narrow cobbled streets between ancient stone buildings.  And indeed, in some ways, visiting Legal London is like stepping into Charles Dickens’s world: lawyers and judges still work, train, and mingle in the very halls and chambers haunted by the ghost of Jarndyce v. Jarndyce.  Yet Dickens would scarcely recognize the day-to-day practice of the present-day occupants of those halls and chambers, so different is sleek and modern Legal London from the byzantine world he satirized.  That juxtaposition between old and new – between institutions and customs preserved for centuries, on the one hand, and constant outward-looking reform and development, on the other – makes the British legal system a fascinating object of study. 

The Temple Bar Scholarship allowed five of us to engage in that study through an absorbing month of immersion in Legal London.  We began with a week of visits and meetings designed to familiarize us with the institutions, leading members, and workings of the British bench and bar.  The pace was fast: We toured each of the four Inns of Court, where barristers have lived and trained since the 14th century; we visited the chambers of trial, appellate, and supreme court judges; met the Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales; watched a criminal trial at the Old Bailey; and enjoyed a presentation by the delightful “Reverend and Valiant Master of the Temple,” caretaker of the Knights Templar-era church around which the Inns of Court cluster.  The climax of the week was the Opening of the Legal Year at Westminster Abbey, an annual extravaganza attended by judges and barristers in full ceremonial regalia.

That first week introduced some themes that would come into sharper focus during our time in London.  One was the remarkable reach and staying power of the British legal system.  English law of course forms the backbone of Commonwealth legal systems and the root of the American system.  But it is also frequently the law of choice in transnational disputes, ranging from routine shipping matters to more colorful Russian oligarch litigation.  Throughout the world, parties in international litigation and arbitration – especially sophisticated parties in complex commercial cases – choose to have their disputes resolved under English law and in British courts.  The judges and barristers we met attributed that choice to parties’ recognition of, and preference for, the stability and predictability of English law, the sophistication and specialization of the British commercial bench, and the abolition of juries in most civil trials. 

Another theme was the evolving role of the Inns of Court in the life of the bar.  From their humble origins as lawyers’ guilds in the Middle Ages, the Inns became prosperous institutions that trained and qualified barristers, and later also served as hubs of intellectual activity in London -- where Shakespeare debuted his plays, royalty dined, and students might study a full suite of subjects in addition to law.  Today, the Inns continue to hold moots and lectures, but the bulk of practical legal education is provided by independent (sometimes for-profit) bar schools that charge a steep fee for their services.  We learned during our visit that some barristers have begun to question that model, and the Inns are in the midst of rolling out a new experimental (and more affordable) training program of their own.

After our week of introduction, we spent two weeks in barristers’ chambers, shadowing barristers both in and out of court to get a taste of their daily work.  My placements at Brick Court Chambers and 20 Essex Street allowed me to observe the depth and breadth of commercial practice in the UK, ranging from ordinary contract disputes, to long-running international arbitrations with foreign-relations implications, to plaintiff-side data privacy litigation.  The barristers I sat with were unfailingly welcoming and generous with their time, integrating me into their case preparation, graciously answering my many questions, and going out of their way to send me to an assortment of proceedings.  Those two weeks were some of the most instructive of the four in London, particularly for an American-trained lawyer with an interest in international practice.

We spent our final week at the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom.  As luck would have it, we visited at a particularly interesting time: The court had just handed down its decision in Miller II, the case challenging the prorogation of Parliament, and the buzz surrounding that decision had not dissipated.  It was somewhat surreal to walk to the court each morning through knots of Brexit-related protesters gathering in the shadow of Parliament.  And although the cases on the court’s docket the week we visited were more quotidian, there was a good deal of variety.  In the space of four short days, we observed arguments in a complex patent case and a Privy Council case, attended a hearing related to a criminal prosecution arising out of the Troubles, watched a judgment hand-down, and sat in on discussions about petitions to appeal.  Throughout the week, we had engaging conversations with the justices and their judicial assistants, comparing the role and everyday workings of our respective supreme courts.  Our visit to the UK Supreme Court was both a privilege and an exceptional pleasure.

A summary of our time in London would not be complete without mention of some of the unofficial but equally enjoyable moments of the visit: a splendid English Sunday dinner, complete with delightful conversation about British culture and society led by our hosts; an impromptu meal with junior barristers after a reception at Lincoln’s Inn; the Magna Carta moot at Inner Temple; and the chance to give a brief talk to a group of aspiring barristers at Middle Temple (while seated at a table reportedly made from the hatch cover of the Golden Hind).  Those experiences, which we soaked up, nicely rounded out our visit to Legal London.

The Temple Bar Scholarship offered an extraordinary introduction to the British legal system, as well as a chance to meet lawyers and students who I hope will be friends and colleagues in the future.  Many thanks to the American Inns of Court and COMBAR for making the program possible, to the barristers, solicitors, and judges who hosted us, and to Cindy Dennis for her tireless work behind the scenes.

Evelyn Blacklock recently finished what she calls “an extended apprenticeship in trial and appellate practice,” serving as a law clerk to Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. of the Supreme Court of the United States, Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, and Judge Richard J. Sullivan of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York. Blacklock graduated magna cum laude from Harvard Law School; she graduated summa cum laude with an undergraduate degree in government from Patrick Henry College. She was a summer associate at Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr LLP and at Bancroft PLLC, both in Washington, D.C. She has studied Arabic, Chinese, French, Latin, and Koine Greek.