Don's Diary

May 26, 2000

Monday After ten years of lecturing, spending a year as a Bar student was always going to be an odd experience. The course has certainly provided the insight into legal practice, life outside academe and the breathing space that I was looking for, but juggling two very different sets of demands has been a real challenge.

Compared with benchmarking, the regime of student life has been surprisingly refreshing, and I have had more time to read law in the past term than the past couple of years. I am videoed for 12 minutes cross-examining an actor for a formal assessment of my new advocacy skills. So much for misty-eyed visions of Kavanagh QC.

Tuesday Writing "opinions" (barristerish essays) makes a pleasant change from marking them, for a while, at least. More striking and eye-opening is the rampant consumerism of my fellow students. Astounding to believe that I must tiredly repeat that paying fees is not an entitlement to qualify. Mind you, as only one in three Bar students will find a pupillage with a law firm the financial imperatives are massive, and uneven. I certainly was not that brave at 22. Ponder the disturbing similarities between mis-selling pensions and mis-selling careers.

Wednesday Six hours of exams, a stiff back, cramped hand and a sore head from drafting documents. Difficult and tiring, but stimulating. Sitting exams is a salutary reminder of my own students' forthcoming ordeal. Unfortunately, experience works both ways: it is tempting to second-guess my own examiners, or to be too "academic", instead of simply doing what is asked for. Time will tell whether I have avoided these traps. Another revelation; marking exams is actually worse than sitting the things.

The post-exam revelry is strangely subdued. It has been a long year, and my partner says he has forgotten what I look like. Enjoy a quiet evening.

Thursday Eastbourne's bracing sea air meets me as I leave my student life behind and become a delegate at the summer meeting of the council of the Association of University Teachers. Quite a cathartic experience. From the ridiculous to the sublime? Seems unlikely, as there is not much joy here either: emergency motions on threatened redundancies, including at my own university, Southampton.

It is liberating to re-enter professional life, but more than sad to consider the enduring pressures on colleagues, in Southampton and elsewhere. Heartened by the strength of support, members return to their institutions. I can't guess what they sacrifice to find the time to attend in the first place.

Friday A day of teaching and some meetings about continuing research - some of the few things that have kept me sane this year. Teaching one day a week has provided far more uninterrupted time for thought, preparation and student contact than teaching full-time. More enjoyable too, speaking entirely selfishly. I await the course review questionnaires with interest. Less conducive to thought is the building site outside my office window - the sign of a university's success?

Interrupted by exciting news of my twin sister's early labour. Makes a very welcome change from baby barristers.

Tim Jewell is director of the centre for environmental law, University of Southampton. (He gets his results in June).

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