A week in the life of a judicial assistant (Part 1): Jacob Turner, Judicial Assistant to Lord Mance
04 Friday Mar 2016
Each year the Supreme Court offers seven fixed-term posts for qualified lawyers to work as legal assistants to the Justices. Applications for these much sought-after roles are now open for next year’s vacancies, which run from September 2016 – July 2017.
The role of Judicial Assistant is varied and no two days are identical – interesting legal issues, a challenging but stimulating workload, and a need to think on your feet are the only constants, as current Judicial Assistant, Jacob Turner, explains.
I get into work at about 9.00am. All of the Judicial Assistants (JAs) share an open-plan office on the top floor of the Court building. This is great for sharing ideas and questions, although it can be a little difficult to concentrate when a group of JAs are having a frenzied debate on the correct interpretation of an obscure term in a shipping contract!
Each week the Registry asks each of us to summarise an application for permission to appeal to the Supreme Court or Privy Council into a 5-6 page document, known as a “bench memo”. These memos are usually based on the parties’ agreed statement of facts and issues. Every few weeks, different panels of three Justices consider these applications, about a third of which are accepted. We are invited to attend these meetings, which gives a real insight into the way in which the Justices interact on a professional level.
There is no case being heard today so I work on my bench memo, which takes around a day to complete. I generally leave at around 7pm although this varies depending on workload.
Today and tomorrow the Supreme Court is hearing the appeal in Patel v Mirza, a case concerning when illegal conduct prevents a claimant recovering money he has paid under a contract. This is an unusual nine judge panel, which is only used when it is a case of particular significance, when the Court is being asked to overturn a previous ruling, or if a major change or clarification of the law is being considered.
Each JA is assigned to one or two Justices, and I work with Lord Mance. As this is a case on which Lord Mance is sitting, I go to his office to discuss it with him at around 9.30am. These discussions allow us JAs to understand the way that the Justices approach cases and how their thinking evolves through the course of a hearing. Usually Lord Mance will encourage me to voice my thoughts. This can be a little daunting, as he will raise the same challenges to me as he would to an experienced QC who is making the same arguments in court. My background is as a solicitor-advocate so this is great practice for appearing before a judge.
Usually two JAs are assigned to each case, although if it is a particularly interesting one, others might join. We have our own desk at the back of the court behind the judges. Being able to watch top advocates argue cases is one of the highlights.
During the hearing I take notes. Our Justices might ask us to research a factual or legal point before or after a hearing. Today Lord Mance asks me to find certain articles for him and to consider the impact of the day’s arguments on other areas of the law. I work with the extremely helpful Supreme Court library staff to locate the documents.
Read Part 2 here.
Prior to becoming Judicial Assistant, Jacob was a solicitor-advocate in the London office of Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton LLP, where he specialised in international litigation and arbitration with a focus on sovereign clients. He previously worked as a law tutor at Oxford and King’s College London and at the Permanent Mission of Israel to the United Nations in New York, as a consultant legal advisor and speechwriter to the Ambassador. He studied at Oxford and Harvard Universities. Outside of the law, he enjoys playing sport and writing.
Interested in applying?
To meet the criteria for these appointments you must have a minimum of a 2:1 degree and be a solicitor, barrister or advocate qualified in one of the UK jurisdictions, having completed a training contract or pupillage by the start of the appointment. You will normally be intending to pursue a career in advocacy or have returned to university to carry out postgraduate research with a view to returning to a career in advocacy. You must demonstrate a high intellectual and analytical ability, incisiveness and the ability to work well under pressure.
The deadline for applications is 31st March 2016.
To apply or for further information please visit the Supreme Court’s website.