Class conscious - Barristers

One of my most irritating habits, I've been told, is telling people I'm a barrister, albeit a non-practising one. But what's the point of doing all that training if you can't drop the fact - OK, force the fact - into the conversation occasionally?

I had always revered barristers for snob reasons, and becoming one seemed a good way of not only securing solid middle-class status, but even projecting myself into the quasi-baronial world that I thought some barristers inhabited.

To me, whereas the barristers were lead guitarists, solicitors were mere backing vocalists, if that, and I could never understand how they could voluntarily forgo all the glamorous trappings of the learned friends.

When I was reading for the Bar, there was talk of doing away with trappings, including abandoning wigs and gowns, which bothered me in that the wig and the gown were two of the main reasons I was trying to become a barrister in the first place. I would pose in front of a mirror, with my gown hanging half-way down my back a Ia George Carman, whom I idolised. I especially enjoyed the way he lit up a Silk Cut whenever he stepped outside court, an action epitomising the slightly louche, epater les bourgeois tendency of the best barristers.

Eventually, I did become disturbed about my motives for wanting to practise as a barrister, but remained hooked on the idea of the lifestyle and status. I needed something to break the spell, and that something came along when a leading criminal advocate performed for us students what he said was one of the best closing speeches ever. It dated from the early 19th century, and was about the illegal movement of some slaves, ending with the emotional statement that they were never to return home again. In the awed silence that followed, the cynical English graduate sitting next to me whispered: "The last word is superfluous."

After that I began trying to think of barristers as just another lot of white-collar professionals, lacking the grace of writers and artists. But actually it's very hard to look with condescension on a practising barrister in full flow.

And don't they just know it.