Semester In London (SIL) 2007 Orientation

This past week, while I didn’t have a reliable internet connection I wrote down some thoughts and observations from the day I left Houston and my first week in London. There’s a few days worth, so I’ll post them here over the next couple of days.

2007-09-26 – Wednesday

Tuesday and Wednesday have mostly been taken up with orientation. Tuesday morning we had an introduction from the director of the SIL program, as well as Pamela Celentano, the deputy director who has been our primary point of contact. The program apparently started with The University of Texas School of Law, but over the past several years, other schools have joined and this year there are students from University of Michigan, Georgetown and Cornell. I think there are 52 students here right now.

Tuesday afternoon, the school furnished us with a bus tour of greater London and we saw Trafalgar Square, the South End (theaters and such, including Hays Wharf), the HMS Dublin, which was at D-Day and is now a museum at anchor in the Thames, Piccadilly Circus, Fleet Street, the Royal Crown Court, St. Paul’s Cathedral, Westminster Abbey and the Palace of Westminster and Big Ben. That sounds like a lot and the tour took about 3 hours, but it really can’t convey how little we scratched the surface. But it was a nice way to get a general idea of where the major stuff is located and get a quick look at it.

The tour was conducted by a “Blue Badge” guide named Victoria, who was excellent. Very thorough knowledge of the history of seemingly everything as well as dry British wit. She said that she used to be a solicitor herself. You meet a lot of “former” attorneys around. A Blue Badge is an official designation the guides have to earn by knowing a lot about whatever topic your giving a tour on and passing a rigorous test. I think its a national program.

Today, Victoria took us on a walking tour of legal London. We toured three of the four “inns of court” where barristers have to be members, and even got to go inside one of the main halls of the Middle Inn. We got to walk all over and she showed us the buildings, some of which have been there since the 1600’s. The Inns historically served as “colleges” where the barristers lived and worked and also served as training grounds for future lawyers. In the past there have been many inns, but today only 4 remain, Middle, Inner, Lincoln and Gray’s. The Hall we saw at Middle Temple was where Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night was first performed.

The British bar has traditionally been divided into barristers and solicitors. Solicitors would represent the client, handling a broad range of matters that didn’t require actual courtroom work, while barristers actually represented clients in courts. When a matter required an action in court, the solicitor would engage a barrister on behalf of the client. That system is evolving now, with some solicitors receiving permission to act in court.

At Lincoln’s Inn we saw the church where John Donne was the preacher and the guide told a funny story. When one of the masters of the bench of the inn died (the masters ran a lot of things in the inn and had a lot of power), the bell would toll at noon, as court let out, presumably to allow the other members of the inn to offer a prayer in remembrance. However, in practice, when they heard the bell, the members of the inn would quickly send their clerk to inquire who had died and to submit their application to replace the master. As a result, Donne penned a sermon with the famous words, “Ask not for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee . . .”

n.b. Maybe there are other parts of town that stay up late, but around my place, they roll up the sidewalks around 8:00 p.m. The big stores on Oxford street do the same.

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