What Happens When You Lock a Heap of Lawyers Together in Quarantine

Lawyers milling around awaiting voluntary imprisonment

Milling around waiting for voluntary imprisonment

Several times a year, lawyers from around the globe huddle in anxious little bunches to sit the QLTS exam in London. The “Qualifed Lawyer Transfer Scheme” (you know you wanna do it) allows lawyers admitted to the bar in foreign jurisdictions to qualify as a solicitor in England (and Wales, but not Scotland). It is divided into two parts: the first is a 6 hour multiple choice exam (MCT), and the second (OSCE), is a 6 day carousel of presentations, meeting thugs (aka clients) and faffing around on Lexis Nexis to prove your research-savvy.

Last week, I was churned through and spat out the second-round OSCE mill and here’s what I remember…

The Quarantine

Not that they were trying to preserve the legal profession from an outbreak of disease – we all know how lawyers would fare (and perhaps reproduce) in an epidemic – but rather, my batch consisted of last-minuters who had to be quarantined in order to protect us from accidentally learning about the exams from the morning batch.

For three days straight (three hours per day), we stared at each other’s faces, shoes, and sandwich lunches. Eventually, we morphed into our natural states. If driving reveals our true personalities, exams are even more piercing of the suited veil.

The Scary Asian (Far East)

Though no real math is involved (apart from a bit of tax law), certain stereotypes still persist. These super well-organized Chinese attorneys had spreadsheets, diagrams, flowcharts, and stacks full of notes in cramped, tiny handwriting (wood famine in the Orient?). The level of preparation was Very Intimidating.

The Bulldozing Asian (Indian subcontinent)

As part of our “tests” we had to interview clients (e.g. grieving widows, thugs who beat up their girlfriends) and present defences in front of judges. It’s a tough spot to be in when you have no clue about the law on (let’s say, restrictive covenants) and you are expected to blather on for 25 minutes, “winning your client’s trust and confidence”. Lawyers in this category reported a rather aggressive tactic – i.e. charging in and juggernauting over any questions the client attempted to ask. 

The Fans of Earplugs

I can’t get earplugs into my ear canals so whenever I see people sporting this look, I can’t help but to stare in admiration for a long while. First, at their focus, and second from jealousy at the size of their ear holes, and the attendant flourescent foam bits I can only ever dream of fitting into.

The American

One can hear and see these from a mile away. They usually look awesome in their suits (a requirement for the first 3 days), but a drastic difference is noticeable at the Research & Writing exams (the last 3 days). Sneakers and loose shirts 3 days running is a favourite uniform. They tend to sound extremely well-prepared and ready for a stint on LA Law. Hanging around them is extremely useful if you are woefully underprepared, thus just vacuum up everything they are saying. However, if you are somewhat prepared but could have done more instead of catching up on Game of Thrones, steer clear if you don’t want to feel overwhelmed and underprepared (as you obviously are!), as they joyfully debate the minutiae of everything, ranging from sentencing limits to inheritance tax percentages.

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How to Become a Speed Reader

Actually, I don’t really know how speed reading is officially defined. I know the concept exists and I know it is a goal that people aspire to. (Kinda like being in love.) I’ve been told I read pretty fast and may be considered a “speed reader” because, depending on content, I can get the gist of a page in less than 10 seconds. Admittedly, the issue at hand cannot be overly technical and decent font-size is required. When I was 10, I won a school prize for the most books read over a month (gift voucher for more books) – and I had only listed half the books I read, not knowing it was a secret competition. (Geek Alert)

When it comes to retention, I remember names, emotions, and event sequences very well. What filters out during a session of speed reading is ruminating soliloquy, extensive scene painting (the meandering vegetation sprang lush in the wake of dawn’s sparkling dew – the grass was green and wet, I get it …), and descriptions of mechanical functions not prima facie relevant to the plot (I filter out Latin terms too). As a result, I sometimes have to flip back to a certain page when I realize that the angle of the villain’s facial mole was indeed crucial to solving the mystery. E-book devices have thus impeded my progress in this regard as the e-pages don’t flip as fast. But on the other hand, I don’t waste any time searching for the place I left off. On average, I tend to take 2-3 hours to finish a JackReacher type of novel, and much less for Nora Roberts (contingent of course on actual size of book).

Nobel Prize Winners don't pander to speed readers.

Nobel Prize Winners don’t pander to speed readers.

You’d think speed reading would be useful when you have two weeks to inhale Constitutional Law in Canada: Cases and Materials before an exam. Unfortunately, as legal tomes require intense focus, reading fast doesn’t quite cut it. (For court judgments, read them on a computer so you can word search). 

Here are some thoughts for free:

  1.  Skimming: As you probably know, speed reading is just skimming. When I skim, certain words leap out and my mind forms an image of what is happening. This then leads into a bit of anticipation which helps skim the next page efficiently. However, when there is a twist, the skimming slows down.
  2. Skipping: Reading is for pleasure. So when there are “boring bits”, feel free to jump paragraphs until your eyes rest on the next captivating line.
  3. Practice a lot. (Start in the womb if you can)
  4. Watch all your movies with subtitles. This really enhances your aptitude.
  5. If you try to do it with Dostoevsky, you’re missing the point.
  6. If you’re going to get hung up on persnickety details like whether World War I broke out on a Tuesday or Wednesday, this is not for you.
  7. Do not implement this with your boss’ emails (no matter how much it may be warranted).

But in all honesty, being a speed reader is not much use when you are myopic-astigmatic and don’t go out with your glasses. Even the McDonald’s menu is a challenge, as you stand there squinting, taking 5 minutes to figure out the different flavours of sundae.

Learning Chinese in the 1920s and Now

Chinese characters are pretty complicated. To be able to read a newspaper, you have to master about 3000 characters (there are over 50,000 in existence, but never mind). I wonder how many Westerners sporting tattoos really know for sure what those dots and dashes on their precious regions really mean.  Imagine how that badass looking to be “Fast and Furious” feels now that he knows he’s actually “Fast and Foolish”.

My grandmother, who is close to 90 now, taught herself to read Chinese by poring over entertainment bulletins distributed on the streets of her hometown. People then were motivated to learn because not knowing what the bulletins said meant missing out on the coolest shows and operas of the week. The 1920s looked very different from today where en masse and private lessons are ubiquitous. Kids in China now still learn to write characters through endless repetition and practice, but are also well versed in Roman letters. Consequently, writing Chinese on a computer or tablet is super easy, if you can read it – just type out the pinyin (transliteration) and choose from the menu of characters that pop out. No wonder penmanship is on the decline.

Working at it ...

Working at it …

As a child, I learnt it the hard way (endless repetition) and my efforts often deflated like my no-recipe-needed cakes. These days, I use Skritter on my iPad to practice. (You had me at “spaced repetition algorithm”.) It’s addictive and environmentally friendly. For $14.99 a month, I can finally bin the reams of paper and flashcards.

You've got it!

You’ve got it!

Given that China is not likely to alphabetize à la Ataturk Turkish Language Reform, it’s useful to be able to while away jet lag on Skritter as an option to dissecting that duty-free catalogue again.

Entering the Era of the Professional Daycare

All parents want the best for their children. No exception here. However, I am dubious about bombarding little babies with all types of stimulation and remortgaging the farm to fund exclusive ‘education’ in the hopes they will end up with a scholarship to Harvard. Babies born in the slums of Calcutta can grow up to be tycoons while sons of senators may well languish in rehab. All this to say that when it comes to parenting, I reckon fear of not giving your best is a great motivator.

As a baby, my father was bound in cloth to the backs of his aunts while they went about their daily grind of harvesting rice from the paddy fields in the scorching tropics of South East Asia. I’m not sure if this impeded any sort of mental development but he did go on to gain an engineering degree from Cardiff University. My husband and I were babies before the advent of fancy infant schooling but somehow between the both of us, we’ve managed to scrape together a number of acronyms in law and physics. What gives?

A new pal at crèche

Today, our Petit-Homme started his first day at crèche in The Hague. Admittedly, we were influenced by this institution’s beautiful English brochures and intensive educational pedigrees of the ‘caretakers’. Although sparkling chandeliers are not quite necessary, they did top off a well-packaged theme of learning, caring and Michelin-munching at this childcare centre.

The Better to See You With

The Better to See You With

Lest it be thought our motivations were superficial, we toured another promising crèche with far fewer bells and whistles. Alas, too many safety hazards (lots of steep stairs, strollers helter-skelter and electrical  work buzzing in the open) and carers AWOL from their kids for several minutes in the search of fresh nappies, scared the living daylights out of us.

Petit-Homme hollered for 5 minutes this morning after I said goodbye (sneaking out is not recommended), but a peek in later showed him to be bouncing happily on the lap of his caretaker. According to their latest updates online, he’s been sleeping and eating well – fingers crossed!