30.11.06

Day 43 (week 9): One third of the damages

Today I watched the Boss stumble into and around a conflict of interest. We were sat in a conference in Chambers with the solicitor and client. The client was claiming around half a million pounds following a lifting accident at work. The client asked the Boss how much he would get in his pocket if the case settled for half a million. There was an awkward pause by the Boss as he exchanged glances with the solicitor. The solicitor then piped up with the following:
“Well, as you know, we have a contingency agreement that we will be paid one third of your damages so you will get to keep two thirds which would be just over three hundred and thirty thousand pounds.”

I almost jumped out of my seat. Even pupils know that taking a share of the damages are illegal in cases such as this. Furthermore, the solicitor would be getting his usual costs paid by the other side as well. A fast one was well and truly being pulled and I wondered whether this was because the solicitor assumed that this client was unlikely to understand this due to his lack of formal education. Even the Boss looked a little uneasy and simply commented that any costs arrangements were between the client and his solicitor and all the Boss could do was to advise as to what the client would get before that point.

At the end of the conference when the client had gone and I was supposedly making coffee for the Boss and his solicitor, I overheard the following conversation:
“You do know that contingency fees are illegal?”
“No.”
“Well they are. I also think that puts me in a difficult position. If the case goes any further, I would be bound to advise the client of this fact. Indeed, many people might say that I perhaps should have advised the client of that today or at the very least to have withdrawn from the case on the basis of a conflict of interest at that stage. So, either you’ll have to change the agreement or I will have to withdraw.”
“OK. Thanks for telling me. I’ll look into it.”

29.11.06

Day 42 (week 9): Wigs and gowns

Today the Boss and I went off to the High Court to get the stamp of approval on a consent order following a settlement. Given that it was a final hearing, we both had to put on the wig and gown which, for me, was the first time that I had done this in court. I have to admit some to some degree of satisfaction as I straightened the wig and checked it all in the mirror. However, I couldn’t help reflecting how absurd the whole thing was. It simply acted as a symbol of how completely out of touch much of the legal world and in particular the Bar was with modern society. They may have been the height of fashion in Charles II’s time. They may also have helped keep the nits and other bugs away in the nineteenth century. But these days they only perpetuated an image of the Bar as being left in the past.

Still, for today I liked it.

28.11.06

Day 41 (week 9): The tape

Had lunch with Worrier today. She had had her morning meeting with the Head of Chambers and she had also made a recording although I didn’t get to hear it. Needless to say, he had discouraged her from making any formal complaint, even to him. He was sure it was something which could be sorted out informally with a word in the right ear. Two choice quotes which Worrier told me about were the following (as near as I can remember):

“I can assure you that I say this with the very best of intent for your career. Be very careful where you take this. A woman can get a name for herself for causing trouble which it becomes impossible to lose in such a small world.”

“I’m afraid Dear, you’re going to have to get used to the rough and tumble of the Bar. It’s only going to get worse once you’re in court and throwing insults at each other across a courtroom. To survive in this job, you have to be tough. I’m sure [the barrister she was complaining about] was only trying to help you.”

I agreed with Worrier that his reaction perhaps wasn’t surprising given the talk he’d given us at the start of the year. However, it was extraordinary given the nature of the complaint she was making. The choices were either to make a formal complaint to Chambers or alternatively to take it straight to the Bar Council and include the Head of Chambers. I suggested she should not over-step the mark and that perhaps it was wise simply to formalise her complaint with Chambers. She said she would think about it.

25.11.06

Day 40 (week 8): Showdown

The Boss was in a storm today. The Senior Clerk had been to see him. Seems the Senior Partner of the firm of solicitors who were doing the accident on a ship had been in touch. Was very concerned that the Boss’ advice hadn’t been received. Wanted to know every detail as to when it was sent out. The Senior Clerk was equally concerned although he couldn’t put his finger on it as there was no way of knowing that the records had been doctored. He was therefore left having to question the Boss straight out as to what had happened. The Boss was brazen in his lies it seems. Judgment, though, is reserved and this has left him more than a little tetchy to be around.

24.11.06

Day 39 (week 8): Raised eyebrows

Got an email from Worrier this morning. Apparently she has an appointment with the Head of Chambers for Monday morning. Should set the cat among the pigeons.

In the meantime, the Boss is definitely now flirting with BusyBody. Even OldRuin raised his eyebrows at me when the Boss made some comment to her today about what he’d heard about the work she was doing.

23.11.06

Day 38 (week 8): Sex discrimination?

Worrier came to visit today. Asked if I was free for lunch. Naturally, the Boss obliged and off we went to Chancery Lane. She wanted my advice. It seems that a particular member of Chambers has been picking on her. It started with him asking her to do a piece of work. When she returned it, he was highly critical and then asked for it to be done again. On returning the papers for a second time, he was even more critical. The conversation went along the following lines:
“When solicitors ask for your advice, they’re not asking for ifs and buts. They want an answer. Do you understand that?”
“Yes.”
“Have you always had problems being indecisive? Is it just in your nature?”
“No. Well, maybe.”
“How are you going to cope with court? You can’t afford to dither, you know.”
“I know.”
“Maybe it’s just a girl thing and I’m not quite getting it. Is that it perhaps?”
“Er, I don’t know.”

Anyway, she thinks she’s been discriminated against sexually and wanted to know what I thought.

Now, it seemed to me that he could certainly have phrased his comments more diplomatically but if you met Worrier, you’d know that he had a point although it certainly isn’t a girl thing. However, here was an opportunity I wasn’t going to pass up to damage a fellow pupil, potentially fatally. So, I told her I was quite shocked to hear that such things went on at all. Further, she should definitely not let it lie. To do so could in fact be counter-productive as the bullying may only get worse and if it did and she had failed to respond early on, her whole account might come into question.

It was clear that this was not what Worrier wanted to hear. In fact, all she wanted was a little reassurance. However, she’d come to the wrong person for that and by the time I was finished she was ready to complain to the Bar Council. I suggested that perhaps she might instead start with the Head of Chambers to show that she was not unduly escalating matters.

She thanked me so very much for all my help.

My pleasure indeed.

22.11.06

Day 37 (week 8): Tedium

Spent a whole day drafting a schedule of damages for the Boss. I have discount rates and multipliers coming out of my ears and I can honestly say that it has utterly bored me stupid. The worst thing is that the more successful you get it seems in personal injury, the more schedules you get to do. Seems a bit topsy turvey to me. Can’t imagine why anyone would strive to do more of these things.

21.11.06

Day 36 (week 8): Chambers’ tea

Since I have not yet described Chambers’ tea, let me now do so. It happens every afternoon at 4.30pm on the dot. Despite the fact that we are now all on email, each member of Chambers is called by the Clerks and told that tea is being served. Probably about fifteen people turn up each afternoon and it is always quite an occasion.

As a pupil, the lesson I learned very early on was not to speak unless spoken to and even then to keep it as brief as possible. You’ve basically got a room full of egos sitting around on their own personal highs, usually after a day in court. Lets them wind down before getting back to their families. Lots of victories to report and anecdotes to regale and if anyone at all interrupts them, never mind a pupil, then woe betide. This means that after a day of jousting they are all overly polite towards each other. Lots of “No, after you”s floating around add to a very peculiar mix.

Today, BusyBody learned the same lesson the hard way. She accidentally interrupted the Head of Chambers whilst he was lamenting times past. He obviously gave her the floor, ready for an immediate put down. All she was wanting to do was to mention the case she had been on that morning and how interesting she had found it.

After an awkward silence from everyone at the end of her little whimpering monologue, the Head of Chambers then said:“And that is why, Pupils should always be seen and not heard.”

18.11.06

Day 35 (week 7): Client conference

Had a conference with a client today. Contrary to the usual practice of clients coming to Chambers, the Boss and I trekked off to his home in Stratford as he is in a wheelchair. In fact, he’s pretty much unable to do most things and it was very sad. For once, I was proud of the Boss. I think even he was humbled by the client’s dignity in the face of extreme suffering.

The client had fallen from about twenty feet on a building site and his employers were being sued for failing to provide safety rails. It should be a pretty clear cut case but the insurers are inevitably saying it was partly his fault. Common sense and all that. It’s an expensive case. The client was 40 years old at the time of the accident earning some £25,000 a year. Not only is he losing earnings to age 65 but he will also need full time care for the rest of his life. Apparently there are technical arguments which we will be facing on this part of the claim. Anyway, suffice it to say that potentially it’s a multi-million pound claim.

This is a legal expenses case which means that the Boss will get paid win or lose. Hopefully this might bolster the Boss’ resolve. On the journey back, he did lament the fact that we could not work for a percentage of the damages as they do in the States.

17.11.06

Day 34 (week 7): Merry-go-round

Started learning about the personal injury industry today from the Boss. It seems that the food chain starts with the accident management companies chasing the client for the case. The solicitors then chase the accident management companies to pass it on. The junior barristers then chase the solicitors and then if its big enough the QCs chase the junior barristers.

An extremely expensive merry-go-round with the client in the middle not knowing where to turn.

16.11.06

Day 33 (week 7): Over-slept

Slept in this morning. Woke up in a panic at 9am with a sore head. Had been out until 2am the night before. Big mistake. It would be one and a half hours into Chambers and there was nothing I could do. Did I ring up and say I was ill? Or did I just tell the plain old truth?

Neither of these were going to take me very far and so I decided on a slightly bolder strategy. Phoned up the Boss and said that I was at Uxbridge County Court, taking a gamble that no-one was in the court today. Said I thought I was meant to be meeting [Blog] barrister there having had a note in my pigeon-hole about it on Friday. He said he´d ask the Clerks. Got a return phone call from one of the Clerks about five minutes later. He was clearly in a rush. Luckily Monday morning is pretty hectic and the last thing the wanted to be doing is holding an investigation into why I had ended up in Uxbridge. The clerk therefore simply apologised and suggested that I make my way back into Chambers.

Got in eventually around 1pm. Went off for lunch. Then left Chambers at 5pm. The Boss has been teaching me well.

15.11.06

Day 32 (week 7): Coroner´s Court

Had a Coroner’s hearing today. Very strange jurisdiction. A public investigation into an unusual death but with no real powers to do anything or generally to find anything of any great significance. Seems an expensive waste of time to me. Either way, this was one that not even the Boss could settle. He said beforehand,
“A successful hearing is one in which you say virtually nothing.”

And so he proved. His client was a lorry driver who had killed a motorcyclist. The only advice he gave beforehand was not to answer any questions about the accident in case he incriminated himself. The Coroner, a qualified doctor, asked all the questions and when it came to that part, he looked at the Boss and said,
“Will he be answering any further?”
The Boss shook his head.

That was the extent of his work in the Coroner’s Court. Verdict: accidental death. Back in Chambers by 3pm. Brief fee: £2,000.

14.11.06

Day 31 (week 7): Pomposity

Today I lost one of my friends and fellow pupils to the Bar. Met up for lunch and went to shake his hand and he corrected me.
“Barristers don’t shake hands with each other.”

You don´t say. We´d all had that pointed out on the first day of pupillage but I´d noted that it was a custom often not followed, particularly by members of the Junior Bar. Still don´t know the reason why it even exists. Perhaps it´s that they´re instruments of justice and therefore don´t partake in human courtesies. Perhaps it´s that they don´t need to shake hands as they all trust each other even without this little gesture. Really no idea save that it seems extremely pompous, particularly when the other person doesn´t reciprocate your extended hand. Happened to me with a senior barrister in Chambers and it made me feel very small indeed. Suffice it to say, that I wasn´t impressed by my friend.

"It doesn´t apply with friends, though.” I replied.
“No, it’s all of us. Same with MPs.”

It was true that MPs had the same custom but I didn´t see this as a reason for following it.

Next thing he’ll be addressing me as his learned friend across the lunch table.

11.11.06

Day 30 (week 6): Real barrister

Went off to court with a real barrister today. Not one like the Boss but one who actually enjoys having a fight. Who listens to his client and even has the odd professional standard up his sleeve. Straightforward personal injury trial in Wandsworth County Court. My barrister’s client tripped on a broken paving stone. Sued the council for not having mended it. It all turned on whether the council had done enough checks. The barrister on the other side made an offer at the start of the day and despite the fact my barrister was on no-win, no-fee and the offer wasn;t even that bad, he advised his client to reject the offer and to fight. He did and they eventually won. I was all up for celebrating but my barrister was professional to the end and simply went straight back to Chambers and started preparing his case for the next day.

In the meantime, the Boss set me a Skeleton Argument to do over the weekend. Trial on Monday and it should have been done by last Tuesday. True to form, he only looked at the papers this afternoon and given that he’s playing golf tomorrow there’s no chance of him getting into the case until Sunday. I therefore have to email over the Skeleton and any notes by Sunday morning at the latest.

10.11.06

Day 29 (week 6): Flirt

Pretty much back to normal now. The Boss is his old arrogant self and I’m making coffees and photocopying like nobody’s business. BusyBody’s been at her worst today. Sniffing around our room under the auspices of research. Supposedly using the law reports stored in the room. The Boss said she could use Old Ruin’s desk for these purposes. It’s clear she’s checking out what’s up.

Worst of all though was that the Boss seemed to be flirting with her.

9.11.06

Day 28 (week 6): Calm

I have to admit that to some extent I’ve been taking advantage of the Boss’ recent little difficulty though I’m having to watch that I’m not seen as taking the mickey. However, two hours for lunch and leaving at 5pm doesn’t seem unreasonable in the circumstances.

8.11.06

Day 27 (week 6): Sorted

Today the Boss has been dealing with the fallout from his plan. Well, to put it more accurately, dealing with the lack of fallout. As planned, he amended the entries on the system. Couldn’t have been easier apparently. It wasn’t designed to protect against corrupt barristers and so it was very easy to amend the records without any trace. The junior clerk then made the call yesterday. This morning, his call was returned from the solicitors and they were then put through to the Boss. I sat in during the call and heard the Boss’ side.
“I was just wondering how the case was getting on.”
“Oh. Didn’t you get my advice?”
“Oh. That’s strange. It was sent back in July. I can dig out a copy for you and fax it over after this call.”
“No. Not at all. It would be my pleasure. Very strange. Must have been a problem with the post.”
“Oh, by the way, I assume you’ve issued by now?”
“What? Oh, no. Oh, no. Did you not realise that limitation for cases involving ships is two years. I did mention it in my advice but to be honest, I thought you’d know that anyway.”
“Hmm. I don’t know what you can do at this stage. It’s pretty serious. I’d certainly suggest that you report this to your professional indemnity insurers and seek their guidance before doing anything further.”
“No, no. I’m sure it must have been the postage. I wouldn’t want you to start blaming your internal post.”
“Oh. It’s my pleasure. If I can help you further with this, please just ask.”

How worryingly easy it was. Makes you wonder.

7.11.06

Day 26 (week 6): Forget it

I’m not just suddenly getting paranoid, but it is perhaps understandable that I would be a little nervous given my last post. Therefore, just so you know and don’t try to work out who I am, let me tell you this. I have quite carefully kept out identifying details. I have also added a few inaccuracies just to waste your time of you did embark on such a fruitless challenge. Not that I’m particularly expecting anyone to be reading this anyway.

Just in case.

4.11.06

Day 25 (week 5): Faustian pact

Today I compromised myself. It is not the first and will probably not be the last given my initial impression of this mighty profession. But today I crossed a line that until now delineated the boundary between the bad and the wholly unacceptable.

The Boss arrived in this morning and put forward a solution: that I would forget that I had even seen the papers. He would then write a short advice and print it off for his own records dated July 2006. This would include a gentle reminder about limitation. He would then change the records in Chambers showing the papers had been returned in July along with the advice and a fee note. One of the advantages of giving members of Chambers full access to their own parts of the system. Come Monday, he will then ask the most junior clerk to phone the solicitors politely asking about the progress of the case. So long as he can show that the papers were not on his shelf, the responsibility then lies with the solicitors.

I have to admit that I was utterly shocked. The Boss explained that he’d had a misconduct issue in the past and that if this came out it could be the end of his career. Also, it was only a tiny thing. Just amending the records. Not a big deal and ultimately it would be the insurance that would pay up if anyone. Furthermore, the solicitors were in the wrong even if he hadn’t sent an advice. It was just an adjunct to their primary liability in any event. All not a big deal. Just making it all clear.

I have to admit that in the heat of the moment, I kind of saw this as a bit of an opportunity. I asked him how it might affect my pupillage.
“Only positively”, he replied.

The deal was done.

3.11.06

Day 24 (week 5): The return

The Boss was back today. OldRuin uncharacteristically was also around for the third day in a row. “Trouble and strife” was his only explanation. It meant that it wasn’t going to be easy getting time alone with the Boss without giving the game away. In fact it had to wait until mid-morning when Old Ruin popped out to the loo and I asked the Boss if it was possible to talk to him in private.
“You got a problem with [OldRuin]?” he asked in his usual arrogant and slightly bullying way.
“No”, I replied. “I think there’s a problem with one of your sets of papers.”
“Yeh, that they havn’t settled yet, I’m sure”, he chuckled to himself, clearly thinking himself very smart and witty. Quite the metropolitan, sophisticated cynic, I’m sure.
“I think you’ve missed limitation on one of your cases.”
“What do you mean? Which case? What have you been doing rifling through my cases anyway? What’s this all about?”

OldRuin then re-entered the room and I bowed my head. The Boss glared but said nothing more. Eventually, he very unsubtly suggested I might like to join him for coffee out on Chancery Lane. Old Ruin looked up conspiratorially. There was clearly something up as such a gesture was wholly out of character from the Boss.

Nevertheless, a few minutes later we were indeed headed off to a café down the main legal thoroughfare in London.
“So, what are you talking about?” he asked.
“Just what I said. Your papers for [Blogs] solicitors have passed limitation during the time that they have been sitting on your shelf. It’s an accident on a ship and you’ve only got two years.”

After a brief bout of Tourettes that shocked an old lady walking by, he started to think it through a little more clearly. True to form, his only form of defence was attack. “So what were you doing rifling through my private papers? You had no right.”
“I’m your pupil. That’s my job.”
“You were only to touch papers which I told you. There could be all sorts of confidential documents in there.”
“But you told me explicitly that I was to do as many of your sets of papers as I was able to do and that there was no need to ask you about them. Just to get on with it.”
“Well I didn’t mean go and cause this sort of trouble.”

By that point, I’d had enough. Even a pupil has a tipping point.
“I’m extremely sorry that you feel that way.” I said, raising my head and catching his stare. My sudden bout of confidence clearly unnerved him and he changed tack immediately.
“Well, anyway, I suppose I should also be grateful for you spotting it. What do you think we can do about it?”
“Well, we havn’t told the solicitors yet. That might be a start.”
“Who else knows exactly except you?”
“No-one.” I didn’t want to involve my friend from another Chambers and so left him out.
“Let’s sit on it today. I’ll try and think of a solution by tomorrow morning.”

And that was that.

2.11.06

Day 23 (week 5): No sign

By lunchtime yesterday, things did not look good. At all. The first dilemma was who to tell and when. The Boss was incommunicado. Did I call him at home. Would he actually be at home. I figured that knowing the Boss as I already did, there was at least a small chance that he was not at home. Did I phone his mobile and interrupt whatever he was doing? Or did I eventually just ask the Clerks, or even OldRuin who was in today.

I went for a walk around the garden in Gray’s Inn and took a few deep breaths. Maybe this was the opportunity I had been waiting for. Maybe I could help the Boss. One thing of which I was certain. I needed to give him a discreet head’s up without alerting anyone else.

I therefore left a message on his mobile yesterday afternoon. And yesterday evening.

And this morning.

But there has been no sign of him all day.

1.11.06

Day 22 (week 5): Big mistake

Boss still away. No explanation today. Just simply didn’t turn up. I could have gone to the Clerks and exposed the fact that he hadn’t even arranged anything else for me to do but on balance I wouldn’t have been doing myself any favours in anyone’s books. And this was an opportunity for the Boss to be owing me one. Even a small one. So to capitalise on this, I got stuck into one of his bigger sets of papers lying around his room. Not that he’d told me to pick them out but I figured he’d be grateful. The date the papers came into Chambers was back in June and the instructions sought a general advice as to the value of the claim for injury and loss of earnings. No urgency in any of the instructions and so although four months seemed a pretty long time in which to be turning around a set of papers, I could understand at least that they might not have been top priority.

So, I settled into them, gently getting a feel for the case. It involved an accident on a British navy ship back in September 2004. Looked pretty straightforward. In fact, liability appeared to have been admitted. Started writing the advice on the injury. Browsing the digital version of Kemp & Kemp, the main practitioner text for valuing injuries. Pretty straightforward and looked like a valuable claim. Loss of career in the navy due to the broken leg and the complications which had followed. Estimated value could even be as much as half a million pounds.

Worked on it until lunch and then went off to meet a friend who was also doing personal injury. Pretty relaxed day all in all. Got chatting and well one thing and another I mentioned the case. "Have you issued yet?" he asked. "No, why? No need at this stage. Might even settle and we’ve got until next September anyway."

"No you havn’t."

"What?"

"Limitation. It’s not three years when the accident occurs on a ship. It’s two."

"What?"

"No doubt about it. Had to deal with it in my first week in pupillage. Never knew before that but it’s definitely two years."

Oh.