30.12.06

Day 63 (week 13): The tape

True to the spirit of any disinformation campaign, today I actually told BusyBody something that was not only true but also highly unlikely. Not only will this bolster my other claims when she realises its truth but it will also serve its primary purpose of completely winding her up. Simply told her what the Head of Chambers had said to Worrier about her sex discrimination claim.

I also told her that Worrier had taped the conversation just to really get her going.

29.12.06

Day 62 (week 13): …and another

I asked BusyBody what she thought of the Boss today. In fact I went so far as to whisper that he’s told me in a drunken moment and in the strictest of confidence that he quite fancied her.

Not true.

28.12.06

Day 61 (week 13): Another bluff

Chambers was eerily quiet today. Two clerks were in and probably about three barristers in addition to myself and of course, who could ever forget, BusyBody. We went out for lunch in festive spirit and I have to admit that when she’s not trying to organise everybody, she’s actually quite nice. Maybe she should just calm down a bit and stop marching round chambers like she owns it. Wasn’t going to suggest anything like that though. The more she busies around everyone the better as far as I’m concerned. In fact I told her that I’d applied to be on two Chambers committees just to try and encourage her to do the same.

Of course, I haven’t really applied to anything of the sort.

23.12.06

Day 60 (week 12): Holidays for some

Everyone is packing up today. Almost all of Chambers will be away over the Christmas period including two of the pupils. Annoyingly, TopFirst has managed to scrape a week away and still enhance his reputation since he is to be best man at the wedding of a friend of his who just happens to be the son of a judge. Worrier decided to take a week off after she found out about her complaint being dismissed. Nothing to lose any more for her, I guess.

22.12.06

Day 59 (week 12): Boss away

The Boss has now gone off on his expensive holiday in Barbados. “Should keep Her Indoors happy” he said as whisked out of Chambers this morning. He’s away now until 8 January. You might think that meant Pupil freedom but sadly this has turned out not to be the case. Not only has he left me about 20 sets of papers to plough through but he has also asked another barrister to check that I “have enough to do”. So much for Christmas spirit extending to pupils.

21.12.06

Day 58 (week 12): Complaint dismissed

Worrier came to see me today and asked if I had time for a drink after work. Of course I did.

It seems that her complaint was dismissed. Quelle surprise!

One pupil down, two to go.

20.12.06

Day 57 (week 12): Hard discs

The Boss received a letter today from the solicitors in the case involving the accident on the ship. If you remember he had forged Chambers’ records to show that he had sent the papers back before the limitation period came to an end so that he could get out of any blame for not ensuring that the case was issued in time. The letter sought formal pre-action disclosure of Chambers records. It also sought access to Chambers’ hard disc.

The Head Clerk came in for a chat and said that given that we had nothing to hide, there was no reason why we would oppose this. The Boss was in an impossible position and was forced to agree. It sent him into somewhat of a panic, though. He made a couple of calls made to an IT friend of his as to whether a computer expert would be able to find out that the records had been changed retrospectively. The answer was that it was unclear. It depended upon the exact computer system and most importantly upon how thorough the tests were on the hard drive.

Whilst it left the Boss uneasy, I was in no doubt. The computer expert would find the fraud. I was naive even to have been a passive accomplice. However, on balance I decided that the Boss would not mention the fact that I knew about it. Involving one’s pupil in a potentially criminal act would only exacerbate his already precarious position.

I will therefore sit tight.

19.12.06

Day 56 (week 12): Chambers’ gossip

Inevitably there was going to be some scandal after Thursday’s party. However, as far as I know, it didn’t involve the Boss and BusyBody. Instead, two members of Chambers who are about fifteen and five years’ call (ie post-qualification) respectively came out publicly as a couple. Not in itself a big deal you might think. However, when you bear in mind the fact that the woman of five years’ call also happens to be the Head of Chambers’ daughter and the man of fifteen years’ call is married to one of the administrators then things get a little trickier. Talk about incestuous.

16.12.06

Day 55 (week 11): Vexatious litigants

Thankfully not too much of a sore head this morning as I left strategically when they all starting moving off for dinner. Old Ruin was in this morning regaling about Chambers parties passed. Many’s the scandal that has been revealed on such occasions. Still awaiting on the gossip from last night unfortunately.

I told him about our case on Wednesday with the litigant-in-person which raised a smile. He started telling me about the more specialised issue of vexatious litigants. Apparently when litigants-in-person get particularly bad the government eventually, through the office of the Attorney-General takes that person to court and gets an order styling them a vexatious litigant. What this means is that after that they can only bring an action with the permission of a judge. This is so that the judge can cut off any frivolous or vexatious claims before they even get started. Pretty hard to get to this stage though. Our man on Wednesday is not even near. He’d have to be suing perhaps the judge, the barrister, maybe even the pupil, the solicitors and say a dozen members of the council before it would even be considered.

Don’t like the sound of that.

15.12.06

Day 54 (week 11): Chambers’ party

Just got back from the Chambers’ drinks party. The annual knees up for members of Chambers to entertain the clerks and administrators (of which in total there are ten people). I was there simply to serve the drinks as were the other three pupils. The most interesting thing about the evening was seeing what each of the spouses were like. Also seeing which of the spouses did not turn up. Notable in this respect was Mrs Boss who, I was told, had a cold.

It was held in Chambers’ large meeting room and for two hours there was free flowing champagne and canap├ęs provided courtesy of Marks and Spencer this afternoon. For just a short space of time it was almost as if everyone forgot their petty differences, of which I have already discovered, there are many. However, a few glasses later and the cliques started to re-form into the corners of the room, with each deciding on a different destination for food. I don’t know what it is. Maybe it’s that everyone is self-employed and just a bit more independent than average. Maybe it’s the fact that they are outspoken for a living. Maybe it’s the same everywhere. Whatever the reason, by all accounts I have heard so far, barristers’ chambers are rife with gossip, intrigue and clashes of rather larger than life personalities.

The Boss spent quite some time talking to BusyBody about how she was enjoying pupillage as she quietly sipped away on the champagne in between rounds of serving. As for TopFirst, predictably he wasn’t drinking. Says he’s on a detox. More like a de-life. There seems to be no chink in his armour at all. Worrier is almost finished and BusyBody is likely to annoy just about everyone except the Boss. However, TopFirst is going to be more of a problem and may need a little more thought.

14.12.06

Day 53 (week 11): Litigant-in-person

Today the Boss had an interlocutory hearing, a small ten minute affair where the court makes directions as to how the case should proceed. Well, that’s how long it should have taken were it not for the litigant-in-person on the other side. This is the polite name for someone who is not legally represented. Occasionally this can be for the very best of reasons such as lack of funds. More usually it’s because the litigant has either been unable to get a firm to represent him or because he has parted company with them. This might be due, for example, to him sacking them or because solicitors get sick of the trouble he is causing or perhaps stumble on a difficulty which until then he has successfully hidden from them. Whatever it is, by and large litigants-in-person are trouble. Or so the Boss explained to me in some detail before going off on this case.

For once, he was proved right. From our arrival at Bromley County Court, it was clear that the litigant was bristling for a fight. The Boss had had some experience of such litigants and told me that it was wise to say as little as possible to them beforehand. Otherwise, he said, you risk finding whatever you said being twisted into a professional conduct complaint. He said this with such conviction that it made me wonder whether he was speaking from personal experience. The litigant also smelt slightly of alcohol which for eleven in the morning did not bode well. So, after brief unpleasantries between the litigant and the Boss, we all marched into court.

The dispute was a simple one. The litigant accused his local council of ‘harrassment’. The council, represented by the Boss, denied the allegations. In addition, they said that in any event even if what he said were true, it did not amount to a cause of action which would result in damages. The file of papers was massive and packed full of handwritten letters from the litigant himself. Lots of capital letters, underlinings and exclamation marks as if he felt that the world would not listen to him unless he made more of an effort. His written ramblings were at times incoherent and this was reflected in the submissions he gave to the judge. It was clear from the start that the judge had the measure of this case and was simply going through the motions for the benefit of the tape. He was well aware that this sort of litigant was exactly the sort of person to take what he said straight to the Court of Appeal. He therefore listened carefully to the litigant’s submissions for one and a half hours. He then looked at the Boss and having told him that he did not need to hear from him, refused the litigant’s request to put off the case for six months whilst he gathered more evidence. Instead, the trial was listed for February.

The sad thing is that the whole thing appears to have started with a genuine grievance. The council sent him a letter claiming that he had not paid his council tax. This was sent to him in error and was meant for someone with the same surname further down his street. It took several letters from the litigant before the council accepted this. In the meantime, he had got it into his head that he should be compensated for the stress that he had suffered in dealing with this. The problem at this stage of the case was that the council had now racked up over £20,000 in legal fees defending it and so the litigant had dug himself into a hole. Even if he gave up now, he would never be able to pay such a bill and therefore he almost had nothing more to lose as it were by fighting on.

And so it was that another story of human misfortune triggered a legal case which would eventually find its way onto the Boss’ desk and contribute to the lifestyle to which he had by now become accustomed.

13.12.06

Day 52 (week 11): ‘Research’

BusyBody was back again today. I’m not even sure if she’s started flirting back. Stayed about an hour doing more ‘research’ at OldRuin’s desk. I gave the Boss fifteen minutes before he mentioned the Ferrari. He did it in ten.

12.12.06

Day 51 (week 11): Small Claims Court

Went to watch a small claims case today in Willesden County Court. Not exactly the most salubrious of surroundings but the court was even worse. All the cases for the whole day had been listed at 10.30am on the basis I assume that a lot of people simply weren’t going to turn up. This may well be convenient to the judges but it meant that it was mayhem in the waiting room with barristers all clamouring to get in (and therefore out) first. The usher had clearly heard it all before with promises of “We’ll only be five minutes” and “It’s all been agreed” being met with raised eyebrows and a rye smile.

The number of barristers crowded into this small place was to say the least unpleasant. This was made even worse by nervous litigants all standing around in the same area. Opposing sides staring each other down. Inevitably this led to some small outbreaks of trouble and the guards had to eject at least two of the parties for disorderly conduct.

My barrister was about half way down the list and our case didn’t get on until after lunch (quite a good greasy fry on the road back to the station). Tiny case, more a squabble than an argument. What the judge called (thinking himself a wit) “A classic county court action between two stationary cars”. He was right though. Barristers on either side each only getting around £100 each which after their train fares and their contributions to Chambers’ rent probably left them with around £60 for a whole day in Willesden.

My barrister won almost just by shouting louder than his opponent. I was surprised that the District Judge allowed him to get away with it, but there you go.

9.12.06

Day 50 (week 10): The complaint

Worrier put in her complaint yesterday. News of it reached me by mid-afternoon. Once again, whilst I was supposedly making the coffee, I overheard one of the more senior barristers in Chambers telling the Boss about it. Specifically heard the word “foolhardy” and later, “Well, on her own head be it.”

A good start to the weekend.

8.12.06

Day 49 (week 10): Solicitor party

Tonight was the first in a series of Christmas parties. This one was held by a firm of solicitors who give a lot of work to Chambers. I had been invited along by the Boss in the afternoon as he was feeling in a generous mood having made another of his last minute settlements (brief fee for tomorrow’s now defunct hearing: £4,000).

If the relationship between senior clerk and barrister is a complicated one, that between solicitor and barrister is simple. Barristers are self-employed and in a highly competitive market. Solicitors do the hiring. Barristers are desperate for the work. Solicitors have it to give out. Solicitors dangle their work in front of the barristers just as you might dangle a ball of wool in front of a kitten. In the same way, they may just as easily take it away at the last moment. Just for fun. To watch the barrister chase. Bring him down a peg or two. Then, when all his pride is lost, he is rewarded with one of the cases.

Now I accept that this may not always be the case but it certainly seemed like that tonight, watching the way the barristers fawned over the solicitors at the drinks party. It’s a game. The barristers know that but they can’t seem to control their professional paranoia. The fear that one day, no matter how successful they are now, it might all disappear. The cases might stop. That they’ll be left with nothing. Stuck in trheir ivory tower with nowhere left to escape.

7.12.06

Day 48 (week 10): Over the edge

Today Worrier wanted a final chat before embarking on any course of action in relation to her sex discrimination allegations. Over lunch she explained that she had thought very carefully about what I had said and was in agreement that the best place to pursue it was through Chambers. However, she was concerned that if she presented it to the Head of Chambers she might not get a fair hearing.

I had known full well all along that to make such a complaint would be professional suicide and now I had her standing on the edge of the cliff asking me whether she should jump. Asking her competition. One of the three other contenders for the prize of tenancy at the end of the year. Should she jump? Of course she should as far as I was concerned. However, just to make sure, I pushed her by reminding her again that if she did nothing now, it could later be held against her if things got any worse. This was indeed a winning argument and over the edge she went.

The only question then was to whom she should make the complaint.

I suggested she start with her pupilmaster.

6.12.06

Day 47 (week 10): The Senior Clerk

It’s a very strange relationship that of barrister and Senior Clerk. On the face of it, the barrister pays rent to Chambers and Chambers employ the Clerks so strictly the barrister is the employer. However, you’d never guess it to watch the Boss and his Senior Clerk in action. For all the Boss’ arrogance and pomposity, he is humility itself when the Senior Clerk walks through the door. This was particularly apparent when the Boss had another visit this afternoon. Apparently the number of barristers hit has now risen to five plus the Boss. The Senior Clerk asked him what he planned to do about it, if anything.

The Boss said that he had considered ignoring his duty of confidentiality to his solicitor client and anonymously leaking the information to his lay client. However, if he did this it was highly likely that eventually his own misconduct in the conference would come to light and therefore on balance he had decided that he would do nothing. For once, the spineless option was probably the right one in all the circumstances. The Senior Clerk commented that realistically it was unlikely that something like this would stay quiet forever. However, he obviously didn’t want to interfere in professional conduct issues and therefore left it at that.

5.12.06

Day 46 (week 10): Clerk network

The Senior Clerk wanted a word with the Boss this morning. He’d been ringing around the Clerk network and it seems that the solicitor from last week who is taking a share of his client’s money has pulled the same stunt on at least three other occasions with barristers in three other Chambers. All have faced the same professional conduct difficulties.

The Senior Clerk said he’d keep him posted as to any other developments and in the meantime the Boss should decide what he was going to do.

2.12.06

Day 45 (week 9): Cringe

Today the Boss announced that he’d just bought himself a Ferrari,
“Got a lot of grief from the trouble and strife, you know over this one. But, hey, I’m worth it.”

Hey, you’re not.

Cringeworthy, sickly mid-life crisis at its worst.

1.12.06

Day 44 (week 9): Off the case

The Boss received a call from the Head Clerk this morning telling him that he’d been taken off the case which he had had the conference on yesterday.

The Boss is starting to get a little jittery. He rang the Bar Council anonymously this morning to look into his professional position. It seems that he should probably have considered withdrawing from the case at the moment he heard that such an arrangement was in place. At the very least he should have stopped the conference so that he could consider his position further before continuing. By not doing so he has left the client with the impression that the arrangement is perfectly legal.

The person at the Bar Council went even further than this though and suggested that the Boss himself may have been the victim of a wider scam perpetrated by the solicitor. By contriving the situation the Boss found himself in the solicitor took a calculated risk that the Boss would at worst say nothing, leaving the solicitor with implicit approval for his scheme from an eminent barrister.

I almost felt a little sorry for the Boss. He was truly between a rock and a hard place at this stage. Not to say anything to the client would leave him with the wrong impression. It would also leave the Boss implicated in the deception as well as leaving him open to a complaint in the future. However, to say anything whatsoever to the client would mean that he had contravened his duty to his solicitor client and expose the conflict of interest. Furthermore, his duty of confidentiality to his solicitor forbade him from putting in any sort of complaint or raising an investigation.

As far as he could see, all he could do was to sit tight and hope the client didn’t spot it. Then at least he’d be alright even if the client was then over £165,000 down.

Sometimes professional rules can have strange consequences.