Justice for sale

OldSmoothie was looking particularly smug today, even for him. “Yes, I’ve just got £10,000 on the brief for tomorrow’s one day trial,” he mentioned at least twice just when I was within hearing.

“Why on earth would someone pay that much when they could get the junior tenant I shadowed today for £350?” asked a mini-pupil.

“Because I’m worth it,” said OldSmoothie as if he were some kind of a barrister supermodel.

“Well, that’s highly debatable,” said TheVamp. “In all senses.”

“But why would anyone pay anyone that much?” said the mini-pupil.

“To help them win of course,” said HeadClerk.

“You mean that the more you pay, the better chance you have of winning?”
Everyone looked at the mini-pupil as if he was from another planet. “Er, yes,” said TheVamp raising her eyes in exasperation. “That’s the whole point of coming to barristers in the first place.”

“What, like justice is for sale? As if there’s a price on the right result?”

“Precisely so,” said HeadClerk. “Got it in one.”

“What was it a judge once said?” said OldSmoothie. “Justice is open to everyone. Like the Ritz.”

“But what if both sides then go to top barristers and splash the cash?” he persisted. “Wouldn’t that then cancel out the advantage?”

“Well, maybe, to some extent,” said HeadClerk. “But the standard of argument would certainly be a lot higher.”

“But even so, if by spending all that money you simply encourage the other side to do the same, why don’t both sides just agree to limit their spending to say, £500 a day and be done with it. Then both sides would have a level playing field, costs would be kept low and, er, justice might even be done.”

From the silence which followed this impeccable line of reasoning, I’m afraid to say that I wouldn’t fancy the mini-pupil’s chances if he ever decides to apply to this chambers in a year or two.

BabyBarista is a fictional account of a junior barrister written by Tim Kevan whose new novel is Law and Peace. For more information and to read past posts visit babybarista.com. Cartoons by Alex Williams, author of 101 Ways to Leave the Law.

April 15, 2014 · Tim Kevan · No Comments
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The Bar is in managed decline

“You know, whatever they said about Liverpool in the past, there’s one thing that is definitely in managed decline,” said HeadofChambers.

“OldSmoothie?” said UpTights.

“That’s a bit rich coming from the person with a face in such overly managed decline that she can’t even stretch to a smile,” he replied.

“What is it?” asked TheCreep.

“The Bar,” said HeadofChambers. “The end is nigh and don’t let anyone else tell you otherwise.”

“Yeah, right,” said TheVamp. “There’ll always be a place for the specialist advocate.”

“You’re right,” said HeadofChambers, “and that place is behind a plastic desk on an average salary in one of the shiny new alternative business structures which is about to sweep through the profession.”

“Well it’s certainly nigh for my publicly-funded practice,” said BusyBody. “The game really does appear to be well and truly up.”

“Well I’m not giving in just yet,” said one of the pupils. “I’ve taken on a night shift at a local supermarket to ensure I get a little extra guaranteed income whatever the storm decides to throw at our esteemed profession.”

“Quite right,” said Teflon, “and I’ve been taking on more advices and drafting more claims.”

“Well, I have to admit that I’ve been encouraging a few more claims to fight,” said OldSmoothie.

“And I’ve been advising a few more than usual of those that did fight to appeal.”

“Well, with such positive intentions as those, how can the Bar fail?” smiled TheBusker.

“I really don’t know what you’re all worrying about,” said OldRuin. “I’ve been listening to Jeremiahs harp on about the death knell of the Bar for generations. Rather than running around with the natural paranoia of the self-employed, I’ve always thought it was far more important to count the blessings we do have and take time out to smell the air and watch the cows go by.”

At which point the others shuffled uneasily and the conversation changed to other things.

BabyBarista is a fictional account of a junior barrister written by Tim Kevan whose new novel is Law and Peace. For more information and to read past posts visit babybarista.com. Cartoons by Alex Williams, author of 101 Ways to Leave the Law.

April 9, 2014 · Tim Kevan · Comments Closed
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Solicitor advocate

Poor ClichéClanger . There’s always been something of the am dram about this particular solicitor but today his performance really took the biscuit. Not that there should even have been a performance. You see, we both turned up at court on a case and then just before the client arrived ClichéClanger turned to me and said,

‘Look, BabyB, I’m sorry I didn’t mention it earlier but I’ve always dreamed of being a barrister and actually doing the performing in court and this could be my chance. The case is small enough not to matter so why don’t I just take it from here? I’ll still pay you your brief fee. It’s just that today…well, I feel anything is possible.’

He seemed slightly hyper and I wondered if maybe his doctor had changed his combination of drugs. But I wasn’t exactly in a position to argue. He was, literally, the boss, and so I sat back and watched. At least I watched until I had to turn away, for it was just too painful to do anything else.

Let’s just say that he’s probably watched a few too many Perry Mason episodes and his opening was packed full of exaggerated hand gestures, long rambling sentences and theatrical pauses. One of his more laborious pieces of cross-examination of the other side’s witness went along the following lines,

‘Do you accept that you were driving a lethal weapon?’

‘Er, not exactly,’ the witness answered a little confused. ‘As you can see from my witness statement I was driving my Jaguar XJ6.’

‘But do you accept that a car is a lethal weapon.’

‘What, like your cross-examination?’ he replied sarcastically.

The judge smiled at this before pretending to look stern and saying,
‘If you could just answer the questions please.’

ClichéClanger repeated his question very slowly and with a staccato on each word as if he was punching the witness each time.

‘Do you accept that a car is a lethal weapon?’

‘No, My car is an extremely luxurious way of transporting me from A to B.’
‘But do you accept that it still has just as much killing power as, say, a sawn-off shotgun?’

‘Well, I’d prefer to think of it more as a classic Purdey side-by-side in those terms. But nevertheless no, I don’t accept what you are suggesting.’

‘Ah ha, but you accept the possibility that it might be like a Purley shotgun?’

‘Purdey.’

‘Exactly, Purley….’

And so it went on. When he eventually emerged from that particular quagmire he said to the witness,

‘You say in your witness statement that my client, and I quote, “came out of nowhere”. Is that correct?’

‘Yes.’

‘Do you still say that now?’

‘Yes.’

With this revelation he almost jumped in the air like a footballer celebrating a goal as he then bellowed,

‘But no-one comes out of nowhere, now do they?’

Then he added with a smile and a wink (honestly) at the judge,

‘Unless he’s the invisible man of course.’

It will perhaps come as no surprise to hear that ClichéClanger lost.

BabyBarista is a fictional account of a junior barrister practising at the English Bar, written by barrister and writer Tim Kevan. For more information and to read posts from the last few years visit babybarista.com. Cartoons by Alex Williams, author of 101 Ways to Leave the Law.

December 30, 2013 · Tim Kevan · Comments Closed
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The listening barrister

There’s a pupil in chambers at the moment who I can only call PipSqueak. Not just on account of her lack of height but more due to the fact that she simply can’t stop talking. Every time she makes a point she stands on her tiptoes and er, well, squeaks.

No other way to describe it really. Kind of a self-satisfied little noise, but a squeak nonetheless. Sometimes she even jumps into the air slightly as she does it as if she’s so delighted with her own cleverness that she really can’t keep it in. Suffice to say that she doesn’t exactly have the best odds to be taken on as a tenant in the book being run by one of the clerks. Luckily for her TheBusker is about to become her pupilmaster.

‘The thing is,’ he said to me yesterday. ‘I know most people would just sit by and watch her hang herself. But that’s not really the point of pupillage as far as I see it.’

‘So what do you propose?’ I asked.

‘Well I don’t think it’ll be easy. She seems to think that all that a barrister needs is to be able to talk a lot, whereas it’s actually the complete opposite.’

‘So what would you say is the most important skill then?’ I asked.

‘Listening. Simple as that. To your client, to the judge, to the other side’s witnesses. Then there’s your instructing solicitor, your head clerk, everyone in fact. They’re giving you clues all the time as to what they want from you. Once you start hearing those clues then it’s easy. Just pick each one up and run with it.’

‘Sounds like you might have a task on your hands,’ I said.

‘The thing is, I only think she talks so much because she’s nervous and insecure,’ he said. ‘I just need to instil a little self-confidence and explain that less is always more when it comes to speaking and the silences will hopefully follow.’

BabyBarista is a fictional account of a junior barrister practising at the English Bar, written by barrister and writer Tim Kevan. For more information and to read posts from the last few years visit babybarista.com. Cartoons by Alex Williams, author of 101 Ways to Leave the Law.

December 23, 2013 · Tim Kevan · 2 Comments
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Covered in red tape

I overheard UpTights chatting to a mini-pupil in the clerks’ room this morning.

“Whenever we send papers back to solicitors, we tie them up in this pink ribbon,” she said, indicating a great mound of the stuff. “It’s where the phrase, ‘covered in red tape’ comes from.”

“But why isn’t it ‘covered in pink tape’ then?” asked the mini-pupil innocently.

“Because it isn’t,” said UpTights sounding irritated.

“Then what’s that white tape for?” asked the mini-pupil.

“Ah, well, that’s for government work,” said UpTights.

“So do they call that sort of work “covered in white tape”,’ asked the mini-pupil.

“No.” She paused and took a deep breath. “Anyway, after we’ve tied up the brief, we write what we’ve done on this piece of paper called the backsheet.”

“The sheet at the front of the brief.”

“Yes.”

“But…”

“I’m afraid,” interrupted OldRuin, “that there is never a great deal of logic to these things. As for covered in red tape, I prefer Dickens’ term wiglomeration.’

“I once had a leader who always insisted that the advice he gave in a case should be short enough to be handwritten on the backsheet,” said HeadofChambers.

“Yes, I think that was quite common back then,” said OldRuin.

“The best advice he returned said simply ‘You will win’.”

BabyBarista is a fictional account of a junior barrister practising at the English Bar, written by barrister and writer Tim Kevan. For more information and to read posts from the last few years visit babybarista.com. Cartoons by Alex Williams, author of 101 Ways to Leave the Law.

December 17, 2013 · Tim Kevan · Comments Closed
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No-good pesky clients

‘I hate those no-good, pesky clients.’ It was OldSmoothie at chambers tea today.

‘The world would be so much easier without their dithering in the witness box and tut-tutting behind your back,’ said HeadofChambers.

‘That’s not my problem, exactly,’ said OldSmoothie, ‘although you do have a point. It’s that I rarely actually like any of my clients. My criminals ones are just that – criminals – and my civil ones are all just trying to get something for nothing.’

‘Such a shame we can’t pick and choose them,’ said HeadofChambers.

‘But no cab rank rule would take away the guarantee of representation to all,’ said UpTights.

‘Which is a little rich coming from the lady who insists on representing big business and always finds a conflict to get her out of the little man cases,’ said OldSmoothie.

‘Oh do leave TheCreep out of this,’ said TheVamp patting him on the head.

‘More importantly,’ said HeadClerk, ‘I’m not sure you’d find much work if you always insisted on likeable clients.’

‘And I never hear you complaining when you receive a cheque on behalf of those same pesky nuisances,’ said BusyBody.

‘Clients, huh,’ said TheVamp. ‘Can’t live with ‘em, can’t live without ‘em.’

‘And such high-minded thoughts are what makes me proud to be a part of the old and honourable tradition which is the bar,’ said TheBusker.

BabyBarista is a fictional account of a junior barrister practising at the English Bar, written by barrister and writer Tim Kevan. For more information and to read posts from the last few years visit babybarista.com. Cartoons by Alex Williams, author of 101 Ways to Leave the Law.

December 10, 2013 · Tim Kevan · Comments Closed
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Brass neck

OldSmoothie popped into my room yesterday afternoon.

“BabyB, I need a little assistance for a conference I have tomorrow morning. The papers arrived a week ago and I’ve had my pupil make a note of the main issues. I just need you to go through and sort out the wood from the trees.”

“I’m in court tomorrow morning,” I replied.

“Oh, don’t worry about that. I’ve already taken the liberty of asking HeadClerk to pass on your case to someone else. Hope you don’t mind.”

Gee thanks, I thought. Goodbye to a £700 pound brief fee so that I can be chief dogsbody for the pompous one.

“Oh,” was all I managed by way of reply.

“That’s great, BabyB. You’re a star. The papers are in my room. Just leave the note on my desk.”

“Oh,” I said.

“I’m off for drinks with, er, a solicitor now but I’ll see you at the conference.”

With which he was gone. Which left me to go and check out what the damage would be in terms of work to do. Though not even I had anticipated that I would find twelve lever arch files and a fifty page ‘note’ from the pupil. Hmm, some note and it wasn’t until about 3am that I finally struggled home to bed having left a two page summary for OldSmoothie on his desk.

This morning, I struggled into chambers half an hour before the conference was due to start and OldSmoothie still hadn’t arrived. The clients came on time and were shown into the conference room and then about fifteen minutes later OldSmoothie finally stormed into his room, picked up my note and a couple of files and rushed straight into the conference followed by myself and the over-worked pupil.

He sat down at the head of the table and without even flinching looked at the client and said, ‘So, take me through the facts.’ He paused and then, in his usual assured and mellifluous tone he went on as if he didn’t have a care in the world: ‘And just for these purposes treat me as if I haven’t even read the papers.’

OldSmoothie’s fee for the conference was £10,000 and the amount he finally agreed to pay to me was £250 for which he said I “should be grateful”. As for the pupil, he got nothing extra on the basis that he had received a practical lesson in “how to manage a workload” which OldSmoothie described (without any hint of irony) as…”priceless”.

BabyBarista is a fictional account of a junior barrister practising at the English Bar, written by barrister and writer Tim Kevan. For more information and to read posts from the last few years visit babybarista.com. Cartoons by Alex Williams, author of 101 Ways to Leave the Law.

December 3, 2013 · Tim Kevan · Comments Closed
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Mid-life crisis for lawyers

‘I’ve decided to specialise in human rights,’ said OldSmoothie in the clerk’s room today.

‘Will that be for or against?’ asked BusyBody.

‘It’s always been a particular passion of mine and I think it’s about time I started to reflect that in my practice,’ he replied, ignoring her dig.

‘This is just the mid-life crisis he has at the end of every cold dark winter,’ said UpTights. ‘Last year he said he was standing on an existential cliff looking into the vortex of time.’

‘Yes, and how did he put it the year before?’ said BusyBody. ‘Hanging in the balance between the weight of the paths untrodden and the thought of moving forward being like walking on thin ice.’

‘It’s always thin ice when you’re OldSmoothie,’ said UpTights.

‘Particularly with his stature,’ said BusyBody.

‘And each year he somehow resolves this deep conflict by having an affair with an instructing solicitor,’ said UpTights.

‘Or even a pupil,’ said BusyBody with a grimace.

‘So I assume your sudden interest in civil liberties has nothing to do with a certain conference which is coming up in the Caribbean?’ said TheBusker.

‘Or that you can then put the holiday you’ve already booked against tax if you just turn up for the first five minutes of the first day?’ said BusyBody.

‘Er, no, er…’ stammered OldSmoothie.

‘I’m afraid he’ll be a little disappointed if that’s what he intends to do,’ said UpTights. ‘They’ve made it absolutely clear that they will be publishing a list of delegates online and those that only turn up for part of it will be put in their hall of shame for all the tax authorities to read at their leisure.’

OldSmoothie’s mouth suddenly dropped open and UpTights gave him a sympathetic look. ‘I should know, my darling. I’ve been going to that conference for years.’

BabyBarista is a fictional account of a junior barrister practising at the English Bar, written by barrister and writer Tim Kevan. For more information and to read posts from the last few years visit babybarista.com. Cartoons by Alex Williams, author of 101 Ways to Leave the Law.

November 26, 2013 · Tim Kevan · Comments Closed
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Controlling the narrative

“It’s all about taking control of the narrative,” said TheBusker to a group of pupils yesterday after they’d asked how he always manages to win his cases. “Simplify it down to a clear story and then tell it to the judge at every opportunity.”

“Oh, come on,” said TheVamp. “It’s a little more than that in your case. I don’t know how you do it but you always seems to find some way or other to brainwash the judge.”

“I was against him last week,” said BusyBody, “and he was doing his usual snake eyes at the judge. Turned out he’s a huge fan of Gardeners’ Question Time and so he produced a wheelbarrow full of gardening metaphors. He called a spade a spade, didn’t sit on the garden fence and was planting seeds of doubt all over the place. Meanwhile, the more he had the judge chuckling, all I could do was dig a big fat hole for myself every time I spoke.”

“I once won a case in front of that judge simply by asking after his Morning Glory,” said TheVamp.

“So long as you didn’t mention his Golden Rod,” said TheBusker.

“Or his Stinking Willie for that matter,” she replied.

“And it wouldn’t do to suggest that he hardened off his Scarlet Plume,” said BusyBody putting her indignation to one side.

“Sneezeweed and Snotty Gogs always made me chuckle,” said OldRuin. “For my wife it was always Kiss Me Over the Garden Gate.”

“I guess the lawyers’ favourite would be the Money Plant,” said TheBusker.

“Or the Venus Fly Trap in UpTights’s case,” said OldSmoothie.

“And most definitely Knobweed for you,” she replied.

BabyBarista is a fictional account of a junior barrister practising at the English Bar, written by barrister and writer Tim Kevan. For more information and to read posts from the last few years visit babybarista.com. Cartoons by Alex Williams, author of 101 Ways to Leave the Law.

November 19, 2013 · Tim Kevan · Comments Closed
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Selling off the Inns of Court

“I was reading an article recently about barristers’ dinners and it got me thinking once again about who really owns the Inns of Court,” said TheBusker today.

“Each Inn owns itself,” said HeadofChambers, “and is run by the Benchers. Particularly well, too, even if I do say so myself.”

“I do understand,” said TheBusker. “But what if a member of the Inn made a proposal to sell off all the assets to some big property firm and then distribute the proceeds between the members.”

“What? How? What?” stuttered HeadofChambers. “It wouldn’t be possible…”

“Who knows,” said TheBusker. “But it’d certainly mean a big windfall for current members if it did have legs.”

“Sounds like when the members of the RAC club sold off their assets,” said TheCreep. “They all did very nicely indeed.”

“Or the carpet baggers who joined building societies in the hope that they’d go public,” said TheVamp.

“Or the one-off sale of a partnership such as Goldman Sachs,” said BusyBody.
“Do you think it’s just a straightforward club. You know, an unincorporated association that can just be wound up in that way?” asked TheVamp.

“No. Certainly not,” said HeadofChambers. “The Inns are all about education. They’re charitable. It wouldn’t be allowed. Er…” He hesitated and shifted a little uneasily before saying, “I think it’s a case called, er, Smith v Kerr if you’re wondering.”

“Sounds to me like you may already have considered this point,” said BusyBody.

“They definitely do a lot of excellent training,” said TheBusker, “as well as doling out a whole bunch of great scholarships too. But just imagine if those very worthwhile functions were not in fact held to be the primary purpose of the Inns. I mean, think of all that expensive real estate right bang in the heart of the City of London. I mean, they could keep the training and the scholarships and just sell of the buildings.”

“Funnily enough,” said Teflon. “I was reading on Wikipedia only the other day that Serjeants Inn was sold by the Serjeants-at-Law in the 1800s and iy said that they distributed the assets amongst the surviving members.”
“So how much are we all going to get,” said one of the pupils, a little breathlessly, as if he was already counting the money and seeing an end to the huge mountain of debt he had already piled up.

“Absolutely nothing,” said HeadofChambers. “Just think of all the barristers’ chambers you’re talking about. I hardly think they’re going to shoot themselves in the feet by selling off their very own family silver.”

“Oh, I think that could be dealt with through a standard sale and lease-back arrangement,” said UpTights whose interest was also starting to be piqued. “It’s not as if we get particularly cheap rent off the Inns any more anyway.”

“There’s probably also be a lot of retired members whose pensions are under-performing and who certainly wouldn’t say no to being offered a windfall in return for ticking yes on a silly little vote for sale,” said TheVamp with a mischievous smile.

At which point HeadofChambers made a sharp exit claiming that he had an “urgent meeting” he needed to attend.

BabyBarista is a fictional account of a junior barrister practising at the English Bar, written by barrister and writer Tim Kevan. For more information and to read posts from the last few years visit babybarista.com. Cartoons by Alex Williams, author of 101 Ways to Leave the Law.

November 12, 2013 · Tim Kevan · One Comment
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