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Show me the money part one

One issue which usually gets barristers animated is the subject of their fees. I have decided to interrupt the series about bundles due to a story which appeared in the press last week. You can find it here.

The relevant part for my purposes stated: " Michael Jeffries, acting for Mr Cordner, will argue that no partnership existed between his client and Mr Hone, and that Mr Cordner was unaware of any wrongdoing. Mr Cordner was initially represented by Michael Booth QC, but the leading barrister withdrew from the case on Tuesday when Appeal Court judges threw out the agentís attempt to raise capital against the value of his house in order to pay for his defence.". This attempt was necessary as sometimes happens due to existing orders and claims in the case.

The truth was in fact a little more complicated. On the previous Friday, whilst I was in court finishing the evidence on another case, an application was made to permit secured funding for the trial. Junior counsel instructed in the case made the application, and the idea was that I was to come into the trial. When the application failed, we pursued an urgent appeal which was heard on the Tuesday. Unfortunately, decisions of this sort are what are known as "case management" decisions and the appeal courts will very rarely interfere. In consequence that meant that funding for leading counsel (and various other aspects of funding) was unavailable. If anyone gained the impression from the article that I was involved in every aspect of the case and had then suddenly walked out that was incorrect. I felt very sorry for the clients, and firmly believe that they ought to have been allowed to enter into the charge, but they were not. It had always been made clear that I would only be coming in to do the trial if that money became available.

I will not pretend that I was happy about the situation, or that I did not consider whether any other arrangement was possible. However the one thing that I always have is plenty to do, whether in legal work or other activities. If you commit to a trial that you are not going to get paid for or may not get paid for, then you are effectively postponing those other activities to another time, and also bringing about a situation where during that period you will probably not be able to do any other paying legal work. Once again, you are committed. You have to balance sympathy for a particular client (who I very much hope wins this particular piece of litigation) against other commitments.

One thing that you also have to bear in mind is that you never know how long your career is going to be. I expect to be working on the law my various other projects for many, many, years to come. However there are various other people, some retired, some in the cemetery, who had the same view but who were overtaken by events. Sometimes you may only get a few years at the peak of your career, and you have to make the most of them while you can. Lawyers are not like footballers or boxers, in the sense that a lawyer could be at the top of the tree for 30 years, but there is a similarity in that often your peak years are relatively limited and they need to be taken advantage of. (Most people will probably readily detect various obvious differences, most significantly the comparative fitness levels of top sports people in their 20s and 30s as against lawyers between their 30s and 60s or even 70s or above: interestingly however one significant positive difference is that women barristers can and do earn as much money at the top as their male counterparts, which is certainly not true in football or boxing in the way it is in tennis).

As you will know from this blog I never comment on identifiable cases, but purely commenting on matters which have already been in the media is different.

Issues regarding fees raise strong feelings, as we shall see in an incident related next week.

Michael J. Booth QC