"See them walking hand in hand across the Bridge at midnight.
Power suits and product-haired, a bump of cocaine inside.
Their personal copies of the White Book, and a first from Oxford by hook or crook.
Hook or crook.
And you wonder what it is that they do that makes their price so high..."
Lawyers On Film!
Lawyers On Film!"
(Apologies to Duran Duran.)
Good question, actually. What do high-powered commercial barristers do all day that means that they can charge £500.00 per hour for preparation, plus refreshers when they're actually in Court. I often wonder. Part of me believes John Grisham when he says, in his "The Associate" (not his best book, by the way) that corporate lawyers charge so much because their clients allocate a percentage of their annual budgets on legal representation, and they have to be seen to be earning their keep, so this is why they take each other to dinner and occasionally discuss a client or a case or a transaction and bill it to that client's file. And it's not as if they're high profile. They don't do cases that make the papers, other than in passing. You might see a report in the FT after the deal is done, and maybe a nod to lead counsel, but what does the average commercial barrister do all day?
Well, most of the time, they hide out in obscure corners of chambers. They sit at their desks absorbing massive multi-volume commercial contracts and deals and reams of case law, soaking up the money, or poring over the City Code on Mergers and Acquisitions, or consulting Table A and considering it word by word. They absorb on this, then they put forward a perfect, elegantly argued legal argument that makes the point the client wants. Of course, there's no chance that said argument will be tested in Court; the whole point is that their client has it under their hat in case something goes horribly wrong. Besides, most corporate disputes in Britain mediate or arbitrate or negotiate or otherwise settle, or so I am given to understand. When they do go to Court it's behind a grand, eminent silk who does all the talking and leaves it to this person to be the bag carrier or similar - the world's highest paid bag carrier. On the other occasions that they go to Court it's on fairly mundane cases and hearings whereby they can get their advocacy experience until, thirty years and thirty thousand liquid lunches down the line, they are the grand, eminent silk and they have some poor sap to be their most highly paid bag carrier.
Whenever I go to Court and the opposition is represented by one of these people, I can tell immediately. The first thing that strikes you about them is the sense of entitlement and superiority complex. "Hi. Martinson. Thackeray Chambers." they'll introduce themselves by, or something similar. Note the use of surname as first name, which is an affectation I utterly despise and smacks of pretention (i.e. Morrissey). Dig that thrusting handshake, that sense that the world bends to their will. You just know that they'll be commanding the sort of cash per hour that breaks banks and breaks hymens, that spreads awe and spreads legs. Because I'm worth it.
I had a run in with one of these types on a landlord and tenant case up at my local Court fairly recently. To be fair, I was sitting on a rather rubbish case so I'd advised my client to settle it. This he was amenable to. Then in came Martinson from Thackeray Chambers (Not his real name, by the way.) Upon discussing things with him, it quickly degenerated into the flinging of anathemas at each other, as litigation tends to. Basically, he wanted costs from my client, I said that I had a cast-iron argument that he could have it but not enforce it as my client was legally aided. He then started crowing about how if my client left the property immediately and signed something in writing saying he would, he could be "persuaded" to change his mind on costs, because my client was being unreasonable by running the argument he was. He then rounded on me and threatened to report me to the Law Society for allowing my client to do this. I then said that I'd appreciate if he was less minded to make with the bullying and blustering and that I too was well aware that if you can't fight, wear a big hat.
Right, I thought. It's On. So did he, probably.
Throughout all this time there was coming from him a certain contempt. As if he, holder of a top First from Cambridge and a sheaf of BVC scholarships (he was about the same age as me and qualified the same time as me) was far too grand to lower himself to the level of ordinary people like me and my client. However, upon looking through the legal provisions he'd directed me to, it turned out that he hadn't a clue what he was on about. Now if it had been a dispute over M&A I would probably have been shitting myself fit to bust, and there was no doubt the man was extremely smart. But about this sort of thing he was flying by the seat of his pants.
(For the record, I did persuade the Judge that Martinson was talking out his arse and there was nothing unreasonable about it because when this matter first was in Court his client wanted an awful lot more than what he got.)
But the point is this. That for all their massive academic achievements and being a regular at Tough Guy or triathlons or other such things (which these people like because it lets them spout mantras like "pain is just weakness leaving the body" and go on about how they have "discipline") they are massively out their depth when plunged into the real world. Because the world of massive banking disputes and corporate infighting and suchlike isn't real. What is solved by Massive International Conglomerate plc suing the pants off Giga-Rich Russian Oligarch over a period of six years, two hundred interim applications, and a trial that blocks up a panel of High Court Judges for eight months might be fantastically important to those involved and might clarify some arcane regulation buried within the Companies Act 2006, but to you, I, or 99.9% of other people who read this, it is of little note. It is not like people's homes or livelihoods or freedom being at stake or riding on the outcome of a case - well, not most of the time anyhow. The world of corporate law is very insular and it shows in the way in which its practitioners comport themselves. Much like how the rise over the past 30 years of career politicians have meant that our glorious leaders in the current and the previous Governments seem to spend more time pretending they're in Game of Thrones than trying to improve the lot of the average denizen of the UK.
I will leave you with another anecdote about these people, this time from my former boss. A lot of high-powered corporate lawyers, solicitors and barristers both, have requirements that they pitch in and do pro bono work at law centres or suchlike. Anyhow. Old boss was invited to a prizegiving by one law centre where they rewarded their volunteers for the stuff they'd done for the lower orders. Without fail, all these prizes went to the volunteers from the City, who whooped and applauded as they received them. One of the actual staffers would then whisper into old boss's ear upon each award being handed out derogatory comments about the city boy in question. That one there's always fiddling on his iPhone doing business for his actual firm when he's supposed to be doing things for us. That one there's never seen the inside of a Courtroom in his life. That one there hasn't a clue about this sort of thing. And that one there? He never sees any clients, he just hides out in the back pretending he's busy with paperwork. And suchlike.
I think this tells you a lot.
Oh, and one absolutely final thing - ACTION IS NOT A VERB.