Life at the Bar

Neglect (Updated)

I am aware that there has been radio-silence of late and I am sorry. In mitigation, my professional life this week has involved prosecuting one trial (where the need to write a Skeleton Argument on the law meant that I went to bed at 315 on Tuesday night) whilst simultaneously trying to sort out the Opening in the next, whilst also trying to read the contract the Legal Services Commission wishes me to sign in order that I be allowed to work for less money than my plumber on long cases which mean that I can’t live at home for 6 months of the year.

This, of course, is what you are striving towards and, lest anyone think the contrary, I am, when awake, hugely enjoying myself.

I shall not be signing the contract proposed by the LSC. There are 3 main reasons for this. The first is that I will be expected to work for about £58 per hour whilst a case is in Court whilst being responsible for my own expenses. Given that a long case demands a hotel room with internet access (access is a term of the contract) and a decent sized desk and that I have to eat, it seems to me that 3 of my hours are likely to be spent on that. Of course, I pay tax on the remaining 3 hours pay, thus providing me with a take home wage of approximately £500 per week not including Chamber’s expenses. The comparison with my plumber is, on that basis, more than slightly unfair – to him. Of course, Silks are paid more than juniors…

The second reason is that the LSC demand access to my diary, to ensure that I am telling them the truth when I say I cannot take the case because I have other professional commitments. This, presumably, is their way of building a mutually respectful relationship. I give them information and they assume that I am telling lies. And, if you are wondering whether it can really be true that this is so, check out clause 13.3. Also note that my claim for money based on an hourly rate must be true, accurate and reasonable. So, if my truthful claim that a case needed lots of prep is not reasonable, hey presto – I’ve worked for free! Oh yes, and – contrary to the Practice Direction – it is not normally reasonable for me to know what the junior is doing and vice versa, so if one of us falls ill the whole case will be aborted.

The third reason is that on 21st January, the LSC intends to publish the list of people who have signed. This is purportedly to let the public know. In reality it is to exert pressure. I can easily imagine the howl of protest that would arise, were the Bar to publish that list. We must even be careful not to ‘pressure’ other members of the profession into leaving their signature unscrawled on this particularly grubby bit of paper. Leading the charge to accuse Barristers of blackmail would be the LSC and its paymasters. But when the boot is on the other foot it’s all ok. If hypocrisy had a smell, civil servants all over the country would be frantically phoning Rentokill.

With the no pressure bit in mind, kindly note that my view is not in any sense advice. I devoutly wish you to make your own mind up about whether you wish to enter into a contractual relationship with privacy-busting, untrustworthy, underpaying hypocrites who will promptly tell the world that you are their kind of person. I hope that is clear.

Update:
There has been an exchange of correspondence between the LSC and the Bar Council (to which Anon refers in the comments – thank you). The LSC suggests that the Bar – or some of it, it is a bit fuzzy but hey – is in breach of the Competition Act (civil wrong) and the Enterprise Act (criminal offence). The Bar Council refutes those suggestions. The letters are here.

Rarely have I seen the Bar more angered. The most common expression in the Robing Room and the one which I used myself was ‘disgusting’. To be accused of criminality, without investigation of any type, with every supposition made against you and for the accusation to be utterly without foundation is so inimical to why I do this job that I find myself almost (but not quite) bereft of words.

Still, the upside is that the LSC have achieved a position where shooting themselves in the foot would represent an improvement.

From the hysterical tone of the letter and the willingness to make unfounded allegations, together with the deafening silence regarding the promised list of those who have signed, I deduce that the LSC have fallen victim to their own hubris. Let’s hear it for schadenfreunde – that most pleasurable of emotions.

Obviously, the correspondence has demonstrated to me that the LSC are people with whom I can reliably and safely contract and who will treat me with courtesy, dignity and respect. Therefore there is no impediment to my now signing. So, just as soon as Alice has shown me the way through the looking glass, that’s what I’ll do.

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16 thoughts on “Neglect (Updated)

  1. And in spite of all that, I’m still determined to make it to the bar.

    At least that proves we’re not all in it for the money.

    Keep up the great work on the blog, Simon!

  2. If it was me I dont think I would be that diplomatic, £500 for a weeks work, what an insult, How much do the Juniors get? I used to have two IT guys who were 21+23 with no qualifications working for me, they were paid a grand a week.

  3. Simon, I think you are right to make a stand, yet I wonder how many others will follow your lead.

    Not letting your true feeling show?

    What was your penultimate sentence then?

    Brilliant site.

  4. The LSC contract is yet another concerted effort on the part of the present government to finish off the criminal justice system – with the wider goal of placing a severe dent in the concept to access to justice- once and for all; surely no one will want to work under the imposition of such ludicrous conditions! I think the whole thing is not only shocking, but an absolute tragedy…..

  5. Do you think the Conservatives will treat our criminal legal system any better? NO WAY.

    They would prefer to offer the accused no justice whatsoever…no legal representation would be their approach; unless of course the accused went to Public School.

    I am nevertheless very disapointed with New Labour’s treatment of the criminal Bar, and their denigration of access to Justice. I had some romantic notion that they (New Labour) spoke for the common man; ensuring that everyone had some form of legal representation.

    How my naive notions have been abused – innocent fool that I was.

    I will not be voting Labour next time around; they seem nothing more than the old Tories in a crocodile suit. We have woken the beast to discover that it has a reptilian like torpor after all.

    20 January 2008 17:33

  6. Tim Dutton’s reply is excellent – the LSC’s hypocrisy staggering.

    Invoking criminal sanctions in order to compel individuals to make a ‘free’ choice is so hopelessly contradictory as to defy belief.

  7. Right on! This is a great post that goes to the heart of the issue. Perhaps barristers marching through London, following the Police today? Wouldn’t even need to buy white caps, just wear wigs! Although the public might become confused and think solicitor-advocates were protesting about something…

    PS Of course you mean ‘schadenfreude’; there have been a couple of references to ‘schadenfreunde’ in the popular media of late, which is an odd concept to German speakers (the misspelling, not the popular media: need I say more than Bild?)

  8. Is it really a politically motivated attempt to get rid of the bar, or simply a typical cack handed and ill thought through government attempt to reduce costs?

    Lets keep it in perspective.

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