This is the final installment in the series. Please read the cautionary note at the beginning of Part I.
This is what happens when fellow professionals are alleged to have got it wrong. Anyone expecting kinship, concern and empathy does not understand the Bar. The defining emotion is schadenfreude. You name it – accountants, doctors, surveyors, dentists, engineers, architects and (especially) solicitors – all will be sued, defended, and, above all, charged. That is why they have insurance policies, after all. And that is why their clients are paying for the premiums. Everyone wins.
This is negligence with knobs on. Big issues are causation: the building didn’t fall down because the architect specified papier-mache for the foundations, but because the Contractor exceeded the maximum load by one brick. Or: Mr Blogs’ decease was not the result of the surgeon sewing him up using a knitting pattern but because he was already suffering from a savage cold which unpredictably reacted with his antibiotics making control of his condition impossible. Also damages – the house isn’t worth any less because the solicitor failed to discover that the ground floor is split equally between the rats living under the decayed floorboards and the squatters who cause that decay when not attending music festivals.
Also, it’s not negligent if a substantial proportion of the profession would have done the same. So this is bean feast time for expert witnesses to come along and ride their own hobby hourses up and down the corridors of the Courthouse, at someone else’s expense, all in the cause of justice. It’s a wonderful world.
Advantages. The train goes slowly and even the guard’s van gets gravy, so your plumber will respect you (and fear you if he regards himself as a professional). Unless an actual crime has been committed there is always a defence – and sometimes even then. A finding of negligence is feared by professionals so the boring trial bit is rarely necessary but there’s lots of work to do before the parties settle. You are either a fierce battler for consumer rights (cheers) or a stalwart defender of professional standards and campaigner against the ‘there’s no such thing as an accident culture’ (cheers). Good mix between court work and law.
Disadvantages. You will immediately be infected by ‘it’s going to happen to me’ disease. Clinical negligence barristers are hypochondriacs; surveyor’s negligence barristers typically die in a fall from a roof etc. There is so much case law that your Skeleton Argument is alive and weighs about as much as Nicholas Soames. You are increasingly pigeonholed into smaller and smaller areas of specialisation, ending up doing only cases where the accountant valued the contingent liabilities without regard to the comments of the Secretary at the AGM. If it happens to you (and it will) everyone will laugh their heads off and even your children will shun you.
When a scheme to allow you to keep your own money makes Gordon Brown scowl, Her Majesty’s Commissioners of Revenue and Customs must put the smile back on his face and restore him to his usual sunny self. First they try before the Special Commissioners; then the General Commissioners; then the High Court, then the Court of Appeal, then (frequently) the House of Lords and (if all else fails) Europe. If none of that works then normally MI6 assassinate you. Then Gordie smiles again and everyone is happy.
This happens all the time because every year the tax boys try and close down the loopholes identified the previous year and every year the people who don’t want to fund the miracle that is the NHS try to identify new loopholes. There is a Finance Act every year. The Finance Act 2006 has 180 sections and 26 schedules. It is considered a masterpiece of brevity. When you add VAT, Capital Gains Tax, Inheritance Tax and The Excess Consumption of Oxygen (More than 20 Breaths a Minute) Tax you can see what a big job it is.
Advantages. Your plumber will worship the ground you walk on. You will be part of an elite because there are only about 50 tax barristers. One set of papers equals work for 4 months. What you are doing is socially useful. The work is intellectually demanding. There’s always at least one tax lawyer in the House of Lords because it’s embarrassing when no one there understands the case. Somerset House is the most beautiful government building in the country and HMRC are based there.
Disadvantages. Have you ever read a tax statute? Before you get the intellectual excitement you have to learn to stay awake whilst reading material normally available to chronic insomniacs on a prescription only basis. Even accountants will think you are dull. Other barristers will consult you regularly – but will insist it is only by telephone. Your indemnity limit will need to be in the tens of millions or you will be a failure and your Chambers will make you go and do something less taxing (geddit?) – like bringing peace to the Middle East.
This is contract law for things that you have seen in your head. If you can’t see or touch it but you’ve made it then you can copyright it. If you can only see it through a mega-microscope and touch it in laboratory conditions then you patent it. If you can see and touch it then you trademark it. If you can see it but not touch it then you register it. If you can’t see it, touch it, or patent it then you need to consider sectioning yourself. Got that? Also you have to know how to take your computer apart, describe what each bit does, rebuild it and show that it’s working better. Throwing it at the wall and shouting ‘work, you bastard’ is unacceptable.
A scientific background helps. That means you need two degrees where most of us find one difficult enough. You will spend your life dealing with abstruse science and almost as abstruse law. You will be dealing with the fall out when an intellectual property right is infringed – in other words music companies will use you to ensure that no one can copy a CD without paying them for it. You will also be engaged in ensuring that people don’t own their own ideas but have to give them to their employer/record company, like they promised to do when they were offered that contract aged 21 which paid enough to buy a proper supply of Clearasil.
Advantages. On the scientific side your brain is already as big as a planet so it’s nice to meet other people like you. And that arrangement works for everyone as it keeps you away from normal people. On the arts side you get to meet and act for pop stars and they will teach how to really trash the Robing Room. Cooo-el! Also you will be the only type of barrister who understands how to dress. Your plumber will come out in exchange for autographs or that new machine for pulling tampons out of the u-bend.
Disadvantages. People always want to know what George or Mick was really like and whether you smoked pot with them. You will not be allowed to answer even though you’re bursting to say, like, how good that skank was. Or, no one will understand what you do at all and you will live a life so lonely that you will envy your goldfish. One way and another all your clients will be mad and, in the end, you will stop realising it.
This is what happens when you import the school playground into the law. ‘Miss, Miss, Kevin said I smell Miss. Tell him off, Miss’ is replaced by ‘My client’s reputation, members of the Jury, was profoundly adversely affected by the Defendant’s disgraceful assertion that his body odour was overly normative’. The Judge plays the role of the teacher except that he can’t send anyone to the naughty corner, nor can he smack the parties round the ear – profoundly though he may wish to do both.
Instead he has to indulge them in a 25 day hearing whilst all their friends come to say a) that the Claimant smells of roses even when he has just finished his kick-boxing class; b) the friend is so appalled by the allegation that the Claimant smells that he (the friend) is now able to communicate with the Claimant only when holding a handkerchief drenched in ‘Eau for Justice’ which retails at £55 per millilitre and, if used in London, can be smelt in Paris; and c) consequently the Claimant’s reputation, previously both sweet and spotless is now defiled and equivalent to a Turkish wrestler’s jockstrap after the Turkish wrestler has won Olympic gold.
On the other hand, given the current fascination with “respec'”, ‘rep’ and the (only just) human right not to be offended by anything ever, this area is arguably the cutting edge of the legal sword. It has an Act of Parliament all to itself – so it’s obviously miles more important than, say, what you’re promised in a General Election.
Advantages. Money, money, money. A small and supportive group of professional colleagues. Everything is set out in the Act so you can’t go wrong on the procedure. The National Press will know your name. You get to pick up the ‘sword of truth and justice’ and stick it in the opposition. You get to make the odd jury speech. You will truly know how to defend the indefensible so a second career in politics will be yours for the asking.
Disadvantages. The sense of ennui which inevitably comes when you spend all your time giving children what they want. Your clients are not terribly likeable and have to be extracted from their own backsides. Every so often some Silk who has cut his teeth on crime comes and asks your clients really rude questions – and you lose. The last remaining procedure bound stronghold of the law. Compared to what you do the Plumber has a job of national importance.
Talk about getting the difficult bit over with in the title. This particular moveable feast is based on the comity of Nations. All you need to know about that is that there has not been one war-free year since the League of Nations was created. The USSR and the USA spent 40 years sticking their tongues out at each other whilst persuading vast numbers of (usually poor and non-white) people to fight surrogate battles on their behalfs. Meanwhile they regularly accused each other of being in breach of UN resolutions. This is International Law – the only type of law where there is no agreed system, no definitions, no sanctions and no compulsory court. What there is, however, are lawyers.
Nowadays, whichever particularly blatant act of genocide and aggression that has come top of the poll of things the public are most upset by is the subject of a ‘War Crimes Tribunal’. This is where a Nigerian Judge deals with a Serbian defendant in a Dutch Court, with Spanish staff and mixed English and Greek lawyers all following French procedure. Once everyone has stopped walking out, the Defendant is on his eighth set of lawyers and the Judge has been replaced five times the Defendant is convicted and sent to the American Prison he’d been in since his initial detention approximately seven years before his trial began. Justice.
Advantages. No one can tell you you’re wrong because they’re still making the law up and you can have your turn just as much as anyone else. If you tell the government what it wants to hear you may get a Cabinet post. You can walk out and go shopping if you’re bored and no one will bat an eyelid. It sounds incredibly posh. You get to travel to exotic and interesting places. Your clients are interesting. You may actually make law. The Today Program knows your name.
Disadvantages. If you don’t get your client off you’d better hope he never returns to power. Neither Rwanda nor Sierra Leone appear to have a Harvey Nichols. You have to learn Serbo-Croat. Your clients are psychopaths or (worse) the Foreign Office. Your plumber will be working for your American counterparts. Your brief is whatever suits the politicians and your instructions are to justify their actions. Your competitors will be queuing up to tell the Today Program that you are incompetent and your client’s actions are illegal.
This is the final installment in the series. Please read the cautionary note at the beginning of Part I.