Friday, 5 October 2007

Animal magic

We in the legal trade spend so much time moaning about ridiculous new (and sometimes old) legislation, it's refreshing to learn of the government implementing a fantastic new law which can only benefit the nation. In case readers have missed it, you now no longer need a licence to keep all sorts of interesting pets. Having been shot down in flames at court today I was in need of being cheered up, and learning that I can stop off at my local pet centre and pick up a squirrel monkey or even an emu on the way home did the trick!

It almost makes up for the fact that I'm not one of the two thousand lawyers (or thereabouts) involved in the Diana Inquest, which is a constant source of disappointment at the moment. What other case could involve six months of speculating about conspiracy theories and a trip to gai Paris to boot? Mind you, I did go to Cardiff for a day recently, so mustn't grumble...

Monday, 17 September 2007

The nights are drawing in...

Summer, such as it was, is at an end, kids are back at school ( ha ha!) and there's an undeniable chill in the air but at least the traditional August lull in work is over. I've been so busy these last couple of weeks I haven't had time for all sorts of essentials, one of which is blogging - sorry! On the plus side, it's always nice to be busy when you're self-employed.

Although for once I don't have much to complain about, this is a stressful time of year for many people. Pupillage interviews are causing some would-be barristers untold misery (I'll wait until a decent interval has passed before blogging about ours, just in case some hapless soul thinks, rightly or wrongly, that they recognise themself and gets even more depressed about the whole affair). Elsewhere, the quest for tenancy is causing sleepless nights for others, including the scheming Baby Barista and the thoroughly deserving Pupilblogger. Fingers crossed for both of them, and best of luck to any readers currently worrying about pupillage or tenancy!

Wednesday, 15 August 2007

Phone a friend

One of the few remaining perks of being learned counsel is that you don't have members of the public approaching you directly to chat about their legal woes. (Unless you do public access work, that is, but even then you're not at risk of being called by just anyone.) The beauty of being a member of a referral profession is that you only really have day to day dealings with solicitors. Sadly, no such filter exists to protect us from friends and relatives. I've lost count of the number of times someone I know has called on me for some free legal advice. Invariably, they begin by saying something like, "I hope you don't mind, but I'm in a bit of a mess and I could really do with some advice, it won't take long..." And then they launch into a long-winded explanation of some legal quandary that's making their life a misery.

This will almost certainly involve an area of law that you know nothing about. If I asked a medical type for his opinion on a broken leg and he replied that he only worked in dermatology, I'd accept it. When it comes to lawyers, however, people think that you should be an expert in all areas of law. If you tell them you don't know anything about, say, wills, they think either that you're lying or that you can't be any good at your job after all. If, unusually, their problem concerns an area you are familiar with, there are still loads of problems. Leaving aside the vast professional conduct issues (direct access, insurance etc...), people never give you a coherent account of what their problem is.

All of this is most annoying when the pest is someone you hardly know, wanting advice without paying for it, but families can be almost as bad. I spent ages on the phone to my cousin over the weekend, alternating between telling him I couldn't advise him and listening to his rambling account of his evil landlord's latest misdeeds. Of course, when I finally relented and agreed to look through the paperwork with him - on a strictly informal basis, mind! - it was obvious he'd inadvertently told me a complete load of rubbish and the situation was entirely different to the one he'd described.

It's not just lawyers who have to put up with this kind of thing. My mother used to be a nurse and was constantly being pestered by people for advice. She got so fed up with it that she told people she'd just met that she worked in the sock department for Bhs. I think I might have to come up with a similar lie...

Tuesday, 7 August 2007

Client Care

Those of us whose practice areas demand that we go to court on an almost daily basis spend a fair amount of time dealing with clients. This is, to say the least, a mixed blessing. Some of them are lovely, though they are few and far between. Others, most in fact, are pleasant enough to deal with, even if you wouldn't necessarily choose to spend any more time than necessary with them. A small but significant minority are just horrible. For the uninitiated, ways in which clients can fall into this category include:

1. Smelling
2. Moaning and complaining about things you have no power to do anything about (often something going on in prison) then getting annoyed when you can't fix it
3. Arguing with everything you say
4.Trying to justify what they've done in a really inappropriate way which often includes racist, sexist and/or homophobic comments

Numbers 1 and 4 applied to today's client. Like many people with appalling personal hygiene, he kept insisting on shaking mine and my solicitor's hands (over the last few years, I've noticed that the more a client smells, the more likely they are to want to shake your hand). A good way around this is to constantly carry as many papers and books as possible but today that made the situation even worse. When he held out his hand I indicated my pile of books and gave what I hoped was a rueful "would if I could" look. In response, he leaned in and gave me a smacker on the cheek. It was so sudden and unexpected, I never stood a chance. They never warned me about this on the BVC...

Friday, 13 July 2007

Farewell to wigs

The inevitable has happened and the wig is to be abolished, at least in civil and family cases. As of January 1st 2008 only judges sitting in criminal courts will have to wear the wig and traditional gown. Civil and family judges will wear a simple, zip-up (yuck!) gown instead. I've said it before and I'll say it again, I think this is a mistake. Newly appointed civil and family judges, who won't need their new gear very long, are advised to save themselves a few pennies and shop around.

Wednesday, 11 July 2007


China has executed Zheng Xiaoyu, former head of their Food and Drug Asociation, for accepting bribes to approve untested drugs. Although the consequences of what he did were tragic (at least 10 people died after taking a fake drug) the sentence is shocking and ought to be condemned. Even more horrifying was Tehran's confirmation that a man has been stoned to death for adultery. It's hard to imagine a more unpleasant method of execution, or a "crime" less deserving of it. Whatever the failings of our own justice system, I for one am very pleased to live in a country that doesn't have the death penalty.

Save our hedgehogs!

Great Yarmouth Magistrates Court is currently home to a high-profile case involving the heroic prosecution of a merciless hedgehog-slayer. Whilst the police, the RSPCA and the HSE were too lazy and uncaring to prosecute this 63-year old fiend for the heinous crime of trying to do his job, Defra had no such wimpish qualms. Some bleeding-heart liberals will no doubt argue that prosecuting Mr Whiley is over the top and that, although rat poison is a dangerous substance whose unintended victims are often cuter that its intended prey, this could all have been sorted out without the need to spend thousands of pounds from the public purse pursuing the matter through the courts. I'm not fooled though. Throw the book at him, I say! If only other goverment departments put taxpayers' money to such excellent use.