Friday, 23 March 2007

Turbulent times

Ever since pupillage, I've only ever really done criminal work. As many people involved in this area know, we criminal hacks currently live in troubled times. Not only is there widespread unrest about fees (things are set to change next month when the long-awaited new fees structure comes into operation), there is also less work around than previously. This is largely due to the CPS having employed a number of in-house advocates (HCAs, which stands for Higher Courts Advocates) who are covering an increasing amount of work. So what's the beagle to do?

Part of me (in fact, most of me) wants to just ride this rough period out and trust that things will improve. Inevitably, the criminal bar will shrink and hopefully people who stick things out now will be OK in the future. I did think about jumping ship and looking for an in-house job, but that was just a moment of madness. So I've hatched a secret plan to tide me over.

I had a discreet chat to some civil colleagues and our two civil clerks and am about to start taking on civil work. At 5 years' call I reckon I'm still just about junior enough to start a new area of practice. I have made it clear that I only want easy cases to begin with and that I still want to keep my criminal practice going. Next week I have a fast track trial, which seems simple enough, though I might well be missing a crucial point or two! It's a contractual dispute over a few grands' worth of unpaid invoices. I've dug out my civil notes from the BVC and borrowed a copy of the Civil Procedure Rules. How hard can it be? Either I'll crash and burn, in which case I'll develop a new respect for my civil colleagues, or I'll add an extra string to my bow which can't be a bad thing. Maybe I'll grow to love commercial disputes, though I'll be surprised if they're as much fun as jury trials. Watch this space...


Smartie said...

I jumped ship in January from the Criminal Bar to in-house Civil. I do miss the Court Room and Counsel from the Independent Bar are instructed for fast/multi track trials!

I hadn't touched Civil since 2000. Now I find Civil Litigation very rule / procedure focused. I'd imagine your brief from the I/S would be in good order and easy to follow so you'd have no problem esp as you've had the pressures of cramming Criminal cases in shorter periods of time :)

Nearly Legal said...

Ouch. Coming from Instructing Solicitor's end of things, we will make our briefs as clear and helpful as possible, but we'd also be looking for Counsel to have his/her own view and a good sense of likely problems and alternative solutions.

Don't rely on time to work up the brief either. Civil Lit has its emergencies as well and, although I try to avoid it, I have instructed the day before a hearing on occasion.

A good working knowledge of the CPR is essential. Process is very important and the powers and discretions of the Court are also circumscribed by the CPR. The rules of evidence and the burden of proof are different in ways that work through the whole process. The form of desired Order after judgment also needs careful attention, particularly in terms of future enforcement.

I wish you good fortune. I'm sure that experience of Criminal will mean a better approach to the Courtroom than many Civil Counsel, but I'd also expect there to be quite a steep learning curve.

Mr Beagle said...

Just make sure you know your mesnes! x

Anonymous said...

i believe the influx in legal proffesionals representing civil law and commercial disputes has a lot to do with the "compensation culture" many people are talking about today... I mean how is it ethical to help somebody who has had an accident at work (and an accident is defined as "an undesirable or unfortunate happening that occurs unintentionally ") put in an accident claim against the people who pay their wages... the employer, who is being made to pay for the undesirable, unfortunate, and unintentional event, is indeed responsible for putting bread on your table week in week out...
think about it - if you are ever involved in an industrial accident... it was never meant to happen and suing somebody for it sums up the greed of society today

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