Baby, barristers making a tidy sum
An amusing entry last week from Times Online’s BabyBarister came across Folklaw’s desk. The fictional blog account of a pupil barrister’s life and work included details of a barrister given the avatar “TidySum”, who clearly does quite well in the chambers business.
The story goes like this. Basically, TidySum has a nice little earner set up by which he brings in loads of papers and then gets them done by baby (or junior) barristers for a small “devilling fee”. This obviously does him quite well; he gives juniors excellent work experience while he gets to enjoy the comfort, we imagine, of a roomy, leather armchair and a foot stool. Perhaps there is cigar smoking too.
Anyway, in recent weeks, pupils have been “falling down like flies” as they get taken on or kicked out of chambers. So TidySum is capitalising on this by setting up a website called BarristerBay (don’t bother looking, it doesn’t actually exist) on which he sells his cases to the most attractive bidder. But because he’s had to get around the fact that you’re actually not allowed to sell cases or barristers, or rather barristers aren’t allowed to buy them, he has set up a reverse online auction eBay-style.
TidySum sells 10 cases at a time to the person willing to charge him the least for the work. One baby barrister is said to have scooped up 10 particulars of claim by offering to do them for £150. And our blogger notes that TidySum would be able to bill about 10 times that.
Interesting idea, albeit fictional. We’re unable to determine at this point whether BabyBarister is pulling material from real life or not, and we don’t want to go calling up various UK chambers to find out if there’s any truth in the claims. But we’d love to know, anonymously if necessary, whether any Aussie barristers have ever come across such entrepreneurial behaviour from the profession.
And that’s not all …
UK lawyers are doing well with tacky and annoying television ads. According to stats released by the Department of Work and Pensions, the number of claims for personal injury has risen by 8.3 per cent in the past year after a record a number of advertising campaigns by law firms. Apparently, the number of registered accident claims rose to a five-year high of 682,498.
Friends in high places
Judges have a “serious and secret bias”, according to a chief judge of the federal appeals court in New York. In a recent speech, he admitted that he and colleagues consistently rule in favour of anything that protects and empowers lawyers.
The revelation takes the idea of friends in high places to a new level. According to the judge, Dennis G Jacobs, judges love cases in which they can employ their power to help out their own.
The New York Times reported the reasoning. That is, judges prefer complexity and legalism over efficient solutions, while they have no appreciation for transaction costs. “They are aided in this by lawyers who bill by the hour and like nothing more than tasks that take a lot of time and cost their clients a lot of money,” the New York Times reported.
Judge Jacobs said: “Judges love these kinds of cases.” His speech, which was published in The Fordham Law Review, suggested that “Public interest cases afford a judge more sway over public policy, enhance the judicial role, make judges more conspicuous and keep the law clerks happy.”
Benjamin H Barton, a law professor at the University of Tennessee, has also looked into this phenomenon — or rather, institution. In an article to be published next year in The Alabama Law Review titled “Do Judges Systematically Favor the Interests of the Legal Profession?”, he says the legal profession is the only one that is completely self-regulated.
“As a general rule,” Professor Barton wrote, “foxes make poor custodians of henhouses.”
Freedom for sale
We’re not talking about moderately-priced furniture here. Last week Sotheby’s announced that a copy of the Magna Carta dating back to the 13th century will go under the hammer in New York in December. It is expected to sell for US$30 million ($34 million), TimesOnline reported.
One of only 17 of the copies revised and reaffirmed throughout the 13th century, Sotheby’s copy was endorsed by Edward I in 1297, the year that Magna Carta was confirmed as English law. It is one of only two held outside Britain (the other being on display in Parliament House in Canberra) and is the only one in private hands (those of Texan billionaire Ross Perot).
Preparations for the sale of the document were shrouded in secrecy, and the director of Sotheby’s 20th century design department, James Zemaitis, was not told why he had to give up a room he’d reserved for another exhibition.
“All they told me was, ‘[Sotheby’s vice-chairman] David Redden is selling this really important document. Can you give up this room for us?’” Zemaitis said. “I’m like, ‘Sure, but what is he selling — Magna Carta?’”
“Magna Carta is the first rung on the ladder to freedom. This document symbolises mankind’s eternal quest for freedom; it is a talisman of liberty,” Redden effused last week.
Folklaw wonders if early drafts of A New Tax System or WorkChoices will ever be worth that much in 700 years’ time.
Lawyer with a conscience speaks out
The New York Times has labelled his story the “conscience of a conservative” and it is exactly this conscience that we find so interesting as well.
Bright star of the US legal world, Jack L Goldsmith, was hired in autumn 2002 as legal adviser to the general counsel of the Defence Department. While at the Pentagon, he wrote a memo to Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld warning that US officials may be indicted for their actions in the war on terror. And then when he was promoted in 2003 to head the Office of Legal Counsel, where he could directly advise the President on the limits of executive power, he could enter debates on coercive interrogation, secret surveillance, and the detention and trial of enemy combatants.
But nine months later he resigned. And only now is he talking about why. He’s written a new book, The Terror Presidency, which by its very title suggests where he might be coming from now. He says he hopes that “future presidents and people inside the executive branch can learn from our mistakes”, the New York Times reported.
“I don’t think any President in the near future can have the same attitude toward executive power, because the other institutions of government won’t allow it,” he said softly. “The Bush Administration has borrowed its power against future presidents,” he said. Might be an interesting read.
Fighting frivolous with frivolous
Enraged by what he sees as yet another frivolous lawsuit, United States Senator Ernie Chambers is suing God in an Omaha court to make the point that it seems anyone can sue anyone else for anything just about anywhere in the US.
Chambers’ lawsuit argues that God has caused “widespread death, destruction and terrorisation of millions upon millions of the Earth’s inhabitants,” News.com.au reported.
Seeking a permanent injunction against the deity, Chambers said his own frivolous lawsuit was prompted by a case filed against a judge who had barred witnesses in a sexual assault trial from using the words “rape”, “victim”, “assailant”, “sexual assault kit” and “sexual assault nurse examiner”, directing them to refer to “sex” and “intercourse” in the interests of the accused receiving a fair trial.
Tory Bowen’s lawsuit against Lancaster District Judge Jeffre Cheuvront was dismissed last week after her legal team failed to prove to the US District Court that her right to free speech had been violated when the judge barred her from describing an alleged sexual assault as “rape” or, well, “sexual assault”.
She had expressed concern that by limiting her choice of words to more clinical nomenclature that she would be a less credible witness and that the terms she was directed to use implied consent.
One step ahead of the US District Court, Senator Chambers dismissed Bowen’s lawsuit earlier this month as frivolous, arguing that federal courts follow the decisions of state supreme courts on state matters, and the Nebraska Supreme Court had previously dismissed the case.
“This lawsuit having been filed and being of such questionable merit creates a circumstance where my lawsuit is appropriately filed,” Chambers said. “People might call it frivolous but if they read it they’ll see there are very serious issues I have raised.”
“God”, in response to the senator’s lawsuit, tendered documents in the Douglas County District Court in Omaha stating “I created man and woman with free will and next to the promise of immortal life, free will is my greatest gift to you,” the Associated Press reported.
God went on to argue that the Court lacked the jurisdiction to subject Him to earthly laws. It might just set a precedent if it ever goes to trial — and we really hope it goes to trial.
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