Defence with a cool passion

Stephen Pollard is calm. The media is baying at his door, and one of the world's most uncompromising jurisdictions is trying to extradite his client – he has a legal fight of Herculean proportions on his hands.

He is calm because it is in his nature to be calm and because his personal policy as a criminal law practitioner is to keep cool and remain committed to the person under fire.

On his side is the fact that the media seems to be warming towards his client, the villified Barings trader Nick Leeson. Or at least, not as prepared to castigate the trader as a wide-boy nobody who got above himself.

Described by those who work with him as a man of “super intellect” and highly sympathetic to his clients, Pollard's appointment to the case means Leeson may have one less thing to worry about in his Frankfurt prison cell.

How the firm came to get the work is not quite clear. All Pollard will say is that it came through a “referral from the British consul” and was handed to him within days.

Pollard is quiet and confident. At 36, he is relatively young to be a partner at the renowned criminal litigation firm Kingsley Napley in London, and to be handling the types of case he is. Specialising in criminal and regulatory work, he has a “schizophrenic relationship” with clients. On one side is the dispassionate professional, who devotes himself to untangling a legal maze. On the other, a highly motivated individual fired by any injustice to his client and ready to clear that client's name.

His firm shares this duality. At the edge of the City and handling work often referred from the City, it also takes in the lowliest legal aid cases. It is a compact firm of big names, remembered for its colourful late co-founder Sir David Napley and its brilliant senior partner and top white-collar crime specialist John Clitheroe.

The young partner cut his teeth on sizable cases, getting his defendants off on the DPR Futures trial brought by the SFO and winning a “reasonable sentence” for society fraudster Rosemary Aberdour.

On Leeson's case, Pollard is working with German lawyer Eberhard Kempf. Pollard speaks German but Kempf must be the front-man. “The battle will be fought in the German courts, in German. So, Kempf is in the frontline. My dealings will be more general,” he says.

Recent reports say German prosecutor Hans-Hermann Eckert believes the Singaporeans have a strong case for extraditing Nick Leeson.

This is what Pollard is up against. But his role has another edge. His client has been stuck in prison since 3 March, is missing his wife and is concerned for his future.

He has already done Leeson a service by changing the tenor of the media coverage. “The coverage before he was arrested was quite damaging to him, so he became this sort of bottom-baring Watford lager lout, who got above himself,” he says.

“There's no Porsche, no yacht. He's a nice, friendly, uncomplicated, straight-forward man with a delightful wife to whom he's devoted.

“While he knew there were problems he never dreamt it would come to this,” is all he will say about Leeson's defence, except to comment that he is “fairly sure in my mind” what actually happened. “I feel he's the sort of client I'm looking forward to fighting for.”

Lawyers who act for notorious clients invariably feel the effect on their everyday lives. They get caught up in the fight and their names are linked to their clients', often for the rest of their careers and beyond.

Pollard acknowledges that this case “must change my life” but he believes it will be in a positive way. “I'd like to save Nick Leeson,” he says.

This is where objectivity and subjectivity become blurred, where the professional struggle to clear someone's name becomes fused with the fight to save a person you actually like.

This is actually desirable. “You've got to be sufficiently committed, partisan. But you have to be sufficiently detatched,” he says.

This attitude is echoed by one of Pollard's school friends Brian Spiro, now a partner at another dynamic London firm, Simons Muirhead & Burton. They have been hailed as a new breed of young lawyers – dubbed the “mini Manchester mafia” – who invest much personal feeling in their client and who play the media well.

Spiro says: “The traditional school of thought is you should not be passionate. I myself see no harm in being passionate.”

Pollard was educated in Manchester and then Pembroke College, Oxford. During articles at Payne Hicks Beach he worked for eight months at the European Commission in Strasbourg. He returned to the firm for another 18 months before leaving to join the CPS in London for a year. He left to travel around South America and returned to Kingsley Napley, making partner in 1991.

Describing Pollard's skills, Spiro remembers him from school football matches as a “midfield terrier” – “ferocious in tackle but fair”.

Barrister Nadine Radford who worked with Pollard describes him as “absolutely calm under fire”. She says: “Where he can be sympathetic and understanding, he also retains the cutting edge intellectually.” Leeson is the one who will benefit, she says. “This man will have one of the best prepared cases he could possibly have.”