Lawyers behaving badly
2 December 2008
31 October 2005
28 October 2008
21 April 2010
11 December 2008
15 December 2008
Seeing as it takes at least six long years of hard graft to land a training contract, you might think that once you have landed that all-important two-year apprenticeship you can sit back and relax.
Unfortunately, that is not the case a career in law is a lifelong learning process so it is important to put the same amount of effort into your training contract as you did in securing one in the first place. After all, a firm is under no obligation to keep you on after qualification, so why give it an excuse to show you the door?
With this in mind and the economic slowdown creating additional pressure on lawyers to enhance their performance, here we reveal some of the biggest lawyer controversies so you can avoid making the same mistakes yourselves.
Stay on the right side of the law
It is difficult to believe, but the UKs largest-ever art theft involved solicitors and a former partner of a leading Scottish law firm. In October 2007, the police raided the Glasgow office of HBJ Gateley Wareing while looking for a 30m stolen Leonardo da Vinci painting, arrested former partner Calum Jones and seized the 50.8x35.5cm artwork known as the Madonna with the Yarnwinder. The painting was stolen from Drumlanrig Castle, the Scottish home of the late Duke Buccleuch, in August 2003. Two men posing as tourists stole the painting from its wall-mountings, overpowering a female guide. The duke, who died a month before the police raid, reportedly received an insurance payout in the region of 3m.
One of the other lawyers involved in the theft, Marshall Ronald, had his firm closed down and is being investigated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA). Ronald appeared in court in September, alongside Jones and fellow HBJ partner David Boyce, who has also left the firm. It is understood that Ronald did not enter a plea, although Jones and Boyce have pleaded not guilty to attempting to extort money. It is alleged that the 30m painting would not be returned unless 2m was deposited in a client account at Marshalls and a further 2.25m into a Swiss bank account. Neither of the two Scottish lawyers is being investigated by the Scottish Law Society, but HBJ senior partner Malcolm McPherson said at the time that the body was very aware of the situation.
Dont fall out with the SRA
It was one of the biggest legal stories of 2007. Greedy lawyers were allegedly cashing in to the tune of 1bn by handling claims for sick miners through the British Coal compensation scheme.
As first revealed by The Lawyer (9 April 2007), 30 firms shared a pot of 800m for processing claims in relation to respiratory disease and vibration white finger. One lawyer to benefit was Jim Beresford, senior partner at Beresfords Solicitors, who last year emerged as the UKs richest lawyer, taking home 16.8m in just 12 months.
So serious were the allegations that then Prime Minister Tony Blair was forced to launch an inquiry into the scandal. Following the revelations, the SRA launched more than 50 investigations and referred 17 law firms to the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT). At the time of going to press, Beresford was facing the SRA at the SDT.
The Government had received more than 760,000 claims from coalminers and families who lost their loved ones from chronic illnesses due to British Coals lack of safety standards since the 1970s. It awarded more than 3.4bn in compensation, with the total rising to more than 4.2bn once legal fees are included. Almost a fifth of the money paid out from the 7.5bn compensation scheme was given to firms for handling the coalminers claims at an average fee of 2,125 per case.
Last year the High Court ruled that firms that profited from handling miners compensation claims may have to pay back tens of millions of pounds to the Department of Trade and Industry.
We are not just talking about client confidentiality here. The legendary story of PR consultant Claire Swire and Bradley Chait, a lawyer at Norton Rose, still strikes fear into the hearts of right-minded email-users inside and outside the profession.
At 3.53pm on Thursday 7 December 2000, Swire sent two jokes to 10 friends, including Chait. It involved a smutty joke about a man robbing a sperm bank and ended up with Swire recalling how much she had enjoyed performing a certain sex act on Chait. The charming Chait forwarded the email to four fellow lawyers, adding: Now thats a nice compliment from a lass, isnt it?
Within minutes the message had appeared on the screens of other City law firms and was then forwarded across the world. It is estimated that over the next couple of days around 20 million people received the email and the story even made the front pages of several national newspapers.
Dont insult your client
Dear Taffy Bastard, was the opening line of a letter from solicitor Edward Newfield of Faversham since struck off to one of his clients.
Apparently, so obnoxious was the solicitor that he prompted magistrates to walk out in the middle of one of his cases.
In 1999 Newfield admitted six allegations of conduct unbefitting for a solicitor, and the SDT considered a string of abusive letters he had written. We havent the slightest interest in whether your client is funded by little green men from Mars, he told another unfortunate client.
Remember, it is generally not a good idea to bad-mouth your client as it tends not to enhance the solicitor-client relationship.
Dont fall out with your secretary
After solicitor-client relationships, the most important relationship is that between a lawyer and their secretary. Indeed, we think it wise never to upset a legal secretary, as former Baker & McKenzie commercial senior associate Richard Phillips learnt after a row with secretary Jenny Amner concerning a pair of trousers soiled by tomato ketchup and a 4 dry-cleaning bill.
Phillips emailed Amner on 25 May  to ask for 4 to cover the cost of cleaning his trousers after she spilt ketchup on him at lunch. If you could let me have the cash today, that would be much appreciated, he added. Amner replied: With reference to the email below, I must apologise for not getting back to you straight away, but due to my mothers sudden illness, death and funeral I have had more pressing issues than your 4.
In time-honoured fashion, news of the messy dispute had already leaked out to thousands of lawyers and legal market professionals via email. It reached the front page of Metro by the end of the week.
Avoid email howlers
Everyones been there. You press send, the message goes and your hands make their way to your head. Sometimes, as in the case of Baker & McKenzie ketchup trousers man Richard Phillips or email forwarder Bradley Chait, the results are a tad more public than most. But even when the slip does not make the papers, the results can be painful.
In the case of Ashurst it was not a ketchup-stained trouser leg or the private fumblings of soon-to-be-ex-lovers that was the subject. It was a topic closer to the core of any lawyers being: the bill. Rather embarrassingly for the top-10 City firm, the rogue message, intended for the lawyers working on the deal, found its way to the client.
Ashurst was believed to have quoted dotcom Whereonearth 175,000 for the job of advising it on its sale to Yahoo!. The eventual bill was closer to 400,000. All would no doubt have been fine for Ashurst if not for the costly slip of a finger sending an email to the client saying that they never thought they could do the deal for 175,000 in the first place. Oops.
It was a cold, blustery, autumnal evening and Jim, a 25-year-old trainee solicitor, was making his way down Chancery Lane towards the High Court on his last job of the day. Until this moment his three-week-old legal career at a prestigious City firm was going swimmingly. That was until a gust of wind caught a single piece of paper and detached it from his file.
The time was 4.30pm, the offending item was a cheque for payment into court in connection with a large commercial dispute and it was the last day the payment could be made. The cheque disappeared on the wind never to be seen again.
Absolutely horrendous, recalls a partner at the firm. Whenever anyone has ever mentioned that trainees name they always remembered the story.
The lesson to be learnt from Jims sorry tale is to always to carry your papers in a briefcase.
Dont fall in love with your client
My romance with a jailed wife-killer, by trainee lawyer, ran the Daily Mail headline in November 2003. You might think your latest client compares favourably with Brad Pitt or Angelina Jolie, but it is wise to concentrate on the job in hand.
The trainee solicitor featured in the Daily Mail had bombarded wife-killer Robert Marshall with gifts, cash and cards after her firm was hired to handle his legal affairs. The SDT heard that their love blossomed during 20 prison visits over 13 months. On a technical note, the SDT noted that the 28-year-old lawyer also abused the rules of legal privilege by marking her letters to Marshall confidential to avoid them being opened.
It was the killer who eventually complained to the firm that the lawyer had taken advantage of him when he was extremely vulnerable. He is presently serving a life sentence.
Interestingly, the lawyer was not struck off and she subsequently joined another firm. The tribunal chairman told her: If we had before us a solicitor of rather more experience and a greater age, we would have taken a different view.