Mark Humphries, Humphries kerstetterName: Mark Humphries

Firm: Humphries Kerstetter

Position: Partner

In Hot 100 for: Breaking the traditional law firm model with Humphries Kerstetter, acting for  retailers and local authorities against Visa and MasterCard for unlawfully high credit card charges. Read his full Hot 100 entry.

What’s your most vivid memory from being a trainee?

An early morning call to my principal by the RSPCA warning him that a warrant was being issued for my arrest on charges of cruelty to animals.

I had been asked to oppose an application by a mortgagor for a second suspension of a warrant of possession of a hotel and had got lucky, flicking through the notes in the Green Book and discovering a jurisdiction argument that prevented the suspension being granted. I then took possession of the hotel on behalf of the private mortgagee, evicted the guests, shut off the services and changed the locks. What I had not realised was that there was a tank of tropical fish somewhere in the hotel and that they needed electricity to survive. Of course the threat of arrest receded when the full facts were revealed.

Who has been the most influential person in your career? Why, and how have they helped you?

Bill Park, former senior litigation partner of Linklaters. As a very junior associate Bill asked me to represent him in court in a case called Haarhaus v Law Debenture arising from his chairing of an important noteholders’ meeting at Wembley. I had arrived at Linklaters a year earlier with a rather unusual experience of articles involving almost daily appearances in courts and tribunals, sometimes with several interim hearings on the same day. After representing Bill in a week-long hearing the judge decided that the case was important enough to give judgment in open court.

This gave rise to a problem because, as a solicitor, I had no rights of audience in open court. The judge’s grant of permission and the subsequent reporting of the case set me on a course that later resulted in my involvement in spearheading the move towards rights of audience for solicitors and a career involving trial and appellate advocacy in the civil courts.

What was the best career decision you ever made, and why?

Accepting an offer of articles of clerkship in a very busy high street practice. The huge breadth of experience that I gained there, particularly in litigation but also throwing myself into every other conceivable type of legal work, enabled me on qualification to practise in the City with a confidence that appeared not to be shared by many of my colleagues.

What advice would you give to someone who wants to get to where you are/do the job you do?

Find out what area of legal practice you enjoy most and then take every opportunity to master your chosen specialisation. If it is litigation, read the White Book – all of it from cover to cover – and don’t be afraid to re-read sections of it to check your understanding every time the same point arises. Be prepared to take decisions and to run with them if you believe they are right even if others think you are wrong. Be prepared to change with the times, reacting to developments in the law and practice. Keep up to date with the law – not just in your chosen field.

Stay interested and, if you ever stop enjoying it, do something else.

What work or career-related project or activity would you really like to do, but don’t have time for?

I would like to research, investigate and write a paper advancing my view that the legal costs system in England is broken and is responsible for the loss of access to justice for most litigants.

There is a pressing need to make radical reductions in legal costs. Costs budgeting is not the answer but is merely tinkering with the real problem. The abolition of disclosure (other than specific disclosure) would be a good start but is not the full answer. The abolition of costs recovery (eliminating the risk of loss) would be a better way forward, linked with the development of a range of BTE insurance products available to both claimants and defendants that at least provide them with a limited budget for their own costs of obtaining legal advice and representation, and more competition leading to keener pricing in the funding market linked with a greater use of contingency fee agreements in larger claims. Radical thinking is needed if any worthwhile improvement is to be made.