Martin Kramer is the unarguable doyen of media lawyers, with a CV stretching from Spycatcher to the Douglases and OK! Magazine’s successful litigation against Hello!. He has achieved this position in life without a spot of self publicity and, according to a colleague, he would rather eat gravel than give an interview.
He has, though, been offered up to get some nice copy for Addleshaw Goddard, that newly merged outfit formed by the odd coupling of thrusting national firm Addleshaw Booth & Co and those graceful City types at Theodore Goddard.
The new firm was born just a few days after Kramer won the Hello! case, which in case you have been holidaying on Mars involved the Douglases, their wedding snaps deal with OK! and Hello! taking unauthorised pictures. As you might expect, the Addleshaw Goddard publicity machine went wild over the profile this lent the new firm.
Yet you have to wonder whether the Addleshaw Booth contingent, which clearly has the upper hand, really sees defamation as core to its push into the City.
“It [the merger] will be a great way of strengthening both firms in the combined practice areas,” says Kramer. “It may not have immediate effect on my area, but Addleshaws has good links with media and sporting organisations.”
Perhaps Kramer is being diplomatic. Addleshaws has a great football club practice and Kramer’s main client is The Times. Addleshaws senior partner Paul Lee has enjoyed drafting press release quotes about looking forward to having Catherine Zeta Jones as a client (fnarr fnarr), but it is hard to foresee the two worlds colliding in a more significant manner.
In any case, could Addleshaw Goddard really replace Kramer after he retires? According to many of his peers, Kramer, who has a stellar reputation, has no immediate successor at Theodore Goddard.
“Kramer’s a dream to deal with, but of course the rest of the team are not him,” one senior media lawyer confides. “They realise he’s not there forever and some are desperately trying to make their mark. Letters can be nonsensically aggressive.”
Kramer, of course, staunchly defends his mainly hand-reared team. “There is no succession issue, as there are so many good people I work with,” he argues. “I haven’t thought about that at all.”
But will defamation work simply ebb away from Addleshaw Goddard following his retirement? Kramer sees it differently, pointing out that his group, which has the title of media and internet litigation group, has become much less of a libel practice anyway.
“We aren’t really a defamation group anymore,” he explains. “We probably have half-a-dozen such cases. Ten years ago it would have been 50.”
But defamation is always going to be what Kramer is known for, and he is happily motoring through his current libel action, which is (naturally) the high-profile case of the moment, Maccaba v Lichtenstein.
Kramer’s client Brian Maccaba is suing a senior rabbinical judge, Dayan Lichtenstein, for allegedly calling him a pervert. This, according to the raft of press reports on the case, was because Maccaba allegedly tried to buy someone else’s wife for $1m (£608.8m). All hairy stuff, but as Kramer is a lawyer of the old school who refuses to mouth off about current cases to impress journalists, he will not say anything about it.
He is, though, more open about the Hello! litigation, particularly on the media’s treatment of his beloved client Catherine Zeta Jones. Kramer is upset about articles carrying headlines such as ‘Catherine Bleater Moans’, accusing her of hamming up her emotional distress when talking about Hello! trouncing her wedding deal in the witness box.
“She [Zeta Jones] was in the late stage of her pregnancy, although I won’t say this was the definitive reason behind why she was emotional,” says Kramer. “She was emotional in the witness box because Court 35 [of the High Court] is a huge court and an intimidating place. Celebrities are likely to suffer from stage fright in court. Saying this was an ‘Oscar winning performance’ was lazy journalism.”
The Maccaba and Hello! cases mark something of a watershed for Kramer’s practice. He has long filled his days acting for The Times, a client of the firm since the 1930s, but with Hello! and Maccaba he is turning his hand to claimant work, which he sees as much more lucrative than being a newspaper man.
“I’d be happy to take even more claimant work, as I think this is the way things are likely to go,” he says. “I think litigation generally is going to become rarer, because of the Woolf reforms, changes under the Defamation Act and because of the financial restrictions on media organisations.”
So: Kramer as lawyer to the stars? Not quite.
“I’m no Keith Schilling,” he remarks. Well, that is patently obvious. Schilling acts for nearly the entire A-list from his chichi office in Soho, and socialises with them too. Kramer is the ultimate City gent, is not a member of the Groucho Club or anything similar, and likes visiting churches and cooking.
In fact, Kramer is so sweetly old-fashioned that teatime is still an institution in his world. Every afternoon at around four, he stops work to make a cup of tea for his entire team, including the support staff. This is such a fixture that they even have their own type of tea – a blend of Earl Grey and Assam inexplicably nicknamed Granny’s Brew.
Compare this gentle custom with the Addleshaws culture.
Last year Mark Jones and Paul Lee, the Addleshaws managing and senior partners who have retained their positions in the merged firm, culled 11 partners from the practice. It was a bold but cut-throat decision. It is hard to see what Lee and Jones would make of Kramer’s afternoon tea parties.
Asked what he really thinks of the merger, Kramer gives the response of all partners in newly merged firms and says he is “delighted”. He adds that it was good for Theodore Goddard as it renewed the energy of the firm. Kramer has been quick to say lovely things about everyone during the interview and I am waiting for him to compliment the Addleshaws lot in a similar vein. He doesn’t.
Still, when Kramer retires from the partnership, the firm would do well to keep him on in some form. Perhaps Jones and Lee should pop into his office for a brew quite soon.