Monday, 19 February 2007

Conflict of interest

I just had an excruciatingly embarassing experience. In one of The Master's cases, the parties were looking to agree a joint expert in a particular field of law for some fairly complex questions that had arisen. I know a few people in this particular area of work and suggested a guy called Martin, someone I considered to be really well qualified to advise. This was partly because of his length of experience in the field but also the quality of that experience. Unlike many barristers, he has good coal-face experience in advising clients face to face and dealing with the authorities on their behalf, which is quite important for some of the questions that had arisen.

He also happens to be a member of these chambers, although I have known him for some time.

The Master has come in today to faff around with the few remnants of our clear out of his room before Christmas. Martin and I were chatting in The Master's room when he arrived.

'Perfect!', he said, clearly in boisterous mood. 'You're just who I wanted to see, Martin. I've got an advice for you, and it's a nice little earner. It's a split payment so you can ratchet up the costs a bit. When they aren't paying the full amount, neither party minds so much. I'd be asking the clerks to bill £190-£200 an hour if I were you. Should be at least four or five hours' worth. And it's all thanks to Pupilblogger here who suggested you.'

'Great, thanks,' Martin replied, a little taken aback. He's not really the type to ratchet the rates, and was looking a bit embarrassed about the whole thing. Not as embarrassed as I, however. I'd told Martin this advice might be coming his way so he knew to expect it, but I hadn't said anything about recommending him. I thought it was a bit too cosy and I didn't want to look like I was gathering favours.

After several seconds of Martin and I avoiding eye contact, he muttered something about owing me a drink, or some devilling at the very least. I had to look this up on Wikipedia. In England and Wales it's written work given to a pupil by a barrister and paid for out of the barrister's own pocket.

I really didn't feel at all comfortable carving up other people's money between us. I'd never have recommended Martin had I known he'd end up being backed into feeling beholden to me, even in some small way. I'd hate for someone to think they owe me a favour. On the other hand, perhaps this is excessively naive and I need to start thinking like this if I do want to pursue a career at the bar. This kind of thing probably goes on quite openly all the time, given The Master's reaction and that there is said to be no conflict of interest in barristers from the same chambers representing both sides in a dispute, despite the mutual reliance and interdependency of the barristers, the closeness of their personal and business relationship, the referral of work and returns between them and, finally, the gossip and general incestuousness inherent in chambers life.

1 comment:

Verity said...

Hi, love your blog, I did the BVC myself but then decided to train to be a solicitor rather than do pupilage. It's nice to hear about what I am missing. Have put a link to you on my blog which you can find at, it's not law based but might be a good read if you need a break!