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15 August, 2007  
London Calling

Leverhulme, our new London diarist, makes a splendid splash with his first Justinian column. He reports on being stranded on a desert island with a DLA Piper partner … Whinging pub owner shooting down law reform innovation … Too much information from Her Majesty’s Land Registry … And, salaries at large City firms inflated by fat Americans

imageOne of the more self-satisfied of the legal publications available in the UK is The Lawyer, a glossy paean to the piles of money lawyers (usually City) are earning.

Each week, and no doubt they would say it is tongue-in-cheek, The Lawyer interviews a legal practitioner on their likes and dislikes in a revealing slot called The Work-Life Quiz.

Recently, the “victim” was Mike Pullen of DLA Piper. He was asked what was the toughest thing about being a lawyer and he replied that, “it interferes with my hunting trips”.

To a question about the car he drives he answered, “A Mitsubishi Shogun Warrior – plenty of room in the back for deer carcasses”.

And then, “If you were stranded on a desert island, what two luxury items would you take?”

Reply: “A rifle and Elle McPherson.”

* * *

The other day a House of Commons parliamentary committee announced, as if it were some Eureka moment, that the law should be changed so that first year drivers should be forbidden from driving with alcohol in their bodies.

If you watch The Bill you will know that clumsy expression, “for the benefit of the tape” – as in:

“For the benefit of the tape, I am now showing Terry Timson the sawn-off shotgun used in the robbery.”

Interviewing suspects is a laborious procedure done with tape recorders and solicitors in attendance. Governed by masses of rules in the PACE (Police and Criminal Evidence Act) Codes of Conduct, it would present any half-decent lawyer with a wealth of procedural holes and opportunities.

The rules all hark back to Life on Mars when the rod-wallopers braved unfair criticism for their innovative methods in planting evidence or starving suspects until they fessed-up.

Nearly 18 years ago, spearheaded by the efforts of Damian Bugg, who is now Commonwealth DPP, some states in Australia introduced videotaping of police interviews. The conviction rate and the number of pleas of guilty increased significantly.

It makes sense. A judge or jury can see for themselves if the accused looks oppressed or if the confession is voluntary.

Who knows, it might be deemed a good idea here one day, where it will be trumpeted as “ground-breaking”.

* * *

When anyone in England has a suggestion for law reform, it is soon shot down by some bearded smarty-pants who knows better.

These days gang culture is all the rage. Youths ranging in age from eight to 16 roam the streets knifing or shooting anyone with the temerity to “disrespect” them.

Someone had the idea of recruiting 16-year old constables as a way of combating gang crime. After all, they said 16-year olds can join the army and fight for their country. That may not be strictly true but at least Gordon Brown is thinking of lowering the voting age to 16.

The response to the suggestion was immediate. A smug pub landlord, whose Australian equivalent would be the bloke at the barbecue in the apron with breasts, was straight onto BBC Radio 2 saying, triumphantly, that the idea wouldn’t work because he would be obliged by law to refuse to admit anyone under 18 who chased a villain into his gaff.

* * *

Her Majesty’s Land Registry, which oversees the still-booming housing market in England, got itself into a little bother this week.

It has been revealed that its much-touted “e-conveyancing” system, which was designed to make buying and selling houses cheaper and more efficient, might represent a gross invasion of privacy. The Land Registry provides details of the homeowner’s name and address, title to the property, the date of the purchase, the amount of the mortgage and even the purchaser’s signature.

For a small fee, an identity fraudster could have a field day.

* * *

The salary war going on among City firms continues.

Solicitors at Linklaters, who have been qualified for only one year, can expect to be paid £69,000 (or $A165,000). Other Magic Circle firms pay similar rates.

Ask any of the partners and they will blame it on the increasing presence of US law firms in London. For example, American firm Debevoise & Plimpton is said to pay its four-year qualifieds in the City an eye-watering £130,000 ($A311,000) per year. Dechert, another US firm, gives its first year trainees £36,000.

As you know, trainees are often polished exponents of the art of photocopying and experts in the pitfalls of collating trial bundles.

Next year, Dechert will be paying students of the year-long legal practice course (completed prior to traineeship) a maintenance grant or living allowance of £10,000. This is on top of paying the LPC fee for them, which is getting close to £10,000 these days.

But there is a catch. By qualification, the chosen ones will be expected to be working up to 1,800 billable hours a year.

Might they then be eligible for their own Work-Life Quiz?