Monday, June 26, 2017

Lawyers' Fees and Claret: A Story Too Good to Pass Up

Off Topic (maybe not). I recently came across this story, originally posted on Faculty Lounge and reposted on Legal Ethics Forum.

Several decades ago, an American client asked me to help recruit some British barristers for an international project.  I flew to London and met in chambers with a QC and a junior, and we discussed other barristers who might be interested in joining the group.  After about thirty minutes, the conversation veered oddly off course, as the two barristers began talking about the need for “cases of claret.”  One of the possible recruits liked a particular type of claret, another one preferred some other claret, and they all seemed to be interested in acquiring it only by the case.  They went on this way for a good twenty minutes, matching barristers to claret and commenting on how many cases of claret each one usually brought home.

Finally, it dawned on me.  “Oh,” I said, in a direct manner that made my Chicago upbringing even more obvious, “you’re talking about money.”

The room fell deadly silent, as if I had uttered some unforgivable vulgarity in relation to the royal family. (This was in the days before scandal and divorce had rocked the institution, which was still spoken of in hushed and reverential tones.)

The junior barrister tensed in his chair, giving every indication that I had triggered the “fight or flight” reflex.  It was as though he had been surprised in a bordello raid, and was trying to decide whether to demand a search warrant from the constable or bolt for the back door.

The QC at first appeared paralyzed; his vigorously ruddy complexion having turned deathly ashen. Obviously shaken, he eventually stirred.  “Well, well,” he said, “that’s enough of that. Perhaps you should speak with the clerk.”  There was no more talk of claret, or money.  If my client had not been so internationally prominent, I am quite sure that I would have been shown the door.

(by Steven Lubet)

You can read the rest here and here.


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