Avarice & The Ownership of Land

“There is plenty of land,” thought he, “but will God let me live on it?

– Pahom in Leo Tolstoy’s “How Much Land Does a Man Need?

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A couple of weeks ago, on eBay, a woman listed an Ede & Ravenscroft barrister’s wig and gown for sale. “Condition: used,” she wrote. In the item description, she added: “After five years’ hard slog and penury, I (i.e. MasterCard) purchased this wig, gown and collar for about £650 at Ede and Rip-off. Reflecting the sorry state of my legal career, the wig was hardly worn, although a few hairs have been pulled out of place (as pictured), no doubt in frustration at the sorry state of life at the junior bar…If you… would like to try [the profession] out, the same can be achieved by running yourself about £35,000 into debt and arranging for someone to shout at you in public about cases you haven’t read because you only got about half the papers about 10 minutes ago. Cancel your social life… To get the full effect, spend copious amounts of time on trains and buses with periodic crying into laptop…I do not recommend you pursue a career at the bar unless you absolutely love the work so much that you are prepared to do it for nothing.”

Julia Llewellyn Smith in the Telegraph writes about the crises that the UK Criminal Bar is facing as a result of legal aid cuts, the empowerment of solicitor-advocates and the potential outsourcing of ‘legal aid contracts’ and criminal defence to the cheapest bidder; firms such as those set up by companies like Tesco or HGV hire firm Eddie Stobart. Such proposals, particularly outsourcing to the cheapest bidder, is deeply troubling since, as the Telegraph reports, “While until now defendants have been able to choose a lawyer, under the new proposals they will be assigned to the first available, regardless of whether they are experienced in that area of the law or not. Prosecutors, however, will be selected from a group of lawyers with expertise in the relevant area of the law, giving the prosecution an advantage from the outset. Firms will be paid the same whether they win or lose a case, meaning the pressure will be paramount to turn it around as quickly as possible, making it in their interests to persuade clients to plead guilty, whether that is in the client’s interest or not.”

One criticism, quoted in the article, echoes a sentiment that I hold about in-house counsel: “I don’t want to sound snobbish, maybe some of these people will be very good and try their best, but every barrister I know is worried that if they’re no longer self-employed, their motives will no longer be to try their best for their client, but to make a profit for their boss.

– Morshed,
Dhaka