I’m proud to present a guest post from Steven Mather, a disputes lawyer with 3 years PQE. He was made redundant in July and is now freelance/consulting. He is also an accredited mediator.
You can follow Steven at www.twitter.com/smather21, and visit his website and blog at www.smather.com.
In Legal Bizzle’s absence I thought I’d write about an experience I had with an in house lawyer while I was working in practice which, as the Bizzle will tell you, might well be a familiar story for the in houser – lack of communication, managers trying but failing to deal with legal affairs and costs escalating because the in house GC (stands for general counsel) wasn’t really dealing with something.
Firstly though, thanks very much to The Bizzle for letting me guest post on his blog while he “deals” with another enormo-contract (it’s only 400 pages… pft). I say deals with, because I have a gut feeling he won’t be dealing much at all, he’ll be told by the opposing lawyer that there won’t be any changes to that and that while “he takes the point” the clause will in fact remain the same.
Right let’s get on with the show.
I used to do quite a bit of work for a well known retailer and was instructed on a claim against a developer of a new unit for, amongst other things, a pretty small (£150k) loss of profits claim. I was instructed after it became a bit too much for my property department to deal with, around Jan 2008.
I had several meetings with finance bods and surveyors at the company to get to grips with the claim itself. The surveyor guy, whose shop it “was” (ie under the control of) was running the show and he was my client contact.
I say contact. The trouble is it would take weeks and months to get facts and figures, documents, response to letters in, approval for letters out.
I tried my best to progress matters, eventually arranging a round table “without prejudice” meeting at my offices in Summer 2009. That went really well and we got an offer to settle of £30k. My instructions, from Mr Surveyor, were that we would not settle for anything less than £100k. So away the parties went. They had more questions which we felt it appropriate to answer, although this led to more delay seeking instructions.
Although there were no immediate limitation issues, it had been going on for several years without any real movement. My advice was to try mediation or issue proceedings but i had nothing back from surveyor guy for a month or two on these points when out of the blue, Head of Legal wants a meeting with me and my supervising partner to understand why £10000 had gone out of budget on a case from 2006 and we weren’t getting anywhere.
Well, it wasn’t quite like that, but how do you tell him that surveyor bod is ‘kin rubbish?
The simple fact is, we were never asked to report to legal, just bill them. I incorrectly assumed reporting was being done internally.
So, we trot along to the offices for our reprimands (“big client, keep them sweet”) – didn’t get any biscuits – and present the facts of why we are where we are, what our advice has been from day one and what to do moving forward.
Head of Legal agrees. Phew, that was easy.
So, I start to prepare reasonably complex particulars of claim, ready disclosure, send to opposite side with a WP letter saying what we’d accept.
A week and a half later, before proceedings were issued, I get a phone call from Head of Legal saying he’s spoken to his opposite number and reached an agreement (which was a rubbish deal) and that he’s drafted a settlement agreement could we just check it over for him.
And that was it. A case that I’d worked on for 18 months, delayed massively by surveyorman, had been resolved by a simple phone call. Had we been told at the beginning that they would be happy with that result, not given an almost entrenched position by the surveyor, and dealt with head of legal (or someone sensible) to start with, then I’m sure it could have been resolved much quicker than it was.
The problems here were that it was only a very small claim for a company that usually deals in millions. The legal spend would then have been very small too. So perhaps it wasn’t picked up by their legal team. Perhaps we should have ran things by Head of Legal anyway (we didn’t really do their dispute work for them, large city firm usually did, so perhaps we hadn’t agreed correct protocol).
Or perhaps their Head of Legal had his head buried in an enormo-contract and left it to someone else to deal with.
Anyway, the moral of the story is, if as a In Houser you don’t do a job yourself, it will turn to shit.
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