I write this as I am on a train on the way to court. I have forgotten my headphones so, unless the whole carriage feels like sharing in the experience, no Paddington Bear for me. Which, if this is the first blog of mine you have read, may seem like an odd statement. You will have to forgive me. I am over tired.
The reason I am over tired? I have only had five hours sleep. You see I was up last night until 1.20 am drafting a skeleton argument for today. Any of you legal types reading this will say “Par for the course, get on with it”. And of course it is. But let me write a little more about the context and potential consequence.
Two and half months ago I travelled to court for the same trial I am engaged in now. On the first day there was a problem which was beyond the control of anyone and meant the trial could not start that day. We all spent four days that week turning up at court to see if the difficulty could be overcome. Unfortunately it could not and the trial was adjourned.
Those familiar with the payment structure will realise that was financially a bit of a disaster. Four days and the trial did not start. The payments for those days will probably, just, cover my train ticket.
For good reason the Judge had to force the case into the list. The trial is scheduled for about four weeks. The judge tried very hard to accommodate the availability of the advocates. Four out of six of us originally there have made it back for the second trial date. I have had to return other work to be here.
We are now Day Three of the new trial. We have yet to swear a jury. The problems that beset the trial last time have led to various legal arguments. As things developed on the first day the Judge needed assistance in the form of skeleton arguments about matters that had only arisen that day. So on the first evening of the trial I got home at 7 pm and worked until 11pm.
The next day there were more developments. Hence the fact that I was working on the train on my return journey, walked in through the door at home, kissed the dog and tickled Mrs VFTN behind the ear, searched for a mallet (yes, you have read that correctly, and no, don’t ask), got changed and headed into chambers because I needed something from there for today. Then back home for dinner and then worked until the wee small hours.
Of course the keen eyed amongst you will have noticed we have not sworn a jury. We may not. There is a prospect the trial could adjourn again. For the uninitiated amongst you, this is another financial disaster. The bulk of the fee is only due once a jury is sworn or the case otherwise finished. I still do not know when that is going to happen or even if I will be there when it does.
If I am not the barrister doing the case at that point of time? Well leaving aside the hours I have spent otherwise preparing this case, with the seven days at court and nine hours of work in the evening in the last two nights alone the best I could hope for is that I will break even on my travel and my chambers expenses.
This is not a moan about the level of remuneration. This is not a moan about working at night. Many people have to work hard. I knew this was one aspect of the career I embarked upon. I am not proclaiming myself the doer of heroic deeds. I am just doing my job and all it entails.
Unfortunately my job entails a crazy system of remuneration whereby we all gamble on a daily basis as to whether and what we will get paid. The circumstances that lead to appropriate remuneration rely upon a series of events entirely beyond our control. It is like inviting a plumber to come fix a leak on the promise of payment should England win the 2018 World Cup.
The graduated fee scheme was meant to be a system predicated on swings and roundabouts. On days like these (which, let’s face it, is most days) it feels like a helter skelter. A helter skelter with right angles instead of curves. And razor blades embedded in the side. And a six foot drop when you shoot out of the mouth of the slide.
Oh well. As they say, “Another Day, Another Dollar.” Or not, as the case may be.