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Decoding the language of barristers’ conferences

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The venerable Wigapedia returns to Legal Cheek to translate counsel-speak

The sometimes arcane language used by lawyers — and barristers in particular, can seem strange and unfamiliar to the lay client.

This is particularly the case in the client conference — an ancient ritualistic process in which the clients and their legal team huddle round mystical offerings of weak tea and slightly curled sandwiches to have a “discussion”.

In ‘the conference’ each person has a key role to play. The solicitor pretends to know why the conference is necessary, the barrister pretends to have read the papers, the insurer wonders why they’re paying good money for this and the client’s job is to nod and pretend to know what’s going on.

Here’s a handy explanatory table for lay clients and solicitors alike in an effort to make a little more sense of the whole thing:

What counsel says

What that actually means

“So… how are you?” I’ve not read the medical reports yet. Have you always had just the one leg?
“Would you like a cup of tea?” Would the trainee like to make me a cup of tea?
“There’s quite a bit of law involved in this area.” None of which I’m familiar with but let’s face it, neither are you.
“It’s what we barristers would term ex turpi causa non oritur actio.” And it’s what almost everyone else would term ‘Taurum excretum’.
“I’d like to hear the version of events in your own words.” Because I’ve not had time to read any of the words in the papers sent to me yet.
“This case is not without its difficulties.” Let me just say something blindingly obvious, but in a slightly theatrically profound manner.
“We may have difficulties persuading a judge of that, on the evidence.” You’re plainly a congenital liar and the judge will see though you in about 15 seconds.
“Do you have a figure for settlement in mind?” …because I certainly don’t.
“It’s an offer we have to consider carefully.” I’m on a ‘no-win no-fee’ here, and if you know what’s good for you you’ll bite their arm off up to the elbow.
“Dr Bloggs is a very robust expert.” Dr Bloggs is a complete hack who’ll say whatever the party paying him want him to say.
“A lot depends on the judge we get on the day…” Don’t blame me if I completely cock it up in court and we lose.
“I know this judge pretty well.” • She and I were at school together.
(And/or)
• She’s completely certifiable.
“Our prospects are about 55%, I’d say.” I’ve literally no idea what the outcome will be but I’ve tossed a coin and it came up heads twice and tails once.
“We have excellent prospects and we’re bound to win.” • I’m very junior, but if I sound robust that may impress you. (or)
• I’m hopelessly and indeed recklessly optimistic.
(or)
• The judge is my dad.
“There’s been a recent case on this.” Someone on Twitter said so this morning and they had a gavel in their profile picture.
“I think it’s a good offer but ultimately the decision whether to take it is up to you.” In theory the decision is up to you, but we both know that it’s up to me. And you’ll take the offer, if you know what’s good for you.
“I have some experience in this particular area.” I reluctantly went to a talk on this area of law two years ago when I was desperate for some CPD points. Fell sleep halfway through.

Wigapedia (aka Colm Nugent) is a barrister at Hardwicke in Lincoln’s Inn in London.

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49 Comments

Anonymous

“We have excellent prospects and we’re bound to win.” – If I heard a barrister say that, I would think he/she is extremely incompetent and/or crazy.

Anonymous

Barristers never say that.

At best you would get “on the papers you have a reasonable prospect of success, but nothing can be guaranteed”.

Anonymous

I once had a senior QC, now a High Court judge, and very respected generally give our case prospects of 95% chance of success on the main issue in the case. He was right. So it can happen and be given by very experienced, intelligent and capable barristers. But I agree it’s rare.

Anonymous

I’ve never gone beyond 60%

Anonymous

Balderdash. (i) No-one can say a legal issue has a 95% chance of success. (ii) Winning the point doesn’t prove that the ‘95%’ estimate was right. (iii) What really happened here was that you trusted a ludicrous estimate because the barrister had a good reputation.

Anonymous

But yet people think that robots can calculate the chances of a case to succeed…

Anonymous

Slow news day.

Anonymous

No news day.

Tinky Winky

Po news day.

Craig David

Bo news day

Santa

Ho ho ho news day

Anonymous

Not bad, but this is about the 3rd type of article he has done and the content is pretty much the same. There is a limit on how many articles one can do on translating lawyer speak.

Lex asinus est

Gosh, you’re both boring and negative. Come up with something better, if you think you can.

Anonymous

Pipe down your helmet with “you try better”. Same shit, different article.

Anonymous

THIS IS SO FUCKING FUNNY!

Pupil

I shat my pull-ups laughing.

Anonymous

No, you didn’t.

You’re just a sad pervert with a poo fixation.

Anonymous

I’m counsel and this couldn’t be more far from reality.

Anonymous

Wot u doin on legalcherk bro if u is counsel?

Correction

Correcting people trying to diminish the difficult job we and all lawyers do.

Anonymous

You should really improve your English then.

“More far”.

Further.

Homer

Perhaps you should learn to read the comment duh

Anonymous

I did and my comment stands. Are you saying my comment is somehow based on a misunderstanding of the original comment?

I

Your choice word makes no grammatical sense

Anonymous

To the contrary, my choice word is the grammatically-required imperative.

Go “more far” away and read some books, please.

Bit late to the party but

Farther and further are comparative adverbs or adjectives. They are the irregular comparative forms of far. They are used to talk about distance.

I cannot see that the writer is talking about distance in its strictest form.

Besides there is no difference in meaning between them. That ‘further’ is the irregular comparative demonstrates ‘more far’ is more appropriate in this context and sentence.

Anonymous

I enjoyed this article no end.

Anonymous

My favourite piece of barrister-speak is “it’s a matter for you” which often means “you’re screwed either way” or “I’m not touching that one with a pole”.

Counsel of Counsel

This ^

Anonymous

I think they have a button for that, champ.

Anonymous

Let’s Go Champ!

Anonymous

“So, how do you feel that went this morning?” = “Tell me how good I am”

Anonymous

Remember sitting before a Deputy once who had bruises on her face. Turns out afterwards her and our leader were best friends, he tells us that she told him she fell off the toilet completely hammered and injured herself …

Anonymous

Must’ve been a few days before trial otherwise this is balderdash.

Anonymous

Many silks out there are well known to have alcohol and prescription medication problems, this is not news!

Anonymous

That’s a disgraceful comment. You’re clearly not clued up m8.

Anonymous

Roly Birkin QC

Anonymous

George Carman QC ‘s son wrote a book about George’s alcoholism.

Anonymous

Anonymous

Best, most comprehensive advice I ever heard a silk give: “Well, basically, you’re completely f****d”.

Anonymous

One of the grandest commercial silks is widely known to have said to US clients “let’s get the c~nts”

Scep Tick

And it’s what almost everyone else would term ‘Taurum excretum’.

No. We would use the genitive. “Tauri”.

Anonymous

I remember Chancery Counsel saying on the morning of a trial that the client couldn’t lose. He then consulted the list, turned pale and announced that there was only one judge on the circuit who could decide the case wrongly and we had drawn him. He said the choice was settle now or the Court of Appeal later. The client settled.

Anonymous

in other words, “I’ve done you on the brief fee mate, I’ve done no prep …”

Anonymous

Sadly it is about luck too i.e what judge you get and indeed the time of day too.

Anonymous

And what the judge has had for breakfast

Anonymous

And what’s running at the 3.40 in kempton

Anonymous

And what kinda time his missus is giving him

Anonymous

And whether he’s a member of the lodge

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