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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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