Hobbled by hobbies

March 13, 2015

The strange pastimes that can ruin legal careers

When you get to dressing up, you’ve gone too far. Photo: Shutterstock


“All work and no play,” as Jack Nicholson once observed, before going absolutely off his onion at the Overlook Hotel and attempting to chop up his family with an axe, “makes Jack a dull boy”. And it’s true that even the most hard-working lawyer should have a life that extends beyond firm and court.

Whether singing in the local barbershop quartet, finally achieving level 80 on World of Warcraft, racing quad bikes in Epping Forest or doing soft pastel portraits of family pets, hobbies are good for the soul, and can help create a wiser, happier and altogether more rounded lawyer.

But alas for some, the temptation to let extracurricular activities overtake their professional and moral judgement proves too strong. As far as we know, no lawyer has ever let their World of Warcraft hobby lead them to ride into the office on the back of a winged dragon, but here are five hobbies and secret lifestyles that did get the better of five unfortunate lawyers.

The one who read too many fantasy novels

There’s nothing wrong with having a bit of a fantasy thing going on. In fact, what with Game of Thrones being the series du jour, one might even say that for the first time in history, having a fondness for fantasy fiction is actually a bit cool.

But the legal world couldn’t help a massive collective LOL at the antics of a certain Welsh solicitor advocate last year. Alan Blacker (or *deep breath* Dr The Right Honourable The Lord Harley of Counsel of the Most Venerable Order of the Hospital of Saint John of Jerusalem, as he likes to be known) was reprimanded by a judge for appearing in court with a large number of dubious medals stitched within his robes.

Pointing out that he looked like something out of Harry Potter (Hagrid, we suggest), the judge said: “’I have been practising in these courts since 1978 and I have never seen a barrister or solicitor appear before these courts wearing a medal or with badges sewn onto his gown”, and sent Blacker packing.

St John Ambulance: not happy. Photo: Shutterstock

After the lawyer protested that he was entitled to wear the medals on account of his role in the St John Ambulance service, that noble institution was forced to step in, saying with some asperity: “We have asked the Chief Constable for South Wales Police to investigate this matter and St John will be taking legal action if necessary.”

A very definite case of someone spending too long with their head in Game of Thrones.

The one who got high on his own supply

‘Don’t get high on your own supply,’ is the kind of sanguine advice that has been handed down through the generations, as applicable to bakers as it is to cocaine dealers.

If only one a certain Basharat Ditta had heeded it, he might have avoided a jail term and an ignominious end to his career. A top defence barrister who had made his name representing drug dealers, he lacked the common sense to source his marching powder from dealers who were not actually employing him at the time.

Officers suspecting him of dabbling in the vice himself observed a dealer – one of Ditta’s own clients – dropping three bags of cocaine at the lawyer’s home in Lancashire. And where (you might well ask) was Ditta at the time? Why, enjoying what one imagines was an altogether more sober affair at a Law Society dinner.

The one who should have stayed away from radical politics

It’s a good and necessary thing that lawyers should stay well abreast of political affairs. Heaven knows there’s little worse than getting stuck at dinner next to some dry-as-bones solicitor who can talk of nothing but alternative business structures and legal reform.

But if your hobby is harbouring radical political views, it may not sit terribly well with the need to present a professional persona of integrity and rationality.

Which brings us to the tale of a certain Aysh Chaudhry, a promising young lawyer employed at one of the Magic Circle firms who shot himself massively in the foot by recording a video rant on perhaps the most sensitive political subject around.

In the wake of the Paris terror attacks on the Charlie Hebdo headquarters, Chaudhry took to the internet to broadcast a diatribe. Apparently convinced that he – a 22 year old lad in the early months of a legal career  – was equipped to bring understanding to a complex geo-political situation that has racked the finest minds of our generation for years, he called freedom of speech ‘a bankrupt ideology’.

That he was exploiting the very freedom which he castigated was an irony evidently passing him by, which does rather cast doubt on the intellectual capacity of one of the highest-paid trainee lawyers around. At the time of writing (as far as we are aware) Chaudhry remains employed at Clifford Chance.

The one who’s a bit of a Lothario

There’s no getting away from it: the workplace is notorious for being something of a petri dish, cultivating the bacteria of desire into a full-blown disease*. Generally speaking, however, the sensible lawyer manages to keep it in their Austin Reed, being only too aware of the dangers of mixing business with – ahem – pleasure.

Unfortunately, there will always be those who are simply unable to contain themselves, and their secret life as a bit of a ‘playa’ begins to affect their career.

So it was for New Zealand lawyer Craig Ronald Hawsley (the name of a bounder, if ever there was one), who found himself suspended for three years after being caught out in an ‘intimate relationship’ with a client.

Hawley had offered legal services to a woman while he was in a relationship with her – and proceeded to compound his unfortunate departure from integrity by lying to the Law Society about it. The regulator took a dim view, understanding that few things place a client in a more vulnerable position than being romantically involved with their lawyer.

A petri dish yesterday. Photo: Shutterstock

The Law Society’s prosecution manager said, “It is totally unacceptable for lawyers to enter into intimate personal relationships with a client where this would compromise the independence of the lawyer.”

Let that be a lesson to those who have about them more than a touch of the Romeo/Mrs Robinson/Fanny Hill/Don Juan [delete as applicable]. In some ways, it really is the oldest hobby in the world.

The one who’s just generally a bit dodgy

It’s an odd fact, but definitely true: some people are just generally a bit dodgy. It’s not so much a hobby as a kind of compulsion, and often can be observed in the early years, as there’s always one child always skulking about the playground in someone else’s trainers with a home-made tattoo and one of those really cool scars you get through your eyebrow.

You’d think that entry into the legal profession would sift the dodgy ones out, but it appears not.

Over in Auckland, lawyer Davina Murray was recently struck off after her epic dodginess became intolerable. “It is a unanimous view she is no longer a fit and proper person to be practising,” said the judge chairing Murray’s disciplinary tribunal.

‘No longer a fit and proper person’ turns out to be a bit of an understatement, since alongside her life as a lawyer Murray was frankly a bit of a gangster’s moll. Having (she said) fallen in love with a convicted rapist and murderer, and been retained as his lawyer in 2011, she then proceeded to smuggle contraband to her jailed lover, including tobacco and a phone. On other occasions she failed to stop when asked by police, and defended herself in court with a series of bizarre outbursts.

Definitely a case of someone who would have benefited from having rather more work than play. NL

*I’m sorry: I wasn’t sure where that analogy was going when I started it.

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  • http://lawbytes.boards.net Malinovski

    Enjoyable article. One minor point, though – the “Harry Potter” solicitor advocate ALAN BLACKER is not Welsh, but English (of Canadian heritage.) Anybody who wishes to read a full analysis of this subject is invited to visit http://www.lawbytes.boards.net – and to join in the lively debate/discussion there.