You are old, father William…

By | 8th February 2011

How many partners do you know in law firms who are aged over 55?

The editor of Legal Week, Alex Novarese, in a recent post in the Editors’ blog speculated that there were a number of factors militating in favour of a review of the former destructive practice of law firms in this country to pension off partners as soon as possible after 50 and certainly by 55.  [Locking out older partners? The least-defended minority in the Square Mile, Legal Week, Jan 14th, 2011.]  He argued that the imminent abolition of the default retirement age of 65 with effect from April this year will force law firms to revise their employment policies as they concern “older talent.” He also argued that older partners may not in future “go quietly” as they have done in the past particularly after a number of internal restructurings and reduced loyalty as a result and if the forthcoming battle between by Leslie Seldon and his former firm over age discrimination ends in a victory for the claimant.

I found myself thinking of Alice in Wonderland (Lewis Carroll, published in 1865) and in particular of Old Father William. You will remember the poem!

“You are old, father William,” the young man said,
“And your hair has become very white;
And yet you incessantly stand on your head
Do you think, at your age, it is right?

“In my youth,” father William replied to his son,
“I feared it might injure the brain;
But, now that I’m perfectly sure I have none,
Why, I do it again and again.”

“In my youth,” said his father, “I took to the law,
And argued each case with my wife;
And the muscular strength, which it gave to my jaw,
Has lasted the rest of my life.”

You can read the full poem here

I love the idea of the muscular jaw caused by the legal arguments with his wife. Perhaps law firms should take note or suffer the same fate as the young upstart and be kicked down stairs!

On which note, I turn seamlessly to Naomi Campbell. On the 18th of January, the tediously named Fourth Section of the Court of Human Rights gave judgment in the case of MGN v United Kingdom (case number 39401/04). Mirror Group Newspapers had applied to the court in Strasbourg because it disagreed with the House of Lords’ decision in Campbell v MGN [2004] 2 AC 457 that publication of articles in 2001 breached Naomi’s privacy as they divulged details about her drug addiction therapy. In short, the court agreed with the House of Lords that the breach of the model’s confidence was not a breach of her Article 10 rights.

More interestingly for my purposes was the other finding that the success fee that MGN had been ordered to pay to Miss Campbell’s solicitors was disproportionate and a breach of Article 10.

So where are we?

Costs lawyer Jim Diamond says:

By far the best article on Naomi Campbell v Mirror Group case, comes from the RollonFriday the legal website in an article (originally) entitled “Carter Ruck F…..ked.”  A title I believe created by Private Eye in the early 90’s.

Sorry I hate to dampen the spirits of all the celebrating journalist in Fleet Street but, and this is a massive BUT ..

Naomi Campbell was successful in her action and was awarded £3,500 damages. Her lawyers, Schillings were looking at over approx £1million in costs including a success fee of £250,000.

So the next “Campbell” libel type action in the brave new world without success fees will costs you in round figures:


How does that Chardonnay taste now?


It is fairly clear that

  • lawyers will have to live with success fees of less than 100%;
  • other fees must pass the proportionality test;
  • this decision makes it more likely that the proposals contained in Lord Justice Jackson’s report that CFAs will be abolished in such cases, will be implemented.

Whether we go so far as contingency fees in this country is debatable but I will be watching developments here with interest as Millnet’s Smart-e-Discovery offering is geared towards reducing the barriers of entry to litigation.

Grist to Father William’s mill.