Bunhill: City lawyers paying legal fees

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The Independent Online
IT'S a delight to see City lawyers for once having to shell out astronomic legal fees rather than gathering them in.

The prestigious house of Allen & Overy, which blundered on a piece of technical advice to its client Queens Moat Houses, has agreed to shoulder the legal fees charged to QMH by its successor, the rival firm of Freshfields, to rectify the mistake.

The Allen & Overy partners, who advise Lucas, News International and Sun Life among others, are discovering it's not as pleasant receiving pounds 200-an-hour legal bills as dishing them out.

City lawyers have never come cheap. David Webster, deputy chairman of Argyll Group, once told me how he regularly saved pounds 1,000 for Argyll by the simple expedient of travelling to the lawyers' offices, rather than paying them for the time it took to cross town to see him.

One man with a robust attitude to the species is Alan Sugar. The Amstrad and Spurs chairman was in confident mood when he spoke on the subject last week at a seminar for corporate lawyers organised by the European Council of Legal Affairs.

Asked how he used his in- house lawyer, he replied: 'To be perfectly honest, I would tell him something and expect him to agree that I am right. If a lawyer tries to give me a bit of commercial advice, I just give him one of my daunting looks.'

M'learned friends got badly in the way at times, he confided, recounting how he and Rupert Murdoch handled them when negotiating a deal on manufacturing satellite dishes for Sky TV.

'Murdoch and I literally threw the lawyers out of the room when we did the satellite deal. Sometimes you can see the lawyers spoiling a deal for you, saying to each other something like, 'I'll send you a first draft and maybe we could be in touch next week'. No bloody way. I can guarantee that if Mr Murdoch had got out of the room, he would have got other advice and the deal might have fallen through.'

The bellicose Sugar was in fine form, but reserved his greatest bile for the people he negotiates with at the French electronics group Thomson - 'French monopolistic yobbos', he thundered. Hard to say whether it was their monopoly, their yobbishness or merely their Frenchness which most offended him.