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People & Business: Barristers taken to task over fees

IF YOU thought "fat cattery" was restricted to the privatised utilities, have a look at the legal profession. The Bar Council has admitted secretly that some barristers are claiming "ludicrously high" legal aid fees after the Government handed it a list of 20 barristers whose fees have been heavily reduced on taxation.

This week's Lawyer magazine says that it has obtained a confidential memo which reports "anecdotal accounts of barristers claiming fees where they do not appear entitled to do so, or of silks discovering that their juniors are claiming ludicrously high amounts."

The memo adds: "One barrister sent in a response to the Inland Revenue ... indicating that he always inflated his fees knowing that they would be taxed down" [by the courts].

The memo stems from a crackdown by the Lord Chancellor's Department on over-charging. It was written by Mark Stobbs, head of professional standards and legal services at the Bar Council, and circulated to its professional standards committee.

Coincidentally the Lawyer also reports that public opinion of lawyers in the US is at an all-time low. "A recent survey showed that 70 per cent of the public viewed lawyers as greedy compared with 52 per cent last year."

STILL ON the subject of the legal profession, I've just received a press notice from the National Investigation Service (NIS) of HM Customs & Excise that a practising barrister from Manchester was sentenced yesterday to six months imprisonment for fraudulently evading VAT.

The Customs notice says: "Richard Alan Quenby altered figures on his returns which had been supplied to him by his chambers accountants.

"Officers from the NIS proved that the amount of VAT evaded over a nine month period was pounds 8,500. Quenby pleaded not guilty to three charges at his trial at Leeds Crown Court, but after a four-day trial was found guilty on all charges."

The Customs notice concluded: "He claimed part of the reason for the error was that he must have completed the figures during the chambers Christmas party."

AN INTRIGUING chap called Robert A Brawer, who has been a chief executive officer of the American Maidenform bra-making company and a professor of English literature, has now penned his own book, which sifts great literature for insights into management.

Fictions of Business claims to demonstrate how great novelists and playwrights "can provide unique guidance to business readers." It is certainly a refreshing change from the usual semi-literate, jargon-ridden business books which seem to proliferate these days.

Now you can put your feet up with a drink and read Anthony Trollope on railway speculation in the 19th century, or Geoffrey Chaucer on the idea of the "self-made man".

Mr Brawer quotes authors as diverse as James Thurber (on office politics), George Bernard Shaw and Joseph Heller (on believing the "corporate gospel").

The most striking chapter is on David Mamet and his terrifying play about stressed-out salesmen, Glengarry Glen Ross, a work which would put anyone off trying to sell anything.

I've no idea whether this tome will improve anyone's management skills, but its a good read. Fictions of Business will be published on 24 September by John Wiley & Sons, price pounds 17.99.

JUAN SOTOLONGO, a Cuban-born businessman, has just bought a "customer care" call centre in the City from AT&T, and his sights are set on more acquisitions in this expanding sector on the continent.

Mr Sotolongo was working for UPS last year when he started researching the call centre sector. He then set up a company called 7C with Simon Philips of Bridgwater Management Consultancy and sold 40 per cent of the company to an investors' group. 7C announced yesterday that it had bought AT&T Solutions Customer Care.

"Our main customers are AT&T, Boots and Vodafone," says Mr Sotolongo, who claims London is a good place to recruit people with language skills - 7C deals with customer in over 15 countries.

So is the name 7C some pun on seven seas? "No, it was suggested by one of our staff . It stands for communication, consultancy, camaraderie, commitment, customer-centred and call centres."

VALERIE GORDON-WALKER has left her job as human resources director at Barclays Capital to do the same job at German investment banking rival Westdeutsche Landesbank Girozentrale (WestLB).

WestLB is growing and now includes the Panmure Gordon stockbroking house, and Quorum, a fund manager which specialises in quantative techniques.

Ms Gordon-Walker previously worked at The Merrett Group, Lloyd's underwriters, and Marks & Spencer. She is described by one former colleague as "extremely professional and thoroughly charming with it."