Law firms cut fee of celebrated barrister who suffered stroke

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The Independent Online

An award-winning barrister who returned to work after a stroke had his fees slashed by solicitors because of his disability. John Horan, 35, described by the Attorney General as an inspiration to his profession, was told by two leading firms of solicitors that they wanted a discount when he represented employers in separate court cases.

One firm said it was "disappointed at the extent of his disability" while the other complained that he was dressed inappropriately for court.

Mr Horan, who was presented with an award from Lord Goldsmith, the Attorney General, last Saturday for his "outstanding contribution to pro bono work in the community", said he was disgusted by the attitude of the law firms. "They asked for a two-thirds discount of the bills. One complained that I was wearing sneakers in court rather than court shoes, but I was only wearing them because I find it difficult to wear court shoes since my stroke."

Mr Horan, who works in the leading London human rights chambers Cloisters, has considered bringing discrimination action against the firms but believes such a high-profile case would damage his career.

He suffered a stroke on Millennium Eve which left him partially paralysed on his left side. "In the afternoon, I went to bed because I was feeling strange. Later in the evening I was having a drink with my cousin when I realised my left arm wasn't working. When I tried to speak my voice wasn't working either."

He spent six weeks in hospital in London. "At first, the doctors didn't know if I would live and I was convinced I was going to die," he said. Mr Horan soon resumed his career. But this time he wanted to use his legal knowledge to work free in the community. "The money just wasn't important any more. I now had different ambitions."

When the law firms contacted his chambers asking for a reduction in his fees because of his disability he said it made him even more determined to do more free work, acting for applicants and employees, rather than the respondent companies. "I felt I could not trust respondent solicitors."

Before his stroke, Mr Horan was earning £100,000 a year. Last year, he earned £15,000 but expects this to rise to £40,000 in the next year.

When he won the Bar's most prestigious honour for lawyers who act pro bono publico, free and for the public good, the Attorney General said Mr Horan was "chosen for his exceptional and inspirational commitment". He added: "We hope John's example will encourage more barristers to get involved".

Mr Horan, who was nominated for the award by the Islington Law Centre, said he felt it was important he used his advocacy skills to raise disability issues in the court.

"Someone must tell judges what it's like to cope with the daily problem of feeling disabled," he said. "That's what the legal textbooks on discrimination can't tell you. But most importantly we need more legal aid for cases involving people of ethnic minority, disability or sexual orientation.

"People must stop making sure we have enough sugars in our tea and start dealing with the person behind the disability."