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Even with pop stars, construction law is all about the nitty-gritty

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Legal Matters

We barristers are a friendly lot and are often asking each other how we are and whether we are busy.

The response to the first part will depend upon the individual's health. The response to the second part will depend upon whether you are talking to a fellow member of chambers. If so, then usually you will be told about serious under employment, tiny claims for hopeless solicitors and wild and random allegations about 'goings-on' in the clerks' room. Other members of the bar will tell you that they have never been busier, that their practice has really taken off since the chambers move, the merger, the elevation of a new silk or whatever, and that now top firms of solicitors are queuing up to send them multi-million pound claims in exotic parts of the world.

Of course, neither of these answers has anything to do with the truth - but that's the insecurity of practice at the bar for you. A more confident type told me recently that he was quite busy, but that he had not had anything really 'sexy' for a while.

Well that got me thinking. Sexy eh? I suspect that he was referring to those elusive commercial court cases which involve sizeable sums of money, a nice Court of Appeal point of law, a charming client and an efficient, intelligent instructing solicitor with a sense of humour.

They are distinctly thin on the ground. He could have meant a case which attracts a bit of media interest. Well, they are all right, but the media is usually interested in the case for the wrong reasons and it does mean that you have to wear a different suit every day and can never be seen arriving or leaving court on a bicycle.

Either way, these are not your average construction cases. No, the only time that I have found construction cases to be the least bit sexy is when the client is a pop star. The trouble is that pop stars and building contractors usually only get together to build a recording studio, or worse still, convert an existing building.

So when Dave and Annie instructed me once, it was nothing to do with the drama in their personal or professional lives, or problems with their recording contracts, it was because the persistent strain of a drum beat produced in Studio 1 was being picked up and recorded in Studio 2. Defective recording studio cases are a bit of a challenge, not least because you can not begin to understand the problem without a working knowledge of acoustics - which is no simple matter - and also because the solution is seldom straightforward either. The real nightmare is the prospect of explaining it all to the judge. So nothing sexy there.

The other time when the worlds of media stars and construction lawyers coincide is when the former consults the latter over problems with their multi-million pound house (or mansion as it usually is). This is particularly the case when the designer gets completely carried away by the prospect of designing a one-off house for a person of limitless wealth and a quirky line on style.

All the stops are pulled out and no innovation seems too radical, no piece of mechanical and electrical wizardry superfluous. The result can be rather startling on the eye, expensive to run and, more seriously, something which simply does not work.

But once the flush of excitement over the prospect of working with a famous name fades, you are left with the nitty-gritty of a defects claim, of meetings with experts, and setting out column by column what is wrong with the place, what needs to be done to put it right and how much it is going to cost.

And as all those reporters found out the last time they were in the Technology and Construction Courts, there is nothing sexy about a Scott Schedule.

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