Legal case begins
Time passed with many weeks of excruciating levels of anxiety in my gut as I scavenged to find legal help. I contacted the Citizens Advice Bureau and got shuffled from place to place. After many letters and hours of phone calls to various government bodies, I made hopeful inquiries only to learn that there was no longer any legal aid available for commercial lawsuits.
Someone in government must've decided that only the rich should have access to justice.
Fletcher was a respected veteran of both Gearslutz and Recording.org. Aside from Standen and myself, he played perhaps one of the most important roles to get Gearslutz off the ground. An eminently knowledgable, one-of-a-kind character in motorcycle t-shirts and jeans, Fletcher heard what had happened and hooked me up with a UK solicitor named Liam MCneive from Smith's Law.
Liam was just a very cool, decent bloke who was not your typical London lawyer. Acting upon a good word from Fletcher Liam offered to write one letter for free. But he could only commit to the one, as his firm wouldn't allow him to take me on a CFA(No Win No Fee). This was an incredible favor from both Fletcher and Liam - the normal rate for letters from London lawyers is about £500 each.
Liam sent the first letter plus a follow-up.
Standen ignored both.
Liam gave me some tips and suggested I look for someone to take me on a CFA. So I learned from the internet how to prepare a case and proposal. I was desperate and willing to accept any lawyer who would have me.
In November 2007, I entered a Conditional Fee Agreement (No-Win No-Fee) with solicitor Rhory Robertson from Steele’s Law. I pinned my hopes against hope that Steele's would look after me. Like a typical musician, I desperately wanted to believe they would be my saviors and rescue me from this bottomless pit and the jaws of hell.
Besides, what other choice did I have?
But the problem with Conditional Fee arrangements is they are usually only taken on if the firm thinks they can make a quick win with very little effort. Rarely will they fight for you to the full extent. To my dismay, instead of filing a claim for what Standen and I had actually agreed, Mr. Robertson reduced my claim to a simple 1/3 share of a dissolved partnership and removed my long-term ongoing stake. It seems he just wanted to make his job easier.
So right from out of the gate, my case began with a plea for far less than my rightful stake. In other words, my lawyer pleaded what was best for his law firm, not me.
Standen agreed to mediate but refused to provide accounts.
So Mr. Robertson filed my diluted "Particulars of Claim".
Standen filed his Particulars of Defense.
I filed a witness statement - again edited and diluted by Robertson.
My solicitor then scheduled a hearing for a consent order to the accounts. We heard nothing from Standen. It looked like I might win by default.
But at the last minute, one of the three most powerful law firms in the world suddenly appeared as Standen’s new solicitors. They agreed to provide the accounts. The courts were informed and the claim paused for mediation.
My solicitor was gobsmacked at the arrival of Allen & Overy who is considered one of the "Magic Circle" of law firms. Standen's superstar solicitor was Catriona Smith a top Intellectual Property lawyer famous for establishing case law in the European Union. With Gearslutz as collateral, Jules was in a strong position to retain the most expensive legal services. I can only assume he found them through his Mom. Unlike me, he had access to money and ample legal resources.
By contrast, I was 49, single, and had been cut off from my share of income from the business. My body was in a perpetual state of panic and I was emotionally worn out.
Only those on the less powerful side of a lawsuit can hope to ever understand the high-level anxiety and constant state of fear it induces. There is little information to be found on the internet. Knowledge is obfuscated by archaic, cryptic language designed to keep ordinary people out. Though many of us grew up to believe that the law would protect us, the reality is, the law weighs heavily in favor of those who can afford it. If the game was fair, it shouldn't matter what lawyer you have.
But the game is not fair.
A&O's arrival sparked a change in my lawyer. Previously relaxed and confident, Robertson became agitated and shrill. As a solicitor in a small firm, he was clearly intimidated and quite shaken by Standen's big guns. Standen reminded me of the rich kid in the neighborhood who took his ball home when he didn't get his way. He was the kid who hid behind his parents who always bought him new balls.
It looked like my solicitor wanted to play ball with Standen rather than represent me.
Every word, every letter from a lawyer costs money. There comes a point of diminishing returns where it looks like the amount of time put into the case won't justify the return. Yes, Standen had managed to escalate my lawyer's bill and made the case look less profitable for my lawyer. Mr. Robertson suddenly began to heap pressure upon me to settle. He threatened that I had to accept any offer by Standen otherwise I would be faced with an immediate £20,000 + plus taxes bill from his firm.
He wouldn't advise me what I should settle for but hinted it might be as low as £5,000, which was a joke. Gearslutz was approaching net earnings closer to £90,000 a year at that point and due to the exponential growth of websites that had reached critical mass such as Gearslutz had, the site's trajectory was well on course to grow rapidly over the coming years.
Robertson was clearly spooked and just wanted out. Yet he still wanted to be paid too.
I was well and truly stuffed. How could this be in any way fair? I tried to reason with Robertson but he refused to do anything but scream at me down the phone.
"I want you to go to mediation!"
My middle-aged lawyer in his uncomfortable suit was so freaked out and pumped up at the arrival of the slick and powerful Allen and Overy that he swore at me and was abusive. It was surreal. Why would he meltdown over a name? But it turns out Allen and Overy have a reputation for destroying their opponents and rarely losing.
Later in my journey whenever I mentioned to anyone in the legal profession that my opponent had Allen and Overy, their mouths fell open in a mixture of awe, shock, and fear. It seems A& O are a bit like Voldemort in the world of legal wizards.
Yeah. They're a pretty big deal.
Once again, I was cornered with no way out. The terms of my CFA stated that if my opponent made any offer (no matter how small), I'd have to take it or be immediately faced with the law firm's £20,000 bill. Judging from Robertson's behavior, I was pretty sure a "reasonable offer" would be whatever was enough to cover his own tab. To be fair to Rhory, he was under pressure from his firm to be an arsehole.
All lawyers are under pressure to be arseholes.
But either way, I would be stuck with a whopping bill. So after more sleepless nights, I sent a letter to Steele's. There was no way I could enter mediation with someone whose interests were at cross purposes to mine. So I might as well be in debt and still have a chance at justice, rather than to give up my stake in GS and get nothing but a bill from Steele's.
I decided to terminate the CFA with Steele's law and became a "Litigant in Person". This is a fancy word for a person who cannot afford a lawyer and represents themselves. I sent them a letter claiming that this was a bilateral termination due to Robertson's refusal to advise me.
That didn't wash.
Steele's sent me a £20,000 plus taxes bill. I had nowhere close to that kind of money. For someone like me who had only been in debt once in my life (and that was to rescue Julian Standen), this new burden weighed upon my head with an almost unbearable heaviness.
As if I didn't already have enough problems...
So I truly stepped into the ring of a Davey vs. Goliath battle. In one corner was one of the powerful law firms in the world and in the other was me, a musician alone and fighting by myself as a Litigant in Person in a game where I was blindfolded with my throat ripped out.