Lawyer Pay

UK Lawyer Made $25M in a Year, Now He Is Focus of Legal-Fees Controversy

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Representing injured coal miners has proven to be a lucrative practice area for Jim Beresford, 58, and his three-partner law firm.

At one point, the head office of the United Kingdom law firm now known as Beresfords Solicitors was shabby building near a Chinese takeout restaurant in Doncaster, in South Yorkshire. But by 2003 it had moved to a luxurious lakeside development there, according to the London Times.

“Last year The Lawyer magazine calculated that Mr. Beresford was the highest-earning solicitor in Britain, topping the estimated13 million pounds that was earned in 2005-06 by Andrew Nulty,” the Times article recounts.

In fact, Beresfords apparently topped Nulty—who made his fortune in the same practice area—by a considerable amount. The 16.7 million pounds that the Times says Beresford earned personally amounts to about $24.8 million in U.S. dollars, at the current exchange rate. McNulty’s 13 million pounds is about $19.3 million in U.S. dollars.

However, the moolah—which Jim Beresford apparently spent, in part, on a Ferrari in the garage of his 18-acre estate in South Yorkshire and a private plane, according to the Times—has proven controversial.

Government funds intended to compensate injured miners apparently may have helped pay for Beresford’s luxe life, as well as the earnings of other lawyers and law firms representing the plaintiffs in these cases. And then there’s the issue of referral fees that miners’ lawyers may have paid to nonlawyers such as insurance agents, to help generate legal business.

While such referral fees are permitted—and Beresford and his 51-year-old partner Douglas Smith say they have done nothing wrong—the Beresfords firm’s enormous earnings have helped make the practice controversial, according to another Times article.

It also appears that client disclosure rules may have been violated by a number of solicitors, according to the article.

The Solicitors Displinary Tribunal has been holding hearings on complaints against several dozen law firms, and next week is scheduled to hear 11 allegations against Beresford and Smith.

“The pair are accused of failing to act in the best interests of their clients, of not giving adequate advice and entering into contingency fee deals against their clients’ best interests,” the newspaper writes. “The firm is also accused of entering into arrangements for claims to be referred that were ‘a sham’ and improper.”

Additional coverage:

London Times: “Behind the story: How digging for details unearthed a scandal”

The Lawyer: “Beresford to face tribunal over miners’ claims” (2007): “‘Appalling Feeding Frenzy’ By UK Lawyers”

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