They stay in the shadows and don’t get name-checked at society soirées, but they can be worth their weight in gold to HNWs. William Cash asks Barry Tucker about the art of the criminal lawyer
CRIMINAL LAWYERS ARE not the first category of professional that one associates with those lollygagging around the sofas and smoking courtyards of Mayfair’s top private members’ clubs. But London has become so cosmopolitan these days that the ties of membership carry few common traditional bonds.
Almost the only thing that all club members have in common, however, is a keen interest in staying out of criminal trouble. The sort of trouble, for example, that former cabinet minister Chris Huhne found himself speeding into with an eight-month jail sentence after being exposed for getting his wife to take his points for speeding.
I’m talking about the phone call from one’s lawyer that begins: ‘The good news is that we have a contact on this case at the police station and they are not going to come to your house at 7am or to your office and arrest you in front of the firm. We’ve told the police you are going to co-operate and they can visit you at your house. Your computers will be made available to them.’
In The Bonfire of the Vanities, Wall Street banker Sherman McCoy becomes panic-stricken when he suddenly realises that he needs a criminal lawyer after he hits a boy with his car while driving his mistress back from the airport.
Of course, McCoy doesn’t know any and his first thought is to call somebody from his family’s Wasp law firm, Dunning, Sponget and Leach. This is the sort of fatal error that many HNWs still make today — reaching out to their fancy private-client firms when they need a grittier firm that is best known for its work in criminal law.
When it comes to representing HNWs, Barry Tucker is the first name that ought to leap to lips. His clients include everyone from the Rausings (he represented the late Eva when she was busted taking drugs into the American embassy) to football stars, bankers and hedgies.
The scene in the recent high-finance movie Arbitrage in which a financier and philanthropist (Richard Gere) ’fesses up to his lawyer — speaking on behalf of a ‘friend’ — on a bench in Central Park that he was driving the car that accidentally killed his mistress is routine for a lawyer like Tucker.
His firm, Tuckers, is one of the biggest specialised criminal law practices in the UK, with offices in Birmingham, London and Manchester. Through their regular dealings with the FSA, SFO and CPS , Tuckers are taken seriously by investigators, prosecutors and officers alike.
Tucker explains that it is most certainly not all about him. Clients are happy to discreetly and convivially talk to him, perhaps over lunch or a cigar, about ‘someone else’s problem’, but one needs a whole team for the full fight.
Tucker’s team includes Franklin Sinclair, former president of the National Criminal Law Association, Jim Smith, former London Criminal Law Society president, Phil Smith, the Rausings’ lawyer, or Richard Egan, who acts in News International cases.
A considerable number of very wealthy and successful individuals owe a great deal to Tucker and his team of lawyers. During the course of our one-hour meeting at one of London’s most exclusive private members’ clubs, several members waved at him — one even came up and hugged him. One of his quirks is that he has an aluminium business card that has ‘Get Out of Jail’ printed on it, with emergency numbers.
Yet since discretion and keeping clients out of the media — let alone jail — are the overriding concerns, you rarely get to hear the Tucker name bandied about in the same way that the soon-to-be ex-wives of HNWs, for example, will namedrop to each other at KX Gym about who their divorce lawyers are.
With an expensive divorce, an HNW can write out the large cheques and get on with a new life. With a criminal case, one’s life and career can so very quickly fall apart if one doesn’t get the right legal advice from the very start.
Illustration by Russ Tudor
The Rise of White-Collar Crime
White-collar crime — especially financial fraud — is on the rise. Legal Aid is being slashed to the point of extinction by the coalition. Given the number of HNWs who have been arrested and humiliated — whether it is Old Etonian Charlie Brooks over the phone-hacking affair, or Conrad Black over embezzlement, or former model Paula Hamilton driving drunk into a neighbour’s greenhouse — there is an ever-increasing need to be prepared, as it can happen to anybody, for anything, at any time.
An upsurge in white-collar crime is usual in times of austerity and recession, when fortunes are much more difficult to make and balance sheets are sometimes easier to make up than make true.
‘You never ask if a client is guilty or not,’ says Tucker. ‘That is the first rule.’
The second rule is to get clients to close their mouths. The problem is peculiarly endemic to HNW individuals who can be the most annoying of clients. ‘By their very definition, most HNWs are Masters of the Universe in their minds and in the minds of everybody else around them, and therefore they find it very difficult not to open their mouths when faced with a problem.’
Many HNWs are used to talking their way out of problems and getting their way. The police are trained to latch on to the tiniest or most trivial detail and twist it around to get a response. People tend to think that by saying nothing they look guilty.
Far from it, says Tucker. ‘Saying nothing at all is simply one of the basics of life. It is a little bit like having a scratch: the surface of our skin is quite large and you’d think that we wouldn’t notice a tiny scratch or a pinprick but it can become very painful.’
Tucker gives the example of an unnamed City client (presumably Nicholas ‘Beano’ Levene). Despite the inevitability of a guilty plea — copping to just £32 million despite evidence of a Ponzi scheme involving over three times that figure — Tucker maintains that things could well have been different if he had kept his counsel with his initial solicitors before Tuckers was instructed.
Despite the client amassing losses of £101 million, Smith successfully negotiated down the resultant Confiscation Order to a nominal £1.
Criminal lawyers have a reputation for being the ferrety tabloid journos of the legal profession, with badly fitting suits and grimy old mackintoshes. But not Tucker or any of his sleek team of lawyers. Barry is a tanned, fit and well-groomed man of 30 years’ criminal law experience, with a well-cut suit, thick black hair and a membership of the cigar club near Davidoff’s on St James’s Street. He also has his own table at Wilton’s. In short, Tucker fits effortlessly into the world of his clients.
Nothing shocks him. Whether it’s a well-known hedgie accused of insider trading or a respectable banker learning that their son is under investigation at Eton for smoking drugs, nobody is more useful to know when you need them most than a good criminal lawyer who knows the way around a police station. Only most high-net-worths haven’t any idea who to contact.
‘Most of the sort of people who read Spear’s or work in the top professions never have any contact whatsoever with a criminal lawyer,’ he says. ‘A criminal lawyer is similar to the social standing of an oncologist — you really don’t want to talk to somebody about cancer day in day out, but it is as important to have a good criminal lawyer in your little black book of contacts as it is to have your GP.’
They can save you from yourself, he adds. ‘Most criminal law cases can be resolved, if you deal with the issues immediately before any self-harm is done.’