He's a New York judge, and he really knows how to hand out punishment

The Times, Tuesday October 21, 2003

Judge Philip Maier is looking forward to his impending trip to London. The 45-year-old New Yorker has limited experience of UK lawyers, but is going to get to know a few of his transatlantic brethren in a perhaps more confrontational way than the average networking event allows. Judge Maier is shortly to arrive on these shores, don a pair of boxing gloves, and engage in combat almost as brutal as the spectre of two QCs at each other's throats in a courtroom.

The occasion is a gala evening taking place in November at the Marriot Hotel, in Mayfair. The show consists of various lawyers enamoured of 'the noble art' climbing into a boxing ring and intentionally inflicting bodily harm on each other. Judge Maier can't wait. "It's going to be great," says the 45-year-old New Yorker. "There isn't the equivalent in New York and I'm really excited about it."

Judge Maier is no novice to the world of pugilism he took up boxing in 1997 but this is the first time he will have fought at an event in which the boxers are solely and exclusively lawyers. He is the veteran of some 51 'white collar' fights, the last of which was against a performance artist who filmed their fight by means of a camera strapped to his head. "He kept telling me to hit him hard," says Judge Maier. "But I wouldn't. White collar boxing is about fun, not hurting people."

An administrative law judge, Judge Maier has a mild, equable manner more in keeping with the English judiciary than a hard-hitting Judge Dredd. Qualifying as an attorney in 1981, he gravitated to employment law, and became a New York judge 12 years ago. He describes his role as the equivalent to that of an industrial tribunal chairman in the UK, and says that a similarity between boxing and the law is that in both, he is dealing with conflict, albeit that "in boxing I am one of the combatants, while as a judge, I am neutral."

White collar boxing was introduced to the UK by boxing promoter Alan Lacey, whose organisation The Real Fight Club is hosting November's show. Among the lawyers set to do battle in November are Oxford boxing blue and barrister Alex Mehta, the legal director of Judicium, and Alex Leitch, a partner in SJ Berwin's commercial litigation department. Mehta is a veteran of numerous amateur and white collar fights, and is reckoned by Lacey, among others, to have been good enough to box professionally, while Leitch has contested the British white collar heavyweight title, losing to East End entrepreneur Danny Mardell.

To its detractors, white collar boxing is 'an accident waiting to happen,' as professionals who should know better climb into a boxing ring and take on risks better handled by young men. And it is not just men who court the naysayers' disapproval. Three months ago, Lacey put on a show in which, for the first time in British white collar boxing, two women went toe to toe. The two documentary maker Ann 'Sweet P' Parisio and actuarial assistant Estelle 'Model T' Ford emerged unscathed from their encounter.

For his part, Lacey insists that white collar boxing sport is safe. His boxers are obliged to wear headgear and fight in large 16oz gloves (twice the size of those worn by professionals) to diffuse the power of the punches they throw. An ambulance and paramedics are in attendance at every fight. As Lacey says: "In the three years we've been putting on shows, we've had just one KO and the occasional bloody nose. White collar boxing is about entertainment and fun, about living a fantasy for office-bound executives." The mantra that the taking part is all is reinforced by the fact that winners are not formally declared.

But still, doesn't the thought of a bloody nose not to mention a KO worry Judge Maier? "Sometimes I get worried as a fight approaches," he says. "But as long as the match is made carefully, white collar boxing is safe and a great way of releasing tension in people's work and personal lives."

Lacey confirms that he is looking forward to welcoming Judge Maier to England, though the choice of the judge's opponent has yet to be finalised. As well as Mehta and Leitch, on the card for the event are lawyers from city firms such as Linklaters, Allen & Overy and CMS Cameron McKenna, as well as American firms with London offices such as Cleery Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton. It seems that a British judge has yet to answer the call of white collar boxing; likewise, The Real Fight Club awaits its first female lawyer member.

But if the matchmaking for November's show is still underway, whoever fights Judge Maier ought to know one thing. He recently fought against Guyana-born and Brooklyn-based Wayne Braithwaite, who in February this year became the World Boxing Council cruiserweight champion. Judge Philip Maier loved every minute of it. "He could have killed me," he says, "But it was great fun. He took it easy." Judge Maier's opponent had better start hoping for similar clemency.

A Legal Minefield, hosted by The Real Fight Club, takes place at the Marriot Hotel, Grosvenor Square on 20th November. See www.therealfightclub.co.uk.

The Real Fight Club is considering matching Judge Maier against the author of this article, himself a media lawyer and freelance writer who made his debut as a white collar boxer in June.