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JIM SPENCE: Elon Musk’s legal fees offer for X users could pose serious challenge to employers and CEOs

Taken at face value, this could open floodgates to spate of legal actions which would be funded by Musk, without limit of cost.

Elon Musk giving a double thumbs-up sign
Elon Musk.

Increasing numbers of Scots lawyers have ditched criminal and civil legal aid because of the scandalously low rates they receive from the government funded scheme.

So I wonder if Elon Musk’s wild offer at the weekend might give our legal profession a financial boost in at least one area of law.

The multi billionaire owner of Twitter (now titled X) made an astonishing offer, which could worry bosses and companies accused of inequitable treatment of their employees.

Musk tweeted: “If you were unfairly treated by your employer due to posting or liking something on this platform, we will fund your legal bill. No limit.

“Please let us know.”

On the face of it, that’s a remarkable offer of free unlimited legal aid.

‘Brave move’

Some employees in academia, major companies and elsewhere who’ve liked, re-tweeted, or commented on issues from race to religion from gender to independence, and a host of other topics claim they’ve been victimised and even sacked for doing so.

Now Musk appears to be offering them the chance to seek legal redress and without it costing them a penny.

Roddy Dunlop KC The Dean of the Faculty of Advocates in Scotland commented: “Wow. Brave move from Mr Musk, offering a worldwide unlimited indemnity against legal costs for anyone ‘unfairly’ disciplined for anything they say on here.

“Carlill v Carbolic Smoke Ball Co, anyone?”

Applying Carlill, a Court of Appeal decision from 1893, to the offer made by Musk, anyone who feels they were unfairly treated by an employer need do nothing to get free unlimited legal aid except contact him and take him up on the offer.

Taken at face value, this could open the floodgates to a spate of legal actions which would be funded by him, without limit of cost.

I hold to the mantra if something sounds too good to be true it usually is but Musk is a phenomenally wealthy individual who can afford lashings of largesse.

This offer potentially poses a serious challenge to employers, CEOs and institutions which until now have held the whip hand against employees who were financially unable to challenge unfair treatment of their personal views.

Elon Musk.

Bully bosses could face very heavy costs for legal redress for those who can prove they’ve been treated unfairly for liking or tweeting something on Musk’s Twitter platform.

All law requires interpretation and Musk’s use of the term ‘unfairly treated’ would obviously require a fair degree of clarification.

If a good number of disgruntled Scots employees take up his offer though it could provide much needed income for some hard-pressed legal firms.

‘Bad news for all of us’

Most of us hope we never need to seek legal advice either for criminal or civil matters because it’s an expensive business. And that’s not a barb at lawyers.

Despite the view which some folk hold, they’re not all rolling in the money.

Between expensive office and staff overheads and other rising costs some smaller legal firms are barely keeping the wolf from the door.

That’s bad news for all of us.

A proper and well-ordered society needs lawyers to settle disputes and deal with the many complex matters which govern our daily lives.

A former Dundee University compatriot, who runs his own legal practice in the central belt, told me he’d bailed out of civil legal aid a few years ago because it was no longer financially viable.

In criminal legal aid the picture is no better, with many lawyers refusing to take part in the scheme.

Elon Musk might have provided an alternative legal aid scheme for lawyers sharp enough to spot an opportunity.

Return to the studio

Home working became the norm for many folk during Covid and it has advantages.

As a freelance journalist and broadcaster I’m well used to it but I’ve changed my views a bit recently.

When I worked from the BBC studios in Dundee I was often the sole remote journalist, with the programmes coming from a Glasgow studio and presenters and guests located there.

As an established broadcaster, it’s no big deal picking up when to contribute and when to stay quiet in such situations but there are definite advantages in being in the same location as colleagues.

I’ve also become used to doing The Courier’s Talking Football podcast from home and it’s worked well.

But we’ve returned to the original studio format and I’ve rediscovered the enjoyment of working with folk in the same physical space.

The body language and the cues you pick up are more easily embraced than with contributors over a computer link.

Many workers can’t enjoy the freedom of working from home given that their jobs require them to be in location in person.

Hybrid working I’ve discovered is the ideal mix; for me there’s a definite benefit psychologically to working in an environment alongside others.