"Political power," George Brandis once opined, "is a dangerous elixir for some." In his maiden speech extolling the virtues of small government, the erstwhile barrister and self-described suburban boy from Brisbane told the Senate that government must "understand its own limitations". In the 16 years since that speech was delivered, Brandis – elevated to the office of Attorney-General after the Abbott government seized power in 2013 – appears to have made it his business to test precisely where those limits lie. The Queensland Liberal senator is now locked in a toxic feud with the government's chief legal adviser, Solicitor-General Justin Gleeson SC. He has been accused of freezing out Gleeson, who holds a statutory office and gives independent, apolitical advice, and "shopping around" for opinions he finds more politically convenient on issues ranging from the same-sex marriage plebiscite to the proroguing of Parliament before the election. It is not the first time Brandis has butted heads with a statutory officer. The 59-year-old was censured by the Senate last year over his attacks on Human Rights Commission president Gillian Triggs. As with the Triggs affair, supporters of Brandis have called for Gleeson to resign. "Both the Human Rights commissioner and the Solicitor-General have allowed themselves to be involved in the political games," Queensland Liberal Senator Ian Macdonald said in Parliament. But the legal profession has expressed concerns, publicly and privately, that it is Brandis who is playing politics and undermining the independence of the office of Solicitor-General. "He's a political animal and he's always been regarded as such," says a senior lawyer in Queensland. A former solicitor, Brandis was called to the bar in 1985 but the coveted rank of Senior Counsel (SC) or silk eluded him until 2006 – some six years after he entered Parliament. He had been knocked back when he applied for silk as a practising barrister in the 1990s. In 2013, he traded the SC post-nominals for the regal Queen's Counsel (QC) when the title was restored by the Queensland government. "George is a very avuncular, private school boy who went through Oxford," the senior lawyer says. "Bright enough lawyer. But it was a surprise to everybody when he was appointed a QC because he didn't have a sufficient practice to support that." Brandis, who graduated with honours in arts and law from the University of Queensland before attending Oxford on a Commonwealth scholarship, had plied his barristerial trade largely in lower courts. He made few appearances in the Court of Appeal and High Court, which are considered crucial for appointment as silk. "Normally to become a QC you have to have a substantial practice and be recognised as an expert in your particular field," the lawyer says. Senator Macdonald, the most vocal of Brandis' supporters over the Gleeson affair, dropped fighting words in the Senate on Monday when he said some of Gleeson's advice had "not been all that hot". "Remember that the Attorney-General is a qualified barrister and a Queen's Counsel himself," he said. "Like him or hate him – and we can all say which side we fall on there – he has a very astute and sharp legal mind. In fact, I would back the Attorney-General's legal view on matters ahead of most other QCs and SCs." It was a remark calculated to get right up the nose of the Sydney bar, which suffers no shortage of intellectual and collegial pride. "Justin could basically run rings around Brandis in his sleep", says one senior barrister. Gleeson, who was the founding head of Sydney's prestigious Banco chambers and is also an Oxford alumnus, had an "extensive practice" at the bar and was able to "glide between different practice areas". "Justin would be considered first class; Brandis would be considered a plodder," the silk says. If Brandis' appointment as silk caused a stink in the legal profession, the Queensland Liberal senator was well accustomed to those by 2006. He has acquired a reputation as a magnet for controversy during almost two decades in Parliament. In 2004, he was accused of calling Prime Minister John Howard a "lying rodent" over the children overboard affair – a claim he emphatically denied in a statutory declaration. He would also court controversy in 2014 by backing contentious changes to racial discrimination laws on the basis people had "a right to be bigots". That came hot on the heels of the bookshelves affair. Senate estimates hearings revealed taxpayers footed the bill for a $15,000 custom-built bookcase to house Brandis' extensive collection of books and law reports. The new bookcase was required because a $7000 bookcase ordered to house $13,000 worth of taxpayer-funded books and magazines was too large to move to Brandis' new office following the change of government. And then there was the costly and protracted court battle with Shadow Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus over access to his diary. In September Brandis lost a second court bid to keep his electronic diary secret from the prying eyes of Labor, although the full Federal Court decision only requires him to consider Dreyfus' freedom of information request rather than guaranteeing access. Dreyfus had sought to inspect the entries to ascertain whether Brandis consulted with community legal centres and others before their funding was cut in the 2014 budget. Bill Potts, president of the Queensland Law Society, says he would "love to have [Brandis'] ear with respect to funding issues for the legal aid office and community legal centres", along with the Federal and Family Courts. "He's approachable but like every other politician he's beholden to the Treasury," he says. Potts says Brandis had "served his state well as a Senator" and had "certainly been a very dedicated and hardworking politician", combining multiple responsibilities including for national security and as leader of the government in the Senate. As to his Brandis' life post politics, a persistent – but, to many lawyers' minds, preposterous – rumour in Canberra is he may be angling for a spot on the High Court. Brandis has repeatedly hosed down speculation to this effect. Gleeson himself harboured High Court ambitions, a well-trodden path for Solicitors-General, but his chances may have been cruelled by this saga. Indeed, in a happy twist, the men may end up rubbing shoulders in London: rumours abound that Gleeson will go to the London bar to specialise in international arbitration and Brandis may be appointed High Commissioner.