Legal Widow

The latest challenge in the Lawyer’s life came out of an article written long ago, when law students still read such things (eager young graduate applicants used to rush up to the Lawyer and shake his hand when they heard his name at interview, saying: “Gosh, that article changed my life and made me want to do commercial law.” That tells you a lot about how exciting law college is, although it might tell you more about student interview strategies – I mean, do you honestly think anyone would remember an article called ‘We’re in the Money (Together): Commercial Lawyers and their Responsibilities towards the Client’, unless they looked your name up in the Law Quarterly Review beforehand?).

Anyway, on the strength of this article, the managing board has asked the Lawyer to write a chapter of the firm’s forthcoming book celebrating a century in business. I fear it is destined to become one of those gold-embossed leather things that sit forever on shelves, next to the Readers’ Digest Dickens selection which no one reads either. The Lawyer, however, has been acting as if he’s going to win a Pulitzer.

Bright eyed and bushy tailed, having cleared his diary and read up on how to research local history, he set off to do some information gathering. After a week he was in despair. Anecdotal interviewing revealed nothing: no one in the firm, not even the dinner ladies who have been there for years, could remember a single member of the commercial department – not even the ones who work there now.
Trawling through the library didn’t help either: except for a partner who was jailed in the early 1920s for embezzlement, the department has created nothing worth recording in its 100-odd years of existence. No personalities, no awards, no commercial triumphs, no noteworthy advances in law.

The Lawyer spent a whole weekend with his head in his hands, wondering what he was working for if 40 years putting in a 60-hour week could pass away leaving no trace at all. He has been further tormented by a group of colleagues and lawyer friends who have recently renounced the profession and gone into the voluntary sector, or started advising the Government on policy. “Useful jobs. Ones that make a contribution,” he said, as he cleared out his study, throwing away 15 years of company vision documents to make way for the inspirational literature to be handed out at next week’s partners’ conference.

“You’ve just spent another 48 hours achieving nothing Dad,” said Subjudice maliciously when he resurfaced on Sunday evening.

“I don’t know – I now have five feet of shelf space I didn’t have before,” he said.
“Until you get to the conference and they wheel out 400 copies of ‘Must Do Better: How We’re Going to Hit Target this Year!’” I muttered.

Coincidentally, what he has found for his chapter is a complete list of all budgets, targets, billings and profits for the department’s entire history, which shows that the firm has made more money than the previous year, every single year. The Lawyer is terribly proud.

“But that’s impossible,” said Subjudice. “You can’t always make more money, can you? You can’t work harder every year, and you can’t increase business every year, and you can’t keep taking on more staff – it’s like a pyramid scheme. One day you’ve got to run out of hours or new work, or staff, or desks to put them behind.”

“You’d think so, wouldn’t you?” mused the Lawyer. “Maybe that’s what the chapter should be about: ‘Commercial and Projects: Achieving the Impossible (and Leaving no Trace behind Us)’.”