When the great managing partner holds that final drinks party in the sky, I’ll be in good company, because I’ll be with all the legal widows (legal widowers, I’m afraid, will have to find their own champion and in any case, statistics are on our side).
While the great MP wanders around with the sherry bottle, the widowers will be huddled in a little corner (where they’ll probably have found a television showing football anyway) and we, the widows, having headed for the new conservatory to see whether it’s a second mortgage job in wood or merely PVC, will be filling the whole room. And what a conversation we’ll have.
Perhaps we’ll find the answer to those eternal questions, such as why career-making court cases are always scheduled for the day our second child is due to be born. Why meetings always overrun, causing our poor solicitor to miss the last train home (the school play, of course, coming a poor second in the list of things that can be safely missed in the drive to sign the deal/wrap up the case/impress head office – delete as appropriate). Why there are always “only a few more clauses to read through and then I’m out of here”. Why the opposing party will never sign until they’ve guaranteed themselves another half dozen meetings (make them sit down, hold the bloody pen in their hand and make ’em sign is my answer). And why meetings at all? Don’t they actually do any work?
Actually, given the half-conversations I’ve had on the phone – talk can, of course, be interrupted at any moment by partners, secretaries, other phone calls or even tips on how to get FreeCell game 21453 out – it appears very little work gets done at all.
“Well, we’ve finished The Times crossword,” he’ll say, halfway through particularly lengthy negotiations where the other side is obviously gathered en masse in the gent’s for a bit of off-the-record conspiring. Or: “Do you know, if you twirl this firm’s pens round on a rubber band, all the ink shoots out?”
Oddly, the time they really spring into action is when work is over, and we’re out enjoying ourselves. Pick your friends carefully, is my advice, or the dinner table will be buried under a shower of acronyms, always so hard to clean up afterwards.
“PI, actually. No, John does IP. SIF? don’t make me laugh!” (apparently the best joke of the evening). And before pudding has even been served we’re all munching away on the indigestible topic of legal aid. Still, it must be nice to find someone who understands you.
While this is going on, the non-lawyers try fumblingly to make contact with each other – the only humans in a world of legal pod people. “You’re not a solicitor are you?” strangers will ask hopefully. You should see the relief on their faces when they realise I’m not going to talk about the Silhouette case. Or Lord Irvine. Or the Budget.
Yet the world is not turned upside down, whatever I say. Tort comes before torte, in the dictionary as in life. Legal widows, wooden spoon in hand and supper curling up at the edges of the oven, will be taking apologetic phone calls for as long as we accept the deal.
Still, it’s not all bad. Not a great example to the kids, but it’s a lifetime’s supply of free stationery, and a handbag full of posh solicitors’ rollerball pens. Who could ask for more?