Legal Widow

Do you know what might actually make the Lawyer turn his back on the profession after a grimly loyal adherence of some 25 years? Would it be the assistants who think that eight essays on the social effects of recent legal developments qualify them to make real commercial decisions? Or the realisation that hours are never going to go down, and that 4am starts to clear the desk will be seen as normal within, say, a decade? Or the fact that they make all the lawyers travel second-class to keep the costs down?

Oh no. It was as simple as installing an answer machine on the switchboard.

Now, if you call the firm, a sweet young Australian thing regrets that if you don’t know the extension, you have to choose between three different options: new business, existing business or billing dispute. And then nine options of department, followed by a list of up to 25 partners’ names and extension numbers to key in. It’s just like dialling Strictly Dance Fever, but without the thrilling costumes.

Only after suffering for three minutes in digital confusion without actually pressing anything will the operator talk to you, and even then she’s on a timer and can only give you 30 seconds of her attention before her ejector seat triggers and throws her on the P45 pile.

It’s awful: how could it not be? But then, the people who make decisions about how law firms interact with the world don’t get out much, it seems to me. And have you ever met them? Who are these people who decide to spend millions on marketing pushes and new logos and bizarre corporate entertainment decisions, such as the firm’s hot air balloon, shaped like a double-ended arrow to represent “the ideal business-client relationship”? I think they’re actually computer viruses which rewrite the minutes of meetings after the secretaries have typed them up, and because everyone in the room had died with boredom they all think they must have agreed to the slogan: ‘You can’t crush the enemy unless you have critical mass’, or whatever it is this year.

The Lawyer is incandescent. “Law is about people,” he ranted in the kitchen. “I have clients. I give them service. I talk to them. I know what they want. It’s the last straw. I can’t have my clients talking to a machine. You can’t turn all human transactions into a Venn diagram.”

“No dad, you mean you can’t turn all human transactions into Boolean dialogue,” said Deminimus, thumbing away at his Gameboy without bothering to look up.

They say we’re rearing the first generation of children to be dumber than their parents, which is demonstrably untrue when I remain unable to programme the video and the lawyer has to get his 22-year-old assistant to show him how to put the ‘Out of office’ message on his email.

They also say we’re rearing the first generation of children to die before their parents, and this may be true – but I think their major risk of death is just being so smart-arsed in the presence of their mum and dad.

The Lawyer made futile gestures towards his son while I put the kettle on.

“Of course,” said Deminimus, “you could just give everyone your direct line.”

“Are you mad?” asked the Lawyer. “That means anybody could call me at any time. It’s horrifying!”

And so he decided to get new cards printed with his secretary’s direct number on them. He can’t have the clients talking to a machine, but he’d rather they didn’t speak to him too often either.