4 March 2002
The Lawyer was grumpy all last week. Not only was a new lateral hire taken on at equity level (ouch!) but the new partner turned out to be:
a) entirely process-driven; and
b) a document presentation fiend.
Even in the safe haven of the home, where communication is largely loud (shouting) or terse (notes on the fridge: Pick up Son Judo 5.30pm; Take Rubbish Tip or Divorce) the man's influence is felt.
"I've had to take all the round bullet points out of my tender document and replace them with diamonds, just because he says it looks neater," said the Lawyer, who isn't eating well as a result. Things usually have to run away from him if they want to avoid being eaten, but he spent five minutes chasing his last sausage around the plate without spearing it once.
"Mummy says don't play with your food," observed Liability. The Lawyer shot her a bleak look.
"But don't you have a find-and-replace button that does that sort of thing?" asked the computer literate Deminimus.
"Or a secretary?" asked Subjudice, who makes up for technical ignorance by a frightening ability, even at 11, to delegate.
"That's not the point," snapped the Lawyer. "The best secretary in the world wouldn't care about bullet points the way this man does. I still have to go through the bloody thing and check for line spacing and kerning and hanging indents and things I'd never even heard of. And you turn your back and the computer changes them all round again, or it adds a new paragraph break or an odd numbered page or something. I don't actually do any work any more, I just check that my documents look nice."
As we all thought that was what he did anyway (when was the last time the Lawyer wrote a new document? We know he just recycles the old ones) most of us lost interest at this point.
Deminimus is a sharp one, though.
"Are you saying things like that don't matter?" he asked. "Spelling, grammar… that sort of stuff?"
He kept a wary eye on me, for I am picky about punctuation - I have to suppress a scream when I see the greengrocer's apostrophe (potatoe's £85p, carrot's 72p) - and pronunciation ("Schedule, not Skedule!" I shout regularly at the children. "That's American. We are not Americans!" One day I'll hear them saying: "From ay to zee," and then I'll know it's the end of the British way of life).
"Well, yes, of course they matter," said the Lawyer.
"And isn't your job all about concentrating on detail?"
"Well, yes, although I'd like to think of myself as a big picture man."
"But do clients pay you to see the big picture?"
The Lawyer was stumped, for in truth they don't. They pay lawyers to get it unshakably right, and as all lawyers are obsessives about detail to the point of perversity (never get a lawyer to help you put up a picture - you'll be holding your framed Robert Doisneau above your head for half an hour while he measures for plumbline variations), this is just the way they like it themselves.
The Lawyer was silent for a moment, contemplating the thought that checking for diamond-shaped bullet points is an activity that might actually deserve a six-figure pay packet.
"You know, maybe the new chap's got the right idea after all," he said.