9 June 2003
Deminimus came in on Sunday complaining that he wanted to go and play football with Thomas down the road, but that Thomas was spending hours cleaning his father's car. "I mean, it only takes half an hour, doesn't it? If he was washing it with his tongue he couldn't take longer," Deminimus despaired.
The Lawyer, who generally zones out all noise except football results, pricked his ears up, perhaps because the other children went "eeurgh". "I bet he's working on a taxi meter," he said, cryptically.
"No, dad, he's working on his father's CAR," said Deminimus, witheringly.
The Lawyer looked thoughtfully at the boy, and decided it was time for that important father-son heart-to-heart on the best way to bill your client.
"You mean that something awful might come up which means they have to work all weekend and they still get paid THE SAME?" asked Deminimus half an hour later.
"Yes, son, they're the foolish people who caved in before their clients and agreed to fixed fees," said the Lawyer, in a wise voice. "And in jungly areas of law like contract and commercial, they say the man with a fixed fee is like a monkey trying to get a banana out of the jar - if he doesn't do it quickly enough it'll go rotten."
"Do they really say that?" I asked. "I thought the point of that story was the monkey getting its hand stuck in the jar."
"No, that's solicitors who've never actually finished anything they work on," whispered the Lawyer. "It's another metaphor altogether."
"It's like the parable of the vineyard," said Liability. I wondered if she had discovered a new passion for scripture. "All those idiots working all day for one penny." Oh well.
"Yes," said the Lawyer. "Very similar to property lawyers. And people who do conveyancing. Although my theory is that they just bung out the same contract each time, in which case their recovery rate is astronomic."
The children all looked blank, so we were treated to a presentation on profitability, cost versus billing margins and the possibility of percentage uplifts in the case of overruns on time. "Although that's mainly barristers," he informed us. "Trust them to get jam on both sides of the bread."
Deminimus ran out to ask Thomas what hourly rate he was charging, but Subjudice suddenly got very challenging over the relative ratios of pocket money to age in the family, and worked out that her recovery rate was only 38 per cent. She negotiated an uplift to £6 a week, and the Lawyer was so proud he was almost glad to hand the money over.
Liability said this wasn't fair and at that rate she'd be earning hundreds of pounds a week by the time she was 18 and that the Lawyer should set an upper ceiling. "My God, the child's talking about capped rates," he said, coming over all faint. "Never mention those words in my presence again."
"I suppose that's the monkey that thinks he's got the banana, only to find it's fallen out of his hand again," I said, helpfully. The Lawyer nodded, weakly.
"What do you get for your work, Mummy?" asked Subjudice, suddenly. "After all, you do loads of stuff at home."
"Nothing," I said. "The overseer of the vineyard never seems to get round to paying me."
"You don't do it for nothing?"
"Benefits in kind," said the Lawyer, looking pointedly at my new Earl jeans.
"Pro bono," I said, firmly. "Definitely pro bono."