19 July 2004
It’s amazing how prescriptive people can be about the way lawyers do their work.
“And what time did your husband come home last night?” ask my nastier mumsy friends, safe in the knowledge that their civil service partners were back at 5.30pm and that they will never, ever have to do the tea, bath and bedtime story routine on their own. “Why don’t you tell him to ease up?” they say, waving perfectly manicured nails at me. “It’s impossible to work those hours and have a normal family life/time for hobbies/any sanity left.” And so on.
I feel a strange jolt of loyalty to the Lawyer, even though I’m the one left holding the wooden spoon in one hand and the phone in the other as he tells me he’s pulling another late shift. He doesn’t seem to want to do anything else – he certainly hasn’t felt the pull of selling up and running a B&B-cum-olive press in the wilds of Spain. He enjoys his job, he’s extremely well paid, he’s a partner, and that’s just what you have to do, even if it means coming home at 11pm for three weeks on the trot and working weekends.
“I don’t know how you put up with it,” say the nasty friends, spooning froth off their coffees. “I’d tell him where to stick his job.”
It strikes me as unfair: they wouldn’t be saying that if he was an MP, or a super-handsome NHS consultant, or anything seen as socially necessary or glamorous and sufficiently mysterious to avoid scrutiny. No one has actually ever met an MP or even an NHS consultant, except the morning after you gave birth when it’s far too late for them to have any effect at all. Hence they’re imbued with power and everyone sucks up to them, no matter what their working hours. But because the Lawyer’s a boring old solicitor, and they’re two a penny, he’s fair game.
It’s like the difference between a drug addict and a mountaineer. Or the lack of difference: both choose to carry on an extreme activity that is exhausting, dangerous and will one day kill them. Actually, lawyers could go in this section as well, although it’s stress that’s likely to carry them off, rather than an avalanche or an overdose. However, mountaineers are admired and praised while drug addicts are reviled, because mountaineers are seen to be extending the field of human endeavour, or something. Anyway, both get to write books full of overblown similes, which sell millions. This is perhaps the only way that lawyers don’t match up, because no one would buy anything written by a solicitor in those quantities. Except law college course books – there’ll be more solicitors than there are plumbers soon, and then where will we be?
Besides, I get free time under the Lawyer’s long hours regime. It’s not quality time, it’s not filled with much more than babysitting, but it is free – it’s not as if the Lawyer would pay for it. Often I don’t even have to provide meals, because on a really fierce project they’ll go straight from the office to a restaurant. Whereas my over-partnered friends don’t even get to overcook spaghetti without supervision. One of them has a husband who spends every weekend restoring vintage cars in the overflowing garage. He has time to develop hobbies, and has created a whole alternative life from which his wife is excluded. I, however, am only excluded from the 14-hour days the Lawyer spends sitting in meetings. What’s to miss?