24 October 2005
The Lawyer has been complaining about the firm's new pro bono scheme: 52 hours per year, minimum. Just one a week, the equivalent of two tea breaks, according to the bosses.
Along with the timesheet came a list of initiatives they have to sign up to, such as painting primary schools and weeding graveyards. My husband never gets his hands dirty, so obviously these are deadly to him, but he really objects on principle.
"What's the point of having two degrees and a lifetime of experience in the legal jungle if I can't use it to make the world a better place?" he railed. "I mean, who's going to care if I paint the primary school or not?" And he used his first couple of pro bono hours to visit the local Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) and browbeat them into letting him assist.
They were extremely unwilling, as the Lawyer has no training as a CAB adviser and, crazily, they wouldn't accept that being a solicitor - and one who is paid to advise people - was much of a qualification. But they let him sit in on a couple of sessions, just to see if he had the stamina.
First up was the lady who had been made redundant at 56 after 20 years of secretarial service and who wanted to know how much money she was going to get. "Tons, I should imagine," said the Lawyer enthusiastically, and was stunned to find it was only a few thousand. "But that's terrible!" he cried. "It's the law," said the CAB woman, as the redundant lady started weeping. "Is it?" asked the Lawyer. "Well, I never did employment."
Then came the woman asking how she could stop her child being bullied at school. "You can damn well threaten to stop paying the fees," said the Lawyer. The CAB lady gave him an old-fashioned look. "Oh, well, er… you could always talk to the teacher about it. And take it to the head. I reckon you could get them under human rights, at the very least!"
He did better with an alimony query, because lawyers are always getting divorced and bitching about the cost. "Keep the house," he said. "Don't go for that splitting the assets thing. He'll only get a fantastic bachelor pad and you'll be slumming it in some semi-detached. Soak him for the redecorating, though."
Then came the wheelchair user who can't use the loo at the library. "Oh, but that's awful!" cried the Lawyer. "Can't they help you?" "They say it's health and safety," said the wheelchair user. "Well, I'll take their health and safety and raise them. What can we throw down?" he asked the CAB lady. "Disability Discrimination Act." "Right, I'll mug up on that and get right back to you. We'll have a loo built within three months. Oh, maybe you can't wait that long?"
He came home really enthusiastic. "You know what they do there all day?" he asked. I opened my mouth to say "they volunteer, for free", but was beaten back by the rhetoric. "They use real law, and they solve problems, to help people. My God, it's like being young again - the thrill of the law. Haven't felt it for years. Could I have taken the wrong path in life?"
"You took the path to a six-figure salary," I reminded him. "You don't need law on that one."
"I'm not going to pick up a paintbrush to make me feel better about it, though," he said, and went off to fill in the adviser application form. We'll make a proper lawyer of him yet.