2 September 2002
The hatches are being battened down all over the profession. All those cute little start-up ideas - 'Specialist practice in natty two-room office with espresso machine'; 'lone wolf consultancy run from the back of a laptop' - are falling to the ground like leaves in autumn. The bad boys are coming back into the fold from those wild US firms, and the security of a stuffy old practice that guarantees the mortgage each month is looking extremely attractive.
The Lawyer, who takes 10 years to get around to fixing the loose door on the kitchen cabinet, had just begun to entertain the idea of setting up in business for himself when the downturn happened; and so he decided to stick tight with the old firm. The prospect of house prices in freefall has kept his spirits high, month by month, although as the year rolls on and they keep soaring he wonders whether it is not too late to make a break for the outside, and whether he will be able to stand the next 20 years sitting in somebody else's office. I found him at the computer the other day, working out how much we would save if we shopped at Netto instead of Sainsbury's; whether we could all fit into a three-bedroom semi on the new estate they're building; and what my earning potential was after three kids and 13 years out of full-time work.
I got involved at this point, because the idea of returning to work fills me with horror - non-stop cooking, cleaning and nose-wiping is hell, but at least you get time off to play tennis on a Wednesday - and the alternative would be, a) another baby, or b) working as the Lawyer's unpaid secretary. Sleepless nights and days full of screaming either way, I fear.
So I suggested he look into the European option. (The Lawyer's firm has made a great play in recent years of getting into bed with a practice in every Continental capital. No matter that the cost of reprinting the letterheads each time far outweighs any cross-practice benefits. I think it is just an excuse for the board to eat in posh foreign restaurants while they woo their potential partners.)
Actually, legal firms are amazingly pro-European in their outlook, considering how much we all hate the French (the one true constant in English history, I find, as the Scots made an inexplicable allliance with them aeons ago) and suck up to the US. I'm sure they would like to buddy up to firms in Boston or New York instead, but they're afraid of finding that they have been taken over by the time dessert arrives.
Anyway, I really quite fancy a nice two-year secondment to Rome. Or Berlin. Or Paris: lovely, long-windowed apartments and wooden floors, fresh bread every morning. I actually like the French, and the children are doing ever so well at it at school.
"Not a bad idea," said the Lawyer, and went off to investigate.
I was just getting revved up and about to log on to Parisian estate agents' websites when he rang back, having been turned down straight away because his language skills were so poor.
"But I can order two beers please and three Coca-Colas in eight different languages," he said, aggrieved. "And it's not as if I'd be doing any work, anyway."
I suggested he look up the local evening classes brochure and get cracking on his German. He was all ready to sign up until his eye fell on the Japanese for Beginners class.
"Do you fancy Tokyo, darling?" he said, picking up the phone.