23 June 2003
It's impossibly complicated and results from all these law firms buying each other out and ending up with five different departments representing the same client, or inversely, one department representing all of the clients out there.
Soon there's just going to be three or four big law firms, like supermarkets, with a few corner shops left where you can pick up half-a-dozen divorces and a pint of conveyancing. Mind you, law firms will be as hopeless at stock management as they are at people management, and you'll have to get there early to pick up an intellectual property lawyer or they'll all be sold out; although you could start from the premise that any lawyer who plumps for anything but human rights (available in the organic section) has sold out anyway.
I don't believe the Lawyer understands who's doing what to whom, but it has resulted in the entire firm being segregated with what he is mysteriously calling "Chinese walls". I had a vision of flimsy paper screens being put up throughout the office, and everyone having to take their socks off, but Subjudice assures me that's Japan.
Deminimus said the term came from the Great Wall of China, and now I have a vision of lines of granite blocks spreading all over the office, covered with tourists, which will upset the secretaries dreadfully - that is, unless they see it as somewhere else to put photos and spider plants.
The Lawyer said that people on opposite sides of the wall aren't allowed to talk to each other until negotiations are over. Entire teams have been split down the middle and even their email addresses have been sorted into separate holding pens, like electronic sheep. Half of the clandestine affairs in the office have petered to a halt and there are dozens of lascivious email messages getting all steamed up, waiting to be reconnected.
Some of the trainees have got giddy and started building physical walls with filing cabinets and lever-arch boxes - apparently, the entire tax department looks as if a cyclone has hit it. (They chose the tax department because no one can believe anyone reads that stuff in the first place, let alone needs to keep it.) Even the canteen has been segregated into two different queues, and there is much bickering about why those on the buyers' side have got scampi and chips, while those on the sellers' side have to make do with mouldy old Cornish pasties.
I don't know why they're worried; in my experience, lawyers are so painfully law abiding that they won't cross the road unless the little man is on green, and they're not generally known for their communication skills. I'm still waiting for the Lawyer to tell me that he's off on a client golfing weekend at the end of the month, something I've seen in his diary, but which, on a need-to-know basis, I'll find out about on the Thursday evening when he needs his wood head covers refluffed. With this in mind, I just can't see them gossiping about anything other than who's been headhunted by Barbaric Bolshie Skipping Rope, which is all they're interested in normally. However, the Lawyer has taken it all to heart, and has written to his client saying he cannot be in communication until negotiations cease. I only hope the client doesn't take the opportunity to terminate the relationship - after all, who wants to keep paying for a lawyer who can't work for you?