15 March 1999
The Lawyer: Can we talk about The Firm's commitment to pro bono?
Mr Pratchard: Pro bono? Isn't that one of Henderson's Sicilian clients?
The Lawyer: No, it's Latin. It means work for which you don't get paid.
Mr Pratchard: Someone's not been paying us? We'll sue the pants off them!
The Lawyer: No, I mean The Firm's commitment to voluntary work.
Mr Pratchard: Voluntary work?Are you mad?
(At this point Mr Pratchard went white and collapsed. An ambulance was called.)
Mr Henderson: We have a strong belief in pro bono and have appointed a very senior partner, Mr Chalmers, as pro bono co-ordinator for The Firm.
The Lawyer: Why is he not here now?
Mr Henderson: He hasn't quite finished his filing and tidying duties. He should be making tea and coffee for us right now. But, believe me, we are fully behind this initiative.
The Lawyer: So you encourage all staff, whatever their seniority, to help in Citizens' Advice Bureaux (CABx)?
Mr Henderson: Yes, trainees, secretaries, cleaners - we've even sent Big Tosh in security down to dish out some advice.
The Lawyer: Does Big Tosh know anything about the law?
Mr Henderson: He should. He's been inside often enough. An expert on debt recovery, I believe. We're passionate about this. We feel pro bono is our way of "giving something back to the community". Well, not my community, obviously, I live in Belgravia. I mean all those desperate people who have postcodes beginning with "E" or phone numbers beginning 0181.
The Lawyer: What about at your Hull office?
Mr Henderson: What, offer free work in Plebsville? We'd have every drunk, unemployed Northerner from Liverpool to Newcastle banging on our door.
The Lawyer: The Firm is mainly a corporate practice with a specialisation in quarrying law. Are you sure your lawyers are the best people to be handing out advice in CABx?
Mr Henderson: For goodness sake, we're doing it for free, aren't we? The most important thing to remember is that we know more than the people we're advising, and we talk in a posh accent. That's all these proles are after. And it's good for business. By talking to poor people in those Citizens' Advice thingies, our lawyers learn that if they don't hit their billing targets, that's where I'll make sure they bloody well end up - helping grannies make the council mend their drains.
The Lawyer: Is it true you're only doing pro bono as a public relations exercise for clients? That your major client - Smashem Quarrying - has threatened to dump you unless you show a commitment to pro bono? Isn't that why you begged me to come down here and interview you - the first interview The Firm has given in its 173-year history?
Mr Henderson: Typical bloody cynical journalist. Look, sonny, The Firm has been doing pro bono work for decades.
The Lawyer: Like what?
Mr Henderson: You know, lots and lots. We don't keep records.
The Lawyer: OK, give me some examples.
Mr Henderson: Charity work. There was some gypsy selling the Big Issue last year outside reception. I told him to bugger off or I'd sue him for damaging my pavement. Did I charge him for this advice? Of course not. Look, I've been offering information for the lastA how long?
The Lawyer: The interview has lasted about 20 minutes.
Mr Henderson: Right then, that's u450 you owe us. We take anything: cheques, credit cards, cash - especially cash.