The Lawyer Inquiry: Farewell to The Lawyer Inquiry
20 December 1999
Last week The Lawyer published the final Inquiry. Sean Farrell looks back at the highs, lows, and very lows of Tulkinghorn's favourite questionnaire
In November Tulkinghorn, the magazine's diarist, received an email from fellow curmudgeon Godfrey Mather of Twitchen Musters & Kelly in Southend.
"What a load of rubbish this week's Lawyer Inquiry is," wrote Mather. "Week after week we get the synopsis of some unknown, talking about their favourite food and attempts at being funny which fail miserably. Surely you can do better than this."
This was not the first complaint. Earlier this year a reader (do we know who?) sent in a copyrighted idea for a revamp, called Inspirations or,...er, something. Her price for this inspired offering was to be the first subject and to receive a year's free subscription to The Lawyer. Inexplicably, this offer was never taken up.
The Lawyer is, of course, the paper that listens, and so after more than five years The Inquiry is no more. But we could not say goodbye without a trip down memory lane.
The award for the most thorough answer must go to Edward George Nugee QC, head of Wilberforce Chambers. Asked which historical figure would be his ideal client, Nugee responded: "Henry VIII. His reign saw exciting changes in the law relating to conveyancing and wills, far-reaching reforms in the Church of England (which after more than 900 years of evolution was in need of reformation), the establishment of new charities and other developments needing expert legal advice."
So admiring of Henry was Nugee that he seemed to base his view of his family on attitudes of Tudor times. His most precious possession was: "My wife, four sons, four daughters-in-law and 10 grandchildren."
He was not alone in this view, though. Stephensons' Peter Stott and Jamie Martin of Ward Hadaway own their wives and children as well, though Martin grumbled that his wife claimed not to be a possession. And for both of them it is a toss-up between their families and their record collections as to which is the more precious.
For a while The Inquiry included the question "Which famous person would you like to go out with?" Lawyers being a cerebral lot, most men in 1997 favoured Pamela Anderson, but barrister Matthew Hall opted for Julie Andrews circa 1967. His favourite film role would have been Baron Von Trapp - "just to get close to Julie Andrews". And the place he most wanted to be was in the back of a Yeoman's bus with... Julie Andrews. What a nice boy. Fellow obsessive Bill Braithwaite QC of Exchange Chambers, Liverpool had his eye on another piece of high-class crumpet:
Who most inspires you?
What's the best thing on TV?
Which movie do you wish you'd been in?
Anything with Joanna Lumley.
What makes you seethe?
People who don't like Joanna Lumley.
But there was none of this tomfoolery for the austere Margaret Scanlan of Russells Gibson McCaffrey, who has a "perfectly adequate husband", thank you very much.
And who says lawyers are boring? Kit Sorrell of Davies Wallis Foyster is the profession's very own Salvadore Dali, and here is the proof:
What do you like about yourself?
My surreal sense of humour.
What do you hate about yourself?
A fish (see above).
The question "What car do you drive?" made some people come over all coy. "A blue one," was the reply of Walker Morris's Andrew Beck, while Katherine Reid of Kingsley Napley drove "a red automatic". Not so Peter Watson the proud Jaguar driver of Levy & McRae, whose favourite aspect of his own character was: "My choice of car", and least favourite was: "The amount of money I spend on cars".
The most unsuccessful question must have been "What character do you most resemble in Ally McBeal?" This drew responses such as "Sorry, I've never watched after the first 15 minutes", "Pass", and "What is Ally McBeal?"
But who needs a neurotic like Ally McBeal when you have sultry temptresses like Russell Jones & Walker's Susan Thackeray, who relaxes in "a deep, hot bubble bath and being fed grapes by my sex slaves"? Or Collyer Bristow's Reina Maria May, whose most often worn piece of clothing is "My black leather skirt. My partners insist on it".
If The Lawyer wanted to make a bit of extra cash, The Inquiry could have evolved into an introduction service.
Jackie Hawken, senior solicitor at Bristol City Council and David Burgess at Winstanley Burgess could have got together to campaign for a free Tibet. And Andrew Harbourne of Dawson & Co and Wyatt & Co's Richard Miller could have brewed beer at home together to their hearts' content.
What comes across from The Inquiry is the sheer joy that lawyers gain from their work. Take Ian Rosenblatt, senior partner at Rosenblatt:
What do you least like about being a lawyer?
And the best thing...?
What annoys you about your clients?
Where would you most like to be right now?
It's being so happy that keeps him going.
The format was obviously becoming stale in July, when Capsticks partner Suzanne Durey said that it in 10 years' time she saw herself "still trying to think of a witty and original response to this question not involving sun-drenched beaches, winning the national lottery etc". In 10 years' time the tropical idylls of the world will be crammed with lawyers telling each other how embarrassing it was when they fell asleep at a meeting and agreeing what a brilliant bloke Richard Branson is.
Occasionally you got a glimpse into the psyche of the respondent. Halliwell Landau's Stephen Goodman's most precious possession is his Jane Fonda keep-fit video. Morgan Williams of Lee & Priestley is, according to his supportive father, "a slug on the cabbage of industry and unemployable". And the best thing about Reuben Taylor of Mitre Court Buildings is that "I always go to the lavatory before appearing in court".
Mark Stephens, senior partner of Stephens Innocent, has some stern words for those thinking of entering the profession: "Don't," he warns, "You either have to be quite exceptional or don't." Stephens' most-worn piece of clothing shows just how exceptional a character he is. "A pair of BHS underpants which are very comfortable - much better than M&S Y-fronts." But his new partners at Finers can rest easy. "They are cleaned daily," he adds.
And on that note, we shall bid The Inquiry goodbye. Except to say that through the lunacy and sheer mediocrity there sometimes shines a genuine wit. Step forward Mary Harmey of Norton Rose with her most embarrassing moment:
"Being stopped outside work and asked whether I'd like to appear in an 'Always Ultra' advertisement - I don't carry a bunch of balloons when I rollerblade home any more."
But the last word should go to Godfrey Mather, who on being told the news of The Inquiry's demise, sighed: "Thank you for making an old git happy."
Only too glad to oblige.