Legal Widow

The Lawyer rang me up from work at 10pm the other evening. “How do you get the children off to bed when they don’t want to go?” he asked.

Hoping that this demonstrated a late flowering of paternal interest in the smaller details of his children’s lives, I talked him through the ‘firm but gentle stage’ and ‘the milk and no you can’t have a biscuit’ stage, and then started on a rendition of their favourite story, which involves the unicorn who lived on the bus (for Deminimus), the mid-air tortoise rescue (for Liability) and the way they all cleaned up afterwards by making a film about it (for the ever-rapacious Subjudice). I then launched into their goodnight song, which is ripped off from Andy Pandy. I justify myself on the grounds that my children will never otherwise learn about a gentle, black and white world where puppets nod their way through such taxing dilemmas as whether or not Andy should come out to play.

I knew, halfway through, that the Lawyer had stopped listening, but this is such a normal feature of our conversations that I soldiered on. “No, that won’t work,” he said, interrupting me. “Always works for me,” I snapped back, annoyed at being cut off just when I’d got to the goodnights.

“No, I’m trying to get these buggers to go home, not to nod off at their desks,” he replied. And it was then I knew he was stuck in Deal Closure Time. Deal Closure Time isn’t real time at all. It’s more like a hole in the space-time continuum, which sucks everything into its dark heart. Evenings and weekends disappear; anniversary meals and visits from the in-laws are hoovered up and compacted into tiny kernels of bitterness. All sense of proportion is stretched out like a thread and then snapped by its immense traction, leaving lawyers trapped in the office for days, drifting aimlessly around a contract which no longer makes sense to either party.

“For goodness sake, just sign the bloody thing,” I said. I have no patience with this ‘I can stay up longer than you’ posturing, because I can pretty much guarantee that I can stay up longer than any of them and soothe a colicky baby to sleep by the time dawn comes around.

If firms were being honest they’d admit that their lawyers needed sleep at some point during the night’s negotiations and put small camp beds under their desks. (Giving the lawyers the added pleasure of playing at being boy scouts and boiling up pans of water on a blazing pile of third draft amendments.) Of course, if they were being really honest they would admit that no one achieves anything at 3am and get the security guard to throw them all out and lock the doors. But Deal Closure Time makes them feel rather important, which is why no one has yet tried to convert it to normal time.

The assistants, left behind to hold the fort, rang up the Lawyer at midnight the other night to check the percentage of risk attached to using the word “Moretonhampstead”. It took several passes to get the Lawyer to wake up; the first time he looked speculatively at my nightie, in the frankly ludicrous hope I’d woken him up in a fit of passion. The second time he thought I was joking, the third time he thought the office was joking, but the fourth time he leapt to attention, transformed into Deal Making Lawyer.

Half an hour later he returned, flexing his muscles. “God, I’m important,” he told me. “And did you close the deal?” I asked. “Goodness no,” he said. “What makes you think we’d do that?”