Last month, I received a certificate congratulating me on 50 years of loyal service to the profession. It was something I considered ironic since I spent much of those 50 years unsuccessfully devising ways to give up the law.
Of my admission ceremony I can remember only that, because my name began with the 13th letter of the alphabet, and by the time I had shaken the then president’s hand, the urns had run out of tea and the sandwiches had been eaten by A-L and their parents. (I gather the Law Society puts on a better spread nowadays.)
It seemed symbolic. Simpson had not been at all pleased that I had taken the afternoon off, considering it a waste of time, and he was right. What I do remember, however, is the morning at the School of Law at Lancaster Gate when we had all been herded into the basement to receive an address by the president. Some of us, he said, would go on to great things in the profession and some of us would fall by the wayside.
My recollection is that he said some of us would go to prison, exhorting us to avoid this sort of conduct. I can’t remember any of my crop going on to great things, although on the plus side several became successful property developers, and one did become a coroner.
In those days one could set up a practice the day one’s name was entered on the roll. One contemporary, whose father had been a managing clerk with a well-known firm of what were considered ambulance-chasers, did just that, taking his father with him and leaving the titular head without a practice. Another fell in love with a jump jockey and nearly killed herself in a point-to-point. Certainly several went to prison. One, who was a brilliant magistrates’ court advocate, went several times and later accidentally and fatally set fire to himself and a hotel in, I believe, Notting Hill.
The only other thing I can remember from the address was the story of when lectures were held in Chancery Lane during the war. One afternoon there was the sound of grinding outside when the railings were being cut down for munitions. The lecturer complained about the noise and one fellow replied, ‘Sir, they’re just filing affidavits’. ‘And that boy,’ said the president with some pride, ‘was the playwright John Van Druten.’ But who now remembers the author of I am a Camera?
James Morton is a writer and former criminal defence solicitor