All are dead now so I can tell the following tale. Back in the 1960s, a friend of mine met another solicitor who worked with a country firm and wanted to come to London. There was no doubt the man, Brian, was a fine advocate with a substantial clientele. He was taken on ‘with a view to partnership’, as they say. 

Morton landscape

James Morton

Things were much more word of mouth then and no references were taken. Hardworking, didn’t drink, great charm, things went well. Then, one day, my friend had a call from Mickey, one of his own longstanding heavy criminal clients. He must see him at once in a local cafe. The conversation went something like this.

‘You’re in right schtuk, your boy’s done it this time.’

‘Go on.’

‘Last night, 3am. I get a call. Can me and Peter give him a hand?’

My friend didn’t need to ask who ‘your boy’ was.  

‘The stupid sod gets smashed again, has a bang, and doesn’t stop. He may have hit a kid, I don’t know. His own car of course. At least he has the sense to leave it a mile or so from his place. Will Peter and me get rid of the car. He don’t want it again. Then, if things go arse up, he can report it, say it’s been stolen. There’s the car and half a long ‘un for us. You must be paying him too much.’

Presuming the client was telling the truth, and my friend had no reason to doubt him, what should he do? Brian was now in hock to Mickey and Peter and that meant that, if Brian stayed, my friend was in hock to them too. Then there was his responsibility generally. My friend didn’t like the ‘smashed again’. It meant Brian had dried out before he came to him. Should he report this so far vague story to the police? Or the Law Society?

He decided first to have it out with the newcomer, but when they met Brian gave in his notice saying he’d had an offer from a bigger firm. They didn’t ask for a reference, either. Brian later went to prison for theft and died in a fire while drunk. My friend never let off wondering what he should have done.


James Morton is a writer and former criminal defence solicitor