How is it that solicitors have lost out in literature and cinema? Dickens has a lot to answer for. Not for us the brave stuff of Sydney Carton going to do ‘a far, far better thing’. No, we are the ones who concealed the will showing the name of the rightful heir, who consequently loses the love of his life and has to go to India to find fame and fortune, and die in the charge of the light brigade (or similar).
It is not only Dickens who has treated us badly. When Thackeray’s Becky Sharp is suspected of murdering her husband, the name of the firm which represents her is that of three real-life murderers, Burke, Thurtell and Hayes. On screen we are rarely portrayed by Dirk Bogarde or even Ian Carmichael; we are, at best, Nicol Williamson, more often the likes of Will Hay and Miles Malleson, and at worst Peter Lorre and Sydney Greenstreet.
I know some TV series have featured flamboyant crusading solicitors, but mainly they have long gone to that old home for lost reels.
The trouble is solicitors didn’t get the Old Bailey trials when the prize for failure was the drop. Even now ‘I’ve engaged the best solicitor with rights of higher audience there is’ does not have the same ring as ‘Sir Henry KC has agreed to take the case’. I didn’t hear if the woman in the Archers case was defended by someone with higher rights, which anyway sounds like a rather worthy religious campaign. Not for us the thrill of skewering the prosecution witness with whiplash cross-examination. No, the best we are allowed is to find the missing evidence on page nine of the preamble to the mutual Deed of Settlement in 1853.
All this must change. I accept we have to start small and so I am writing a serial in the style of the old one-reelers. It can be shown as a bonne bouche at training seminars. Bespectacled solicitor Thomas Philpot accompanied by his devoted secretary Edith Blenkiron, is on his way to appear at Palmers Green Magistrates’ Court when he feels an irresistible urge to find a telephone booth…
James Morton is a writer and former criminal defence solicitor