Christmas already seems like a distant memory and already fanciful New Year’s resolutions have been kicked to the side of the road like an exhausted turkey carcass. The excitement and pizzazz of a new year has been replaced by lethargy, fatigue and queuing at customer services to return unwanted presents. But don’t be too down. This is not just any new year. This is an Olympic year! This is a jubilee year! This is the year that the BBC archives are raided again and long-forgotten TV shows are dragged into the 21st century whether we want them or not.
Mid-January is a bleak time of the year for most people and lawyers are certainly no exception. Plans to tidy my desk before (then during) the Christmas break were overtaken by client deadlines and end of year billing; the good intentions for more effective time recording (and less non-chargeable ‘administration’ time) are easily forgotten when excitable clients suddenly learn how to multitask and email, call and fax all at the same time; and that new trainee mug just won’t walk to the tea machine itself. But, for some of us, there is a reason to be cheerful. Family lawyers no doubt look ahead to January each year with relish, the festive season producing a cocktail of misery for so many potential clients. Families back home for Christmas, add a little sherry, throw in a few screaming kids, another repeat of Only Fools and Horses transporting us back to a time of jolly ignorance and, like the sprouts, sit back and let it simmer. By the time New Year’s Eve comes around tensions are running higher than your auntie’s knicker elastic after Christmas lunch, silence replaces arguments and there are no more chocolate-covered toffees to keep mouths occupied. And then the family lawyers can pounce!
I’m worried that this might seem like a criticism. Or selfish opportunism at best. It’s not. Family lawyers can provide an invaluable service to couples and families who turn to them not really knowing where else to go. In my experience, those working in this sector show a dedication to their client that is rarely seen in other fields. Frequently there is a personal bond with the client – however temporary – that will surely be more satisfying than receiving a luxury hamper or bottle of wine from a commercial client (neither of which were offered this year, probably due to my regular updates on the Bribery Act).
What the Dickens?
Given that I was in work between Christmas and New Year (insert sympathy here) and back home with ‘the family’ for the rest of the time, I didn’t catch much of what the TV had to offer. Without snow over the period, I imagine a lot of the usual ‘Have you had an accident in the past three years? If so, we can find someone to blame’ infomercials haven’t run on Channel 5 yet, but what I did see was some of the BBC’s Charles Dickens season. Very impressive it was too. I hadn’t realised that Dickens had a brief career as a legal clerk before moving on to reporting the law for more than four years. This experience instilled in him a curiosity for the machinations of the legal system and its apparent institutionalised unfairness at the time. Several novels he produced, including Nicholas Nickleby and Dombey and Son, dissect the intricacies of the law and made real a prejudicial system where all were not equal and money was a passport to a better life. Undoubtedly as well as providing a public service, some of the stories he reported from the High Court and the Old Bailey will have included a few anecdotes Dickens would have shared with the hacks in the gin houses around Chancery Lane.
Dickens’ family background was a poor one, with many of his family growing up in debtors’ prison. Through his novels he presses the reader to sympathise with those who are forced by circumstances to ‘go to law’. If only Dickens were still writing today, I am sure he could make a great case for down at heel celebrity chef Antony Worrall Thompson who has been ‘forced by circumstances’ to take Tesco’s invitation of ‘self-service checkout’ to the extreme and bagged his own wine and cheese, albeit without paying. Of course, we don’t really have a need for Dickens to fight Worrall Thompson’s corner now, he can simply go into the next Celebrity Big Brother house where his misdemeanors will pale against the crimes against humanity currently occurring in the residence.
So, will 2012 be a Bleak House, or a year of Great Expectations? I fear the worst, of course. Let’s hope there isn’t an Olympic washout and the threatened double-dip remains a threat. On the bright side, we have a bonus bank holiday to look forward to in June. Until then, God Save the Queen.
This article was first published by Solicitors Journal on 16 January 2012, and is reproduced by kind permission