Why do you hate us so?

Independent on Sunday: Talk of the Town, 4 January 2004

Being a lawyer is a privilege. I have often been told this by other lawyers, so it must be true. To occupy the professional strata in this, the best of all possible worlds, is to achieve the holy grail of all right-thinking people, save perhaps those of a medical mien, and to earn the envy of all those with an aspirational bent. But why, if this is true, do so many people seem to hate lawyers?

I have pondered this question frequently in my legal life. The first and most formative time was when I was a trainee solicitor and Ken Bates, then chairman of Chelsea football club, accidentally allowed a heavy wooden door to slam in my face. We were attending a meeting with an eminent barrister deep in the bowels of the Temple and, foot-soldier as I was, the task of appearing laden down with vital documents had been delegated to me. In trooped my boss, followed by Ken, then me. I had a pilot case weighing three tons in each hand. Desperately, I tried to wedge one of them into the steel-sprung door, to stop it bludgeoning me as a Q.C does an errant witness. To no avail. The door hammered against the side of my face. Ken walked on into the room, oblivious, as I jumped back, to be left outside, like a second-rate supplicant from Kafka.

What worried me was that Ken had deliberately let the door slam in my face. I had no prior knowledge of the man but as the conference progressed a sense of paranoia crept into my usually assiduous note-taking and I started to believe that he had been fully aware that the door would slam into my face, indeed that he had let it do so to teach that snivelling little trainee a lesson. This, of course, could not be true, but later as I attended a football match at Loftus Road, home of the waking giant that is Queens Park Rangers FC, for some reason a section of the crowd near me got wind of the fact that I was a lawyer, and started to threaten all kinds of miserable fates, including permanent banishment to Stamford Bridge. Naturally, this was mere banter, its genesis the good-humoured hatred borne by all decent QPR fans for Chelsea, its catalyst my unconscionable betrayal in acting for Ken Bates, even if I had no choice in the matter as a mere grunt.

But then, as I got the tube home, evading some gentle abuse from a pair of ruffians who cavilled at my smart City suit, I had an epiphany that would have been Joycean, if only he had been a lawyer. It was the hypocrisy that so alienated the populace. How could I be a man of integrity if I could swear undying devotion to QPR and yet happily have doors slammed in my face (accidentally) by Ken Bates, a Chelsea man, for God’s sake? A man of integrity would not allow himself to be so compromised. I slept uneasily, and began to plot my escape.

In these modernist times, though, plot resolution is hard to find. My dreams of a better life, which usually involved giving it all up to become half-tree surgeon, half-bank robber, languished in the pubs and bars of London and anywhere else I happened to be. I worked for the great and the good, Neil and Christine Hamilton, friends and acquaintances, Richard Desmond, a City firm in the Cotswolds and a multinational monolith perched at the top of Centre Point Tower. Once, I even worked for BT. To no avail. Still I dreamt of escape and integrity, and sometimes even thought that this was not, after all, the best of all possible worlds.

And it struck me that when that door slammed in my face, all those years ago, Ken Bates had no idea just what an effect he’d have on me. How could he have done? It was an accident. But to the slick PR who offered me some corporate hospitality at Chelsea the other day, I have this to say: no thanks, mate, I prefer my football down in the second division. But if you can get me a few tickets for Rangers, I’m your man.