Where PAs go to share their secrets

Times Online, July 07, 2006

Behind every great lawyer stands an even greater PA. Every lawyer knows this, and yet this apparently uncontroversial fact is a truth that dare not speak its name. The typical law firm’s website never trumpets the brilliance of its PAs, and nor, when lapping up the praise engendered by the successful conclusion of a complex court case, or a multi-million pound corporate restructuring, does the lead partner ever pay tribute to Sandra, Cheryl or Beryl, his long-serving embodiment of tact, discretion and logistical acumen.

It appears, though, that PAs have had enough of not merely of their invisibility, but also their implicit and much-cherished, oath of silence. They are stepping forth from the shadows via a disturbingly entitled new website, www.pasecrets.com. This is the place "Where PA’s [sic] come to share their secrets" — and what secrets there are. Anyone chancing upon the "Law" section of the website might conclude that some lawyers’ hours are not all, strictly speaking, billable.

Take, for example, this entry, from someone describing herself as Sasha: "My boss is one of the UK’s leading criminal law barristers. He likes to wear my dresses every Friday afternoon. He pretends to be in court or at client meetings — but is actually in his office masturbating."

This cannot possibly be true. Despite the notorious example of the French judge from Angouleme who, so enamoured of a female advocate’s representations that he was seen to reach inside his judicial robes and perform "unmistakeable movements," presumably by way of encouragement, lawyers in the UK are of a different breed. Ours is not a world of onanism, even on Friday afternoons. But perhaps, if an alleged PA with the moniker "ybe" is to be believed, this is because UK lawyers take things to another level.

Ybe poses the following question: "Which well-known criminal lawyer has a penchant for employing young girls with very dark hair so that he can s*** them after the Xmas party?"

One notes, again, that the finger of shame is cast squarely at criminal lawyers. Surely criminal law cannot be that much more of a hotbed for sexual shenanigans in the workplace than practices specialising in tax, insurance litigation and insolvency? Ybe points out that the lawyer in question is concerned that his wife may learn of his penchant, but suggests, most unsportingly, that he has himself been cuckolded by said spouse.

Elsewhere, one finds that a "heterosexual boss" at a "prestigious" law firm "strips at a gay bar… as a recreational activity," and that misconduct is not confined to sex. A PA calling herself "cha-cha" asks her comrades what she should do abut her boss, whom she recently witnessed steal £100,000 from the firm’s safe. One PA advises a wholly legitimate disregard of confidentiality undertakings by means of an anonymous report to the authorities, while another’s approach is more ethically-challenged: "I would go and help myself straight after him, then dob him in," it says.

I have long been a defender of the internet and its liberating effect on freedom of expression, but the lawyer in me finds this site terrifying. Its potential to subvert the edifice of legal life is clear, its capacity for the ruination of individual careers obvious. The libel laws can only ever be an after-the-event remedy for so catastrophically immediate a publication.

Yes, it is a good thing that PAs can vent their spleens, and, yes, they have been ignored for too long, but even sexually misbehaving criminal lawyers can be a force for good — and as for stripping at gay bars by way of recreation, when has that been a crime? Ambivalent as to whether PA Secrets should be viewed as a good thing or a very bad thing indeed, I decided to place my own posting in its Law section. Posing as "Hard Hat," I alleged that my own PA had taken to bemoaning my refusal to be anything other than a stuffy lawyer, moreover that she had suggested that I "have some fun with her." To spice this up a little — and to make it chime with the website’s existing tenor — I cast my PA as wearing revealing clothes and sighing each time she brought me a file. After all, it is hot, and concentrating on files at this time of year is never easy.

To my great joy, a concerned PA advised the following: "Keep well away! She knows what she's doing. You have some with her and she will certainly have some fun with you... taking you to the cleaners for sexual harrassment!"

The PA went on to suggest something decidedly more Angouleme than anodyne, but at least, in these dangerous times, there is someone out there who cares.