What do you get a lawyer for Christmas?

Times Online, December 13, 2006

What to get a lawyer for Christmas? This is a fraught question, for lawyers are people who already have everything; how is it possible to enrich their lives any further?

Some would advocate that it is best not to give a lawyer anything at all, save maybe a good kicking, but I am not one of them. I believe that lawyers have an inalienable right to receive presents, so long as they are the right ones and not laced with poison. Here, then, is some guidance, starting with what not to get a lawyer.

1. Any book of legal memoirs. These are invariably given by well-meaning relatives, particularly on the occasion of one’s first Christmas as a lawyer. You unwrap what is always a weighty tome, fearing the worst, and sure enough, up pops On The Edge: Memoirs of an Insolvency Lawyer, or A Life Not Ordinary, Really – The Diaries of a Specialist in Transactional Legal Theory. These are books that we can do without. Indeed, they are books that should never have been written.

2. A sensible tie. Leave us to enjoy our private rebellion by means of designer jobs depicting pigs flying or semi-naked females doing the can-can.

3. A compilation of songs by The Clash featuring I Fought the Law. We all know the answer, and sometimes it gets us down.

4. Any present tailored to one’s area of practise. However much we love our jobs, we don’t want to receive gifts that remind us of them. To illustrate how true this is, let me tell you that I was once the lawyer for such celebrated magazines as Asian Babes, Big Ones and Readers’ Wives. My friends, even those of the fairer sex, all thought that I had landed the best job in legal London. How much more fun must my life have been, they thought, blinded as I was by images of beautiful women, when they had nothing but dull old contracts to draft! And so one of them, eager to pile on the fun, bought me Madonna’s book on sex. I think it was even called Sex. It was certainly a big one but I can’t recall because I took it straight to the second-hand bookshop. As a lawyer, there is only so much sex you can have (unless you are American, and on a plane).

5. Evan Whitton’s iconoclastic book Serial Liars. This is the sort of present that one’s partner, worried that one’s days of idealism have been annulled by the reality of contemporary legal practise, bestows in the vain hope that all is not lost. But it is, mostly, all lost. And loss is always painful.

What, then, to seek out and give your favourite lawyer? Here are presents that are always bang on the money.

1. A sensible tie. We all know that rebellion is futile. There is nothing to be achieved by a flashy pink and yellow thing showing couples cavorting that cannot be perfectly well achieved by one that is a nice, vibrant yet subtle brown.

2. A waterproof clock. In my formative years, a colleague once told me that he charged double-time if he thought about a client’s case at home in the bath. I have agonised for a long time over how he could know exactly how many minutes to bill at such eminently justifiable rates. And lo! The solution is obvious. A special double-time lawyers-only waterproof clock.

3. Evan Whitton’s Serial Liars. It is never too late. Don’t give up on us yet. We have a conscience, somewhere.

4. A secretary who always smiles, insists on being gorgeous and loves nothing better than attending to our every need. Preferably blonde, buxom, insatiable. Sorry, that was not very PC; I meant to say: a stylish pen. We love ‘em.

5. A thick skin. The constant barrage of anti-lawyer jokes portraying us as manipulative, meretricious and Machiavellian is tough, even though it is founded in fact. That said, my favourite present was a T-shirt once given by my father, himself a lawyer. On its front were the words "You have just seen a solicitor," and on the back, "No charge." I would wear it to the beach, to football matches, to my local newsagent, and the response was always the same. Total hostility. I have no idea why. Can someone tell me?