I'm sometimes asked for a sample of the sort of speeches I write. This is the first part of a talk about my life as a young trainee lawyer - prepared for the after-dinner speaking circuit. I've also included some annotations in the margin to highlight the thought process behind different sections of the speech.
If the audience like it you will have them onside immediately.
Good evening ladies and gentlemen, thank you for your kind welcome. I’m going to start by telling you a bit about my early days as a young lawyer. I hope everyone at the back can hear me? I’m always a bit nervous about asking that question as I once heard a wag from the back call out “Yes but I’m willing to move.”
I spent a large part of my early training with a small firm of Solicitors in London. The offices around us (called chambers) were occupied mainly by barristers. Some of them were fairly eccentric characters. I remember one very senior Judge used to arrive in the morning on an old bike with his trousers held up by brief tape (red string).
On my first morning my boss greeted me with a jovial “Hello Tony.” “My name is Guy, sir” I replied timidly. That didn’t seem to register and to him I was Tony for weeks. He was a nice man but rather absent-minded and disorganised. He was old school and I think he had ‘private means’ which meant he didn’t really need to earn a living – which was just as well! He generally arrived at about 10.30, went to the pub for lunch from 12.30 until 2 and caught the train (first class) home at 3.30. He once said to me “You know Tony, there’s nothing more dangerous than knowing a little about the law.” I resisted the temptation to reply “You should know sir.”
The firm did the usual mix of work handled by small firms – conveyancing, leases, divorce, crime, wills and probate (administering estates). It sounded interesting and I was looking forward to getting involved. After being shown to my room I sat down and waited for instructions. After a time the boss came in and said “Tony, would you mind taking a couple of copies of my wife’s poodle’s pedigree.” This wasn’t a very promising start to my legal career but I did as I was told.
All speeches need the right mix of humour and facts about the subject. The balance will depend on the particular occasion.
Things then improved significantly when I was given a pile of current files to look through, to give me an insight into what actually went on and the relationship between the solicitor and the client. I particularly remember a divorce file where we were acting for the wife who was seeking to divorce her husband. On the file I found a lengthy statement taken by my boss from the client. This contained a full history of the marriage and included this wonderful line: “I never knew the male organ was capable of erection until I had seen my solicitor’s.” A classic example of how careful you have to be with the use of an apostrophe. I will give my boss the benefit of the doubt and suggest that the secretary who typed the statement didn’t mean to include the apostrophe!
It is always permissible to embroider a good story to make it even better – though the above has not been embroidered!
Sometimes I would be sent to the Crown Court to observe trials by jury. We acted for a lot of regular/repeat offenders. They would spend a lot of their time in prison but that didn’t seem to lessen the attraction of a life of crime – the hours are good and you get to travel a lot. Some trials are very interesting but the reality is that the majority are fairly dull.
But I wasn’t learning much so after a time I transferred to a very different firm in Leeds. My new boss was much younger and very dynamic – and actually called me Guy. He started early and at 5.30 his secretary filled the boot of his car with files and he would carry on working at home into the early hours. He allowed himself half a day off on alternate Saturdays to watch Leeds United at Elland Road. In those days they had a seriously good team but I’m not sure he would have the same enthusiasm today!