An American Lawyer in London

By Brad Meltzer

“Man, they’re full of themselves,” Jared said, rejoining his wife at one of the four tables outside of Daley’s Wine Bar in the Strand. “Every barrister in this whole country’s so damn full of themselves.” Coming back from the bar with two glasses of red wine, he had to fight his way through the tightly-packed crowd. It didn’t take two seconds for someone to knock his hand and spill the wine across his starched white shirt. “Son of a bitch barristers,” he muttered, dabbing the stains with his tie. “They all suck.”

“Don’t you think that’s a bit of an overgeneralization?” Sara asked with a grin. Married for six years, Jared and Sara had arrived in London a few days earlier for a two-week holiday—a second honeymoon they were calling it. Jared had insisted they try to get a glimpse of their British counterparts at work, and before they’d left New York a friend had arranged for them to meet a London barrister for a drink at Daley’s. “Where all legal types hang out,” he’d said.

“Where the hell is he?” Jared asked, looking at his watch. “He’s almost a half-hour late.” Sara didn’t bother to answer. Brushing a stray curl from her face, she could tell that her husband was obviously annoyed.

“See that’s the problem,” Jared said, “American lawyers may be flashy loudmouths, but at least we’re not fashionably late snobs. I mean, back home, anyone can be a lawyer. Here, if you don’t have money or connections, being a barrister is just a dream.”

“And you base this overbroad caricature on what? That one trial you observed in The Old Bailey?”

“They were wearing those white wigs,” Jared pointed out.

“Oh, please.”

“I’m serious,” Jared said. “Those wigs send the message home: Welcome to our secret society. Now get out.”

“The wigs are an equalizer,” Sara defended. “They keep this place from becoming LA Law. That way the jury can pay more attention to the facts and less attention to who has the best suit.”

“But to walk around wearing a wig of fake hair—”

“Look at the bright side—they used to made of yak hair.”

“Who told you that?” Jared asked.

“I don’t know—I must’ve just heard it somewhere,” Sara said as innocently as possible.

Jared eyed his wife. She was hiding something. “You went back to the wig store, didn’t you?”

“Maybe,” she teased. “And even if I did, it’s not that big a deal.”

“Not that big a deal? Yesterday, they threw you out!”

“They didn’t throw me out—they just got offended over my haggling about the price of a wig.”

“You weren’t haggling,” Jared corrected. “You told the shop owner that you were in a band called the Hairy Barristers, and then demanded that they sell you five wigs at a group discount.”

“It wasn’t a group discount; it was a volume discount,” Sara explained. “As if the secret society boys had never heard of capitalism. I mean, talk about not getting a joke.”

“It doesn’t matter why you got thrown out—if you’re not from the right school, with the right accent, with the right manners, with the right pin-striped suit, removable collar and wing-tip shoes, you can’t play their games.”

And don’t forget the right wig,” Sara added. “You need the right wig—a yak wig, with two yak ponytails. Those’re the best.” Seeing that her husband wasn’t amused, she said, “C’mon, Jared, why don’t you just admit it: you’re just mad because the barrister who was supposed to meet you here stood you up.”

“That’s not true.”

“Sure, it’s true. The barristers here are no different than the top lawyers in the States. All of them are busy, some of them are nice, some of them are snobs, and one or two of them are actually good looking. The bottom line is, people are people.”

“That’s the thing—they’re not.” Jared gestured at the crowded bar behind them. The figures were predominantly male— a sea of suits with the occasional female figure in a black jacket and skirt. “Look at them. Pin-striped suits, perfect haircuts, stiff upper lips. Now, why are all of them crammed in there when there’s plenty of room out here?”

Although it was a warm evening, only one other customer was sitting at an outside table. The other two tables were empty.

“Maybe they just don’t want to sit outside,” Sara suggested.

“No, it’s because they want to stick together,” Jared replied. “They don’t want to mingle with anyone who doesn’t wear their uniform.” To prove his point, Jared turned to the woman at the next table. “I’m sorry to interrupt,” he said to her, “but do you mind telling me what your parents do for a living?”

“Jared!” Sara hissed.

“Excuse me?” the woman said.

“It’s a little sociological experiment I’m working on. I’m trying to show how your upbringing affects your job choice.”

The woman looked carefully at Jared, then smiled. “Well, let’s see. My dad used to sell insurance and my mum, she’s a secretary at a bank.” She had a slight East End accent that even Jared and Sara knew was far from English public school.

“So you didn’t go to Oxford or Cambridge or any of that stuff, right?”

“Quite right. I went to Manchester Poly.”

Jared smiled to himself. Crossing his arms, he went in for the kill. “So you ever get to mix with any of these barristers?”

“Oh, sure,” she replied. “I am a barrister.”

“What?” Jared asked, as Sara laughed.

“Oh, yes,” the stranger said. “Been at it for five years now.”

“Then why aren’t you standing inside with the rest of them?”

“Because I’m supposed to meet some hotshot American lawyer and teach him about the profession.” With a thin smirk, she added, “I thought it might be you. The thing is, you didn’t look anything like those guys on LA Law.”

Jared looked straight at the woman, then back at his wife. Sara could barely contain her laughter.

“Can I ask you a quick question,” Sara said to the woman. “I’m starting a band called the Hairy Barristers. Do you know how to play drums?”

© Brad Meltzer