When, at the age of thirty, I married an Englishman and moved to England, I decided to go to law school. This was 1981, the beginning of the Thatcher Era. At the time, it seemed like a good idea.
I have always been prone to leap before I look. But, I thought, what could be so hard? Law was law. School was school.
The plan was simple. I would go the Lancaster Gate College of Law in London and complete the two years Solicitor training course. I would then do the required two years of office work as an Articled Clerk. Then, presto, become a qualified Solicitor. The fact that I had no contacts there, knew nothing about English law or, for that matter of fact, England, didn’t enter my head.
And so, in September, 1981 I began my studies. Lancaster Gate College of Law was tucked away on a side street in West London, a stone’s throw from Hyde Park and Madam Tussauds. It was housed in one of the white washed three storied Victorian terraced houses that are typical of the area. A rabbit warren of poorly partitioned classrooms and even poorer plumbing. In winter, the wall radiators did little to dispel the cold. In summer, the heat coming through the open windows competed with the traffic noise. The lectures were either diffident men who lived with their mothers or older women cast in the Thatcher wipe the floor role. Those who can do. Those who can’t teach.
One of the first people I met was an American called Susan. She was probably around forty-five and hailed from old money somewhere in New England. She had mousy brown hair and wore sensible shoes. She also tended to mumble her conversations. We became allies not because of temperament or inclination, but because in England, Americans tend to roam in packs. We understand one another.
Americans achieve, thrust, thrive, excel. And so thus did I begin law school. Lots of comments, questions in class. Oh no, says Susan. Mustn’t stand out. Mustn’t appear to try too hard or call attention to yourself. (Hence the Susan mumble.) You see, the English muddle. But I persisted. Much to the amusement of my classmates and the annoyance of most of the lecturers.
The course consisted of seven “heads” or subjects: Tort, criminal law, company law, wills and probate, constitutional law, ethics, and property law. I was stumped by the Gothic complexity of the largely Victorian property law and mystified by the nebulous mysteries of constitutional law. And there was just so much of it. Seven hours a day, five days a week. And, even worse, each of the two years culminated in a week long marathon of year end make or break exams. I doubted quite seriously that I could retain a year’s worth of knowledge seven times over and feared wills would get mixed up with tort and come tumbling out in Jabberwocky-like fashion.
Early on, I turned my attention to obtaining Articles. Wrong again, chimed Susan. Virtually every one of my classmates had, long before they even started at the College of Law, obtained “places” with law firms for the mandatory two year training period. Most firms had long since filled all the available slots.
Beginning in September, I wrote nearly two hundred letters and, for my trouble, received three interviews. One from a large City firm. One from a small firm in the City. And a third from a West End entertainment practice. The partner who interviewed me at the large, august City establishment declared up front that I was not a serious candidate, but that he liked talking to Americans. The West End interview was not much better. The senior partner who conducted my interview was an unpleasant little man, who wore a bow tie and declared incessantly that he was very important. Even if they had offered me a place (which they didn’t ) I could not imagine working there. I was more than a little worried.
But, Eureka, the third produced a result. The small City firm had an American female partner – who mumbled. And we immediately formed a kind of alliance. They made me an offer and I accepted. I was on my way.
By some miracle, I got through the two years at the College of Law, passed all my exams and in September of 1983, decked out in a Brooks Brothers pin stripe suit (grey, or course) began my legal career.