GORDON SANITAIRE by Gordon Urquhart (XXVII)

A Life With The Law

People often ask me why I gave up the law, and when they do I tell them, “You have it entirely upside down, my good man, the law gave me up”. Then I stop doing a silly voice and say something like: “The money wasn’t good enough.” The real story, as you can perhaps guess, is somewhat more complicated.

All I ever wanted to do when I was a boy was study the law. I was fascinated by the concept of justice and what it means to certain people, and how irrelevant it can be to the operation of our legal system. Most of all I was fascinated by the contest of ideas and the battle of arguments: how the better-argued case should prevail, the side with the most learning, preparation, and research, but also how a persuasive argument on a flawed or very flimsy evidentiary foundation can win, if the advocate is compelling enough, and if he comes up against a particularly weak opponent. Now I come to think of it, this strength was an important element – it was like muscle flexing for intelligent people, aggression for the physically less than imposing, and you could bully and embarrass and show off, and show how damned good you were without anyone getting a black eye, and all for hundreds of dollars an hour. (Regular readers will know that I loved rugby and shooting and other macho pastimes too.)

I loved examining legislation, and diligently read my legal text books when I should have been studying geography or maths or some such fairy tale for school, and developed a kind of boyish crush on Sir Edward Coke when I first encountered his Institutes of the Lawes of England.

Studying the law was a great time in my life – uni days were roistering and studious, in equal measure, as I carried off several academic and romantic prizes, and drank fearsome quantities of beer, often at the same time.

When it came time to practice, well, the horsehair wig suited me very well indeed. You could say I was dashing. In fact people did: several of them, mostly ladies of marriageable age, from prominent families in the Sydney area. A framed Black & White portrait taken when young Urqy was called to the bar hangs in my dressing room at home. There were so many things I wanted to do then. I wanted to change the world, but I ended up working with clients who were hard up. Older barristers advised me that this would be good experience and would make me a more rounded lawyer, but it turned me off. There was no finding loopholes in poorly drafted legislation and no precedents flowing from a string of my brilliant yet unlikely wins in tricky commercial and constitutional cases. No, I was defending people who had been unfairly evicted by their landlords. I got almost all of them off – earning the nickname Saint Gordon for a little while – but there was no pleasure in it. It was all so humdrum and petty, and the clients paid so little, when they paid at all. It was disillusioning. So I left.

It was a lack of excitement in the end. And the pay wasn’t so good. I looked for other opportunities, and went into business. That’s what I wanted to do – and it was all I could do after being struck off for involvement in that coup in Micronesia in 1981, but that’s another story.

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Published in: on August 13, 2012 at 8:25 pm  Leave a Comment  

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