As you may know, the American Bar Association’s annual convention last month was divided into two sessions — one held in New York City and the other held in London. Despite the potential newsworthiness of the ABA activities in Merry Old England, I was unfortunately unable to justify having Minnesota Lawyer subscribers subsidize my jaunting “across the pond” to have high tea and crumpets with the queen mum.
By coincidence my brother Jeffrey and his wife Wendy happened to be in London as the thousands of American lawyers came to town (descended like locusts, they said). Now, keep in mind that neither my brother nor his wife is a lawyer. Jeffrey is an English professor at George Washington University and Wendy is a corporate officer in the healthcare management field (not a group of folks that love lawyers). In fact, whenever I get a holiday card from my sister-in-law she invariably addresses it to “shyster,” “huckster” or some other pejorative name for members of the bar — despite the fact that I presently make my living as one of the ink-stained wretches of the journalism trade.
Needless to say my brother and his wife were distraught at having so many American lawyers follow them to England on their holiday — particularly because American lawyers were one of the things that they were looking forward to escaping.
In any event, their experience got me wondering how Londoners viewed these American lawyers and vice versa. Lo and behold, I opened up a letter last week and discovered that my brother and sister-in-law had carefully clipped out and sent me a newspaper story from a London paper — the Evening Standard — about the ABA convention. (The article was entitled: “How America’s legal eagles see London.”)
My curiosity was immediately piqued. I found myself wondering how a Minnesota attorney might react when instead of a hot dish he is served a warm beer. And the English too must have suffered a culture shock when meeting all those American lawyers at once. (If I had gone, I would have been willing to change my name to Mark “Winston Churchill” Cohen — if Secretary of State Mary Kiffmeyer would let me, that is.)
The article from the London newspaper described the experiences of an English journalist — one Molly Watson — who spent a week “eating, sleeping and seeing London through American eyes with a gigantic army of 9,000 lawyers and their families.”
Asking the American tourists for their impressions of London, Watson reports their replies as follows:
• “Everyone here is so thin. I never see really big people like back home.” (Hmmm. What about Sebastian Cabot — the late, rather portly, English actor who played the butler on the ‘60s television show “Family Affair”?)
• “The Dome doesn’t match up to Disney World … but the acrobats are neat.”
• “We’d been warned about the plumbing … no hot water and a titchy bathroom.” (Wait a minute, I find it hard to believe that any self-respecting American would describe a bathroom as “titchy.”)
• “I thought I was going to die before I saw Big Ben. You drive so fast here — It’s scary.” (And on the wrong side of the street too …)
• “I’ve been watching ‘My Fair Lady’ to work out the accents at these posh events.”
• “Whenever I walk into the street I look at the buildings and think ‘wow.’”
• “We didn’t have to watch what we said [on the subway] because I knew that no one was going to pull a knife on us.”
• Finally from a single “Ally McBeal-like” young woman attorney from New York City: “In Manhattan no one stares whatever you wear. You could wear a see-through halter neck top and no one would look, but here I feel I can’t dress up.”
I could, of course, go on. The English reporter talks to an American lawyer who is surprised that Englishmen aren’t as awkward as John Cleese’s character in “Fawlty Towers.” Another American says the bishop of London looks like Sean Connery in a purple dress. An American teenager sums up the ruins of the ancient monument at Stonehenge as “neat.” Another American dismisses the contents of the Victoria and Albert Museum as a “bunch of furniture.”
Apparently, the major complaint of the American tourists was the expense. Everything in London is pricier — from the food and lodging to the “petrol” — which costs about 25 percent more than it does in America. (And you thought fuel prices were bad here!) The English reporter finds these complaints ironic — given that the lawyers are “arguably one of the highest income groups on the planet” and are on “a tax-refundable foreign jaunt.”
However, despite the tongue-and-cheek reporting of the Americans’ reaction to London, one gets the impression that the English journalist actually likes the Yankee lawyers who are the subject of her article.
“In general, I’ve been charmed by the American Bar Association members, who have come to London in droves for a millennial convention,” the reporter writes. “They are polite and have an insatiable appetite for culture.”
But presumably not an insatiable appetite for that English food.
Mark A. Cohen is the editor-in-chief of Minnesota Lawyer.