Wednesday 27th September: Cocktail Party
Continuing the reports by trainees on life at ‘MD’… James writes… (His offering was not actually published on the firm’s website, but he did keep his write up on his PC for his own record of life at MD.
The trainees were gathered together in the main conference room shortly after 5.30 by Matt Muttley’s PA, Eva Brown. We were to be briefed on etiquette and behaviour at firm cocktail parties. Eva Brown picked up a house telephone and spoke briefly. A moment later, two waiters came in with a large tray, on which were plates of canapes and two with glasses full of water.
With a cheerful smile, Eva asked us if any of us had experience of working in cafes or restaurants. No-one put up their hand. “Pity” she said sharply. It was a bit puzzling at first when one of the waiters stepped forward and told us “You holda the plate like this, you walk slowly so as not to spilla the drink and you hold the tray forward. It is not difficult. I think you must all practice this?”
And practice we did, for about twenty minutes. Eva explained that while the catering staff would handle the serving of guests, it was important to keep an eye on any clients who were looking around for a drink and, if no waiter was available to respond, to step in and keep the client happy. Her final words of briefing were “If the client wishes to get hammered, as many of them do, that is his or her prerogative and it is only good manners to ensure they are kept supplied. Drink by all means, but don’t overdo it. Engage with the clients when you speak to them. Ask them about themselves – most people like nothing better than talking about themselves, as you will discover when you finally meet the senior partners.” With a smile, she wished us ‘Good Luck’.
And so, I attended my first firm client party. As it happens, none of us had to hand around food or drinks. The staff were amazing. We didn’t get to meet the senior partners – they were in a roped off area of the main dining room, closeted in conversation with American bankers – “The Triple ‘A’s” – so called for their ‘ability, acumen and anonymity’. They were also extremely important clients of the firm.
It was very different from the parties I had attended on my LPC course. I suppose the partners and clients were real, as opposed to law lecturers pretending to be clients and law firm partners. But it was not just that. This was ‘for real’. These clients mattered to the firm. It was quite difficult at first, but as I felt the warm glow of champagne coursing through my veins I felt at home. This was a world I could cope with. I had read about ‘working the room’; I grabbed another glass from a passing waiter and then another and sauntered over to an elderly gentleman in a black jacket and pinstripe trousers, who was standing alone, surveying the room keenly. It was a bit embarrassing in retrospect.
“Good event you have organised here for our clients. Extremely efficient.”
“Good event I have organised?…what are you talking about?.” replied Jeeves, as I had named him in my mind.
“This cocktail party…excellent bubbly, fantastic grub… yes, very well organised. Well done.”
Jeeves’s face seem to redden suddenly.
“I’m a High Court Judge…. I don’t organise cocktail parties. I’m giving the keynote speech at the dinner.”
The LPC hadn’t prepared me for this. My pulse raced like it did at those dodgy parties in Notting Hill. I felt almost sick. There was nothing in the course manual about coping with embarrassing situations. I was, mercifully, ushered away by one of the junior partners who whispered in my ear. “Brilliant start to your career with us. I’d advise you to go and drink a lot water.”
As I scurried from the room, I heard the junior partner say, suavely “Sorry about that Judge. One of the newboys I’m afraid. Nerves. Happens to us all. Now… how many people have you been able to put away for The Home secretary this week?”
I heard the Judge roar with laughter.
James is still with the firm – but has to attend a ‘Social deportment’ course and is on the warned list for random drug and alcohol testing.