Lexcursions – The Adventures of Anthony Jucha: July Edition
July 3, 2010 Leave a comment
Lawyers in the old Sydney University law library some years ago. This book of conveyancing recedents, now nearly a decade in print, had become as weathered and worn as the library itself. A splitting spine spoke of perusals aplenty and many a pressing against photocopier glass. When I first encountered the book’s author, Garry Barnsley (in much better shape than his book), I was curious about this local pioneer in legal precedent publishing.
I wondered what would make such a (doubtlessly boring) man tick. And so, when planning a trip to his locale, I invited myself (and my de facto) over for lunch.
“TERRIFIC IDEA!” came the email reply.
“Join us for lunch on Sunday at our Mittagong home … The season invites a Sunday roast, and don’t forget that we are 2,000 feet above sea level, so be sure to wear a woolly singlet or similar.”
Garry and wife Nerida (each just my side of 60) welcomed Sally and me (each of us younger than I look) into their home. Sitting, sipping water, on a green velvet couch, we smiled politely, feeling like grandchildren again, until Garry popped the illusion with champagne sloshed into crystal glasses.
“Welcome!” cried Garry. “First, a toast, then we eat, and then I will show you some things in the study over Scotch. Here’s tae ye!”
In the clinking of crystal, my mind bubbled with resolve that, next time, whenever visiting peers, I would always, always, bring wine over cake.
We ate. We drank wine. We toured the artichoke garden. We met the pets: the ancestrally-named West Highland white terriers, Angus and Lachlan, one harassed-looking, henhouse-domiciled duck, and a cat with one ear.
“Poor Magnus used to like to listen for trains,” said Garry. “Until he lost an ear on the tracks.”
“Don’t believe him,” said Nerida. “That’s what’s known as a ‘Dad-joke’.”
After a drive in Garry’s 1940s Bentley, a tour of Bowral’s Don Bradman Museum (conceived, of course, by Garry himself), and a quick round of chilled limoncello, Nerida excused herself and Garry swept Sally and me into his study. The carpet and curtains all shouted: “Tartan!”.
“Is this a family tartan?” asked Sally.
“It’s Angus,” said Garry directing us to our chairs. “After the number-one dog.”
Garry distributed glasses of single-malt whisky, cleared away books on military history, and then, at last, sat at his desk and put a pile of precedents on his lap.
“Lawyers like checklists,” said Garry,“ and checklists are all very well, but the problem with a checklist is that the client doesn’t get to see it.”
“This,” said Garry, handing over a template, “is a letter for the client, but a checklist for you.”
I flicked through the pages.
“It’s quite long for a letter.”
“Clients aren’t idiots, though lawyers may often think it,” said Garry. “Harry Potter books are long, but well-read because they’re well-written.”
As Garry ruminated on this point, and offered more examples of his drafting, I learned he had drafted the first Law Society lease.
“Drafting that lease … That’s really something … It means you set the norms,”
I said, realising for the first time the power in precedent drafting.
Next, a letter for a civil liability matter.
“A precedent on negligence?”
“Why not?” said Garry. “There is nothing new in the world – except for the history the client does not know. The Bible is even worth citing sometimes: ‘Don’t promise to be responsible for someone else’s debts. If you should be unable to pay, they will take away even your bed’.”
“There is something very brave about all this,” I said. And I thought so even more when Garry recited for me an extract from one of his invoices: “allowing for care, skill, responsibility, liability, the value of the property and money involved, and the importance of achieving the best outcome for you and your family … $500.”
“Sounds like a bargain,” I said.
“Indeed. More whisky?”
I returned to Sydney with a skinful, and Sally, and my very own signed copy of Letters for Lawyers. Its spine was straight and intact. Inside was inscribed: ‘To Anthony, a fellow wordsmith and lawyer. I suspect we’re both frustrated journalists!”
By Anthony Jucha.