I was not a great lawyer. I was an articled clerk at Minter Ellison in 1996, and then practised for a year in Commercial Litigation from March 1997. Then, like Butch and Sundance, I escaped to Bolivia.
During that brief legal career, I had my highs (‘Tony, you’re the best goddamn Santa Claus in the history of the partners’ picnic!’), and my lows (‘What’s a writ? Did he really just ask, “what’s a writ?”‘). But the lowest of the lows occurred in my very first week at the firm, and I’m reminded of it this week because we are again postal voting at council elections.
Welcome to my nightmare.
I was about six days into articles when a solicitor asked me to find out whether two properties registered in identical names were in fact owned by the same person. I asked how I should do this, and she told me to, ‘use my initiative’. This was her first big mistake.
I decided that I would call both residences and listen to the voices at the end of the phone. If the voices were the same, I figured that I could conclude that the same person owned both properties. Stage one went well. I got an answering machine, and after ringing it seven times, figured I had a good handle on what voice number one sounded like.
Stage two went less well. Whereas many people might have pretended to be a radio disc jockey or a wrong number, I decided the way to go would be to pretend to be from the Australian Electoral Commission, and conduct an impromptu survey on postal voting at the recent council elections.
‘Hi, I’m Tony Wilson,’ I said.
I’ve since learned from friends in the espionage game, that when involved in a covert operation, it is unusual for someone to give his or her real name.
‘Yeah’ he replied.
‘Sir, I was wondering if you would mind answering a few questions in relation to postal voting at the recent council elections?’
‘Ok, if it’s quick,’ he said.
‘Well sir, could you start by telling me what electorate you belong to?’
He paused for a moment or two.
‘Mate, if you were really from the Australian Electoral Commission, wouldn’t you know that?’
It was my turn to pause.
‘Yes, I suppose I would.’
He then hung up, and I realised that amidst my bungling, I’d not even managed to work out whether his voice was the same as the one on the answering machine. An hour or so later, the slow moving cogs of the Wilson brain cranked over, and I decided to actually call the Australian Electoral Commission to work out whether the name in question was duplicated on the electoral roll. I made the call, and was on hold at the Commission when my secretary walked into my office.
‘The Australian Electoral Commission is on line 2,’ she said.
‘No, I have the Australian Electoral Commission on line 1,’ I replied.
Once we determined that the Australian Electoral Commission was on both line 2 and line 1, I realised I was in some significant trouble. I hung up from my hold music to face some music of a different kind.
‘Hello, are you Tony Wilson.’
I explained that I was.
‘Mr Wilson we have received a complaint from a gentleman who says you have recently attempted to impersonate an officer of the Australian Electoral Commission . Is that true?’
There was no point in lying just as there’d been no point in impersonating a statutory authority in the first place.
Ten minutes later, on my sixth day of articles, I found myself choking back tears and telling the whole story to my supervising partner. I even suffered the embarrassment of having to write the whole thing down in a memo. Still a lesson was learned that day, and in the two years that followed, there was a tacit understanding between the partners that I was under no circumstances to be called upon to use my initiative again.
In more uplifting news, this week will be the 15th anniversary of my getting the word ‘Rocktober’ into a legal letter. Not sure why I did it. Maybe it’s just that I truly do believe that 3XY Rocks Mordialluc.