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Wednesday, 14 November 2012

A Little Flutter.

A few weeks ago I travelled to the beautiful Swiss city of Lucerne to give a talk on legal marketing to the members of a legal network. Wait! Where are you going? Seriously, this is more interesting than it sounds…

I should probably explain that when I’m not busy being a Thirty@30 superhero, I’m a (not so) mild-mannered managing editor at a well-known legal publishing company. This is a role I stumbled into some years ago after replying to a Guardian advert for “good writers”. Hey! says I. I’m one of those. Little did I know that this foolish conceit was going to plunge me headlong into the murky world of legal publishing. I started out as a writer/researcher and ended up as managing editor, which is one answer to the excellent question: “What do you do with a BA in English?”

Anyway, enough with the back-story. The fact is that I am now occasionally invited to visit law firms or gatherings of legal networks, to demystify the dark art of legal directories.

I didn't know what to expect from this particular gathering, but was pretty smug to find myself in Lucerne. A quick look at the view from my hotel balcony will probably tell you why.

Hello, Lake Lucerne!

Misty boats on the lake.

It may not surprise you to know that not all of my many encounters with lawyers and law firms have been a pleasure.<gasp> I have been shouted at, patronised and hung-up on. I have been verbally pinned to a table and upbraided for over an hour. I have been left purple with rage at the sight of yet another rude email from THAT ABOMINABLE WOMAN. (Colleagues, former and present, will probably know to whom I am referring.) In fact, the headline of an article in the Spanish legal press was (roughly translated) 'Law firms need to show more humility', an interview with Joanna Thomas. Oops! 

But I have also made a LOT of friends in this industry, and a few hours into my trip to Lucerne, I suspected that I was about to make a few more. I always know I’m on to a good thing when, within about two minutes of meeting, me and my neighbour at the dinner table are comfortably but mercilessly taking the mick out of each other.

So, I somehow found myself being adopted by a small pack of charismatic US lawyers wearing red trousers. Yes, there WAS a reason they were all wearing red trousers, but I've decided to up the blog’s mystery quotient by not telling you what it was. I’m not entirely sure why they adopted me. I like to think it’s because I’m just so quirky and fun, but have a strong suspicion that it was because they were entertained by my accent.  Anyway, here’s me with the Red Trouser Brigade, about to drink my first Manhattan cocktail.

The Red Trouser Brigade. From left to right: John Kanan, me, Glenn Cunningham and John Koenigsknecht.

I would like to point out here that the gentlemen personally supervised the mixing of the Manhattans, to be sure that my first one was up to scratch. These guys take their cocktails as seriously as they take their trousers. One of them even keeps jars of top quality Maraschino cherries in his underground bar... Who can say if it was the Manhattan, or the 30@Thirty spirit that led me to be swept along when the Red Trouser Brigade announced that we were going to the casino. Given the fact that I don’t generally drink alcohol, I suspect it was the heady mix of bourbon and vermouth. 

Previous to this, my one and only casino experience was in Las Vegas. Well, if you are going to do it, you may as well do it properly… I went to Las Vegas aged 20, the only member of my group under 21, which is the legal gambling and drinking age in Nevada. Being my usual goody-two-shoes self, I refused to get a fake ID. I had images of a cramped prison cell, a vicious interrogation, and eventual transfer to Death Row. This fear - and lack of false documentation - consigned me to the role of total wet blanket on that particular trip. I hadn't been to a casino since.

On with the story. Bear in mind, just for a second, that the Red Trouser Brigade are a crime-fighting team of wealthy individuals who like to live in style. They have visited, without a doubt, the finest casinos in the world, and lost between them several times my annual salary.  Their enthusiasm for a game of craps was spilling over, and they whipped me up into a pre-gambling frenzy. Off we went, ready to be swept up by the shining lights and dizzied by the spin and click of the roulette wheel. We could already feel the dice burning in our hands. We were ready to check, ready to fold, ready to go all-in. All of us were spoiling for some serious casino action.

Luck be a lady tonight!
Photo credit: Published by The Jenson Society, NY, 1910 / 
Foter / Public domain

Unfortunately, casinos don’t take kindly to you taking pictures inside, so I’m going to have to do my best to paint this picture with words. Let me start by saying that in our enthusiasm we had forgotten that we were not in Las Vegas. We were, instead, in a small Swiss lake-side city. On a Wednesday evening. The charge to enter the Casino was ten Swiss Francs. “What?” said the guys. “What casino charges you to get inside?” We soon worked out the answer, and I here share our hard-earned wisdom with you: If a casino charges you to get in, it’s because they know you’re probably not going to lose a great deal of money inside.

Photo credit: MichaelEClarke / Foter / CC BY-NC-SA
Even I, in my enormous naivety, could tell that this place was a dump. It felt like the games lounge at an airport, with fruit machines from wall to wall, most of them empty. Every so often a chair was taken up by a suspicious-looking local with long greasy hair and eyes shining with reflected, multi-coloured despair. I put my hand into a glass bowl of what I assumed were business cards, only to discover that they were, in fact, Grand Casino Lucerne branded condoms. Classy. There were about ten actual games tables, only three or four of which were manned. We asked a croupier after the craps table, but were told that Europeans aren't really into craps, and that the table had been decommissioned a few years ago. The Red Trouser Brigade were dismayed, though Glenn sat gamely down to Texas Hold’em, cigar clenched between his teeth, ready to lose his chips.

I had one chip, the five Franc disc we were all given when we paid to come in, and I was thinking seriously about keeping it as a souvenir. But as we decided to leave, the Thirty@30 spirit grasped me firmly by the neck and told me not to be so silly. I was passing up an opportunity for a new experience. So John, John and I stopped at a roulette table, and down went all the five Franc chips. Whizz went the wheel. Clickety clack went the ball. Swish went the croupier’s stick as it collected in our chips. Except, it didn't collect mine. It left mine right where it was, and put whole bunch more on top of it. I couldn't tell you if the ball landed on red or black, or what number it was. I only know that wherever I’d laid my chip, I was a winner! I’d won an earth shattering 40 Francs, and I can tell you that I was jolly pleased with myself. I collected my winnings, let my five Franc chip ride, and promptly lost it.

Photo credit: Conor Ogle / Foter / CC BY
Now, I suppose that a true adventuress would then have snapped her fingers for a martini and proceeded to lose all her winnings in style. But that’s not really me, not deep down. I love games, but I’m too profoundly, ploddingly sensible to gamble with any meaningful amount of money. This may be one of the several reasons that I will never be a millionaire. I’d had my flutter, and my little thrill of pleasure, so I left in profit. The house always wins, but the house didn't beat me. Smug mode: On.

Oh so pleased with my winnings. I took a complimentary Grand Casino Lucerne fan, but left the condoms for the locals. Not that any of the locals were getting lucky..
The Red Trouser Brigade were all suitably congratulatory, whilst simultaneously being completely baffled and highly amused by my delight over 40 Francs. I imagined them chatting over the next few days of the conference: "What was the deal with that crazy British girl who won 40 Francs? She sure was strange."

What they didn't factor in was how much Swiss chocolate I could buy for 40 Francs. Did you know that chocolate is always calorie-free if you pay for it with ill-gotten-gains? Or so I've heard, anyway.

And so what if gambling isn't really my thing? What I will remember about my little flutter is that it would never have happened if I hadn't been living my life with a 'say yes more' attitude these days. And if it had never happened, I wouldn't have made three new friends in red trousers.

Twelve down, eighteen to go…