A Russian oligarch drives a wedge between Fi and Marcus
“What do you think about this potential new client?” Fiona chewed the end of her pen in a manner Marcus found to be thoroughly disgusting.
“Yermanov? What of him?”
“I’m uncomfortable,” said Fiona.
“Because he’s an oligarch?”
“Because he’s a crook.”
“Fi, most really successful people have got where they have got by stepping over a few people along the way. They make enemies.”
“I just don’t think we should be acting for people we know to be dishonest.”
Marcus sighed. His father had told him there would be days like this. “Fi, darling, we’re in business. What’s more, we are in a new business. We need to generate fees. That means taking work where we can get it, and this guy is seriously loaded. Not only is he loaded, but he’s determined to fight this one all the way. It’s a gold mine.”
“I thought we were trying to be a new kind of firm.”
“We are a new kind of firm. Look at the office, open doors, part-time working or working from home, no targets.”
“That’s all lovely, but it’s all internal stuff. What about the external stuff, what about the face we show to the world?”
“That will also be the face we show to the world,” sighed Marcus. “We’re masters – and mistresses – of our own destiny. We all have a share in the practice, and an interest in how it succeeds.”
“That’s precisely what I mean. We have an interest in how it succeeds. I’m not interested in making money out of crooks or by laundering their money.”
“Money laundering isn’t our department.”
“No, but we shield them.”
“Fi, this isn’t some Law School jurisprudence tutorial. This is real life, real business. The City is the financial heart of Europe and these people – Yermanov and his mates – are the ones with the real money now. All the banks are broke, pretty much. They’re the future, them and the Chinese, and the sooner we get with the programme, the better.”
“I think we should at least try to take a stand, try to be different. I’d rather work for a firm where the decision whether or not to act for someone is based on ethics rather than money.”
‘Yermanov may not have the most conventional business background, but he’s never been successfully prosecuted. Now he’s under assault and we’re all that stands between him and a multi-million pound pasting.”
Fi paused. “Do you like him?”
“Do I like him?” echoed Marcus. “What the hell has that got to do with it?”
“Answer the question.”
Now it was Marcus’ turn to pause. “No, if you must know, I don’t. That football club he owns –”
“Yeah. Fans throw bananas on the pitch if a black player is in the opposing team. I saw a press conference where this Russian journalist asked him about it, Yermanov just laughed it off.”
“See what I mean?”
“Look, you don’t have to like all your clients.”
“I want to like all my clients. Or rather, I want to only have to act for people I like. How about that?”
“It may be naïve,” said Fi, rolling the chewed Bic across the desk absently, “but as long as people like us keep taking money from people like him, things will never change. If they couldn’t get representation anywhere, they’d soon change their behaviour. Instead, the law firms, accountants and banks in our Fair City turn a blind eye to the crooks and bastards, the money launderers, the gangsters, the perverts and fondlers and hide behind the notion that the law is blind, that everyone deserves representation however loathsome they are. They enable. Well I don’t want to be an enabler.”
“Well get ready to enable, as I don’t think Drac is going to see it that way.”
“You’d be quite surprised at what I see, Marcus,” came a low voice from the doorway.
“Mr Alvanessian! I’m so – er – I mean…”
Artem Alavanessian moved smoothly into the room as if drifting on a low bank of fog, his sepulchral features frozen into a slight smile, his eyes twinkling, forgiving yet slightly mischievous.
“Now,” he said, “about Mr Yermanov.”
Fiona stiffened. She seemed ready to fight her corner.
“You have been discussing his request to act for him?”
“Yes,” said Marcus. “We kind of disagree.”
“Ah, I see,” said the elderly litigator, sitting behind his wide desk, resting his elbows on the mahogany and steepling his long fingers. “About what? Whether to act for him, or whether or not he is a disagreeable human cockroach who doesn’t deserve the glowing attention of our combined intellects?”
“I would rather not act for him, but of course I will if we have to,” said Fiona, a little sheepishly.
“Really?” said Alvanessian. “I’m surprised, Fiona. I’d expected more of a fight.”
“Well, as Marcus says, we are a small firm, just starting out, and generating money is important.”
“Marcus is correct,” said the partner. Marcus beamed, but Alvanessian continued. “In that regard at least, he is correct. We do need to generate fees so that you can be paid and my wife can continue her eternal voyage through the boutiques of South Molton Street. But I would rather my wife wear rags and I were forced to endure the endless bleating that would result from it than take money from scabrous cattle-thieves like Yermanov.”
Marcus felt his jaw drop open and saw Fiona’s mouth open into an O.
“Why do you think we all left one of the top litigation practices in the City?” said Alvanessian, glorying in pronouncing ‘why’ as ‘vy’; Fiona realised it was as close to affectation as genuine accent.
“We left precisely so that we wouldn’t have to make money like that. They have a huge machine to feed, and they do it very well. But I, like you, Fiona, want to act for people I like. And with only a few years left in me, I don’t want to spend any time at all acting for people I loathe. We will tell Yermanov to get lost. My instincts tell me that his ex-business partner, Dmitry Petkov, will be viewing the current case with interest. He is a good man, Petkov. I met him once in Baku. He is in London soon and I suggest we meet him to see if he, too, might want to right a few wrongs as regards Yermanov.”
Fiona beamed. Marcus looked stunned.
“Now, what was I looking for?” Alvanessian said. “Ah yes.” He seemed to pick a file at random off his desk and drifted back towards the doorway.
“Carry on, you two. Oh, and don’t forget, there was a reason I asked you two specifically to join me here. You both have the right kind of fight in you. Don’t lose sight of that. It will serve our clients very well, and the fact that we will be liking them too will mean we will go the extra mile.”