Case 035 - Legal Services

I worked in a legal services company in the City of London. Prior to that I had run single-handed a company offering similar services, and left with a sheaf of testimonials from satisfied clients.

I was the General Manager, overseeing most of the day to day work of the company, giving advice on Company Law, setting up companies, supervising staff. The workload was onerous in the extreme but I preferred to be working to listening to the Directors who, I shortly discovered, were a pair of abusive drunks.

M, a failed lawyer, was an hysterical oaf who would scream, swear and break wind wildly in the open plan office when he came back with a bellyful after lunch. I could deal with almost everything but the smell. The other one, B, a failed banker (although that could be Cockney Rhyming Slang) was a far more slimy underhand vicious type altogether. He appeared charming and very much a father figure at first. He would call the staff in for little paternal chats. I was disgusted to find him telling me details of another member of staff's recent abortion which had obviously been told to him in confidence. There were many instances of this. He would listen in on the odd personal phone calls I got and comment on them if a male rang me. He did this to everyone and one day came and asked me to confront the Accounts Clerk. He'd listened in to her calls and surmised that she was a prostitute in the evenings. I told him to confront her himself - the girl obviously couldn't live on the wages he paid!!

The atmosphere at that place was rancid, and not just because of M's wind.

M started picking on one of the support staff, a Jamaican girl with a strong island accent. He accused her of being illiterate because she could not pronounce her aitches. This was complete rubbish. She was by far the best qualified of our support staff, with an A level in Law. He also encouraged others of the support staff to ridicule her. I got on very well with this person and tried to stand up for her. That made me one of the enemy. I found myself working without a lunch hour most days. I would be left to deal with irate customers when the directors made mistakes: I remember seeing both of them laughing one day when I had to apologise on the company's behalf for a tremendous cock up they'd made.

My workload was such that I couldn't help but make the odd mistake. My mistakes were trivial. I was called in for a meeting one day and berated in front of an associate of the Directors - it was an exercise in humiliation. I had made minor spelling mistakes on a legal document. I had B shouting at me for 10 minutes. He failed to mention that he had in recent weeks: sold the same company twice, changed the name of a company that we had no connection with, and given the shares of yet another company to the wrong people. In the grand scale of things my mistakes were minute. But I'm convinced to this day that he got some sort of sexual kick from humiliating women.

Things got worse for the Jamaican girl. I urged her to leave. By now I had developed such tension in my neck that I couldn't move it. I was taking driving lessons at the time and had to learn to reverse without looking over my shoulder. I broke out in eczema on my face - it was so bad that a client who imported T-tree products gave me several bottles of his preparations to try and cure it.

I couldn't sleep. I tried massage, I tried an isolation tank. But still I had to go back to the mad house on a Monday morning and listen to the effing, blinding and farting all day, and the random acts of verbal vileness. I was beyond thinking straight. I just couldn't see a way out.

Then I booked a holiday. I went to Ireland. And within days I realised that I wasn't a prisoner and I didn't have to go back. So I never did. My Jamaican friend stayed there: the directors found it very amusing when the office junior threw a chair at her one day. When she showed signs of standing up for herself she was made redundant. Still, she has another job now and she's happy.

And M eventually had a nervous breakdown and B had a heart attack - which couldn't have happened to a nicer pair of blokes.

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