The Outdoor Clerk as the name suggests spent most of his time out of the office. Every day at the office his partner or Assistant Solicitor would give him various tasks to do which would range from issuing writs or entering judgments at The Royal Courts of Justice in The Queen’s Bench Division, carrying out Company searches at Companies House in Shoreditch, delivering papers to Barrister’s Chambers and perhaps cheques in payment of their fees, interviewing witnesses, visiting prisons to interview clients in criminal cases, attending at The Divorce Registry to deal with the procedural aspects of a divorce case, visiting The Probate Registry to obtain copies of Grants of Probate and generally to do all of the legwork involved in a legal practice in the Central London area.
Most of the lads who did this work and indeed in those days most of them were male rather than female, had left school at 15 and gone to work in a Solicitor’s office, often as a tea boy and had learned their trade from the bottom up. Most of the time the best of them became very knowledgeable and were often the sergeants of the legal profession, who trained Articled Clerks as future lawyers were known, when they were apprenticed into the legal profession.
At The Royal Courts of Justice for example some of the Clerks behind the desks had fearsome reputations and were to put it mildly less than helpful. The new Articled Clerk having reached the front of a long queue would find himself confronted by a stern individual wearing metal National Health glasses who would look contemptuously at the papers handed to him and then throw them back at the hapless Clerk as being completely incorrect and told to go away and come back when they were completed.
No word of advice was offered as to what was wrong with the forms. This advice would generally be given by sympathetic Outdoor Clerks waiting in the queue behind who would take the unfortunate Articled Clerk aside and after a swift look at the papers help him put them in some kind of order. Notwithstanding that however the Articled Clerk would still have to go to the back of the queue and wait his turn. Upon reaching the front of the queue and again presenting the papers he would hold his breath until they had been scanned by the stern individual the other side of the desk who would not have been out of place as a Concentration Camp Guard in Hitler’s Germany, before sighing with relief when the Clerk without a word stamped the papers heavily and threw them into a box at his side. All of this without a word.
Outdoor Clerks very often studied law with a view to becoming a Legal Executive, that is to say a qualified Legal Clerk in a Solicitor’s office and many of them had long and successful careers. Some of them even in due course became Solicitors themselves but many were happy to remain working as Clerks for their professional life.
The very idea of an Outdoor Clerk seems and indeed on reflection was highly Dickensian but then so was and is the world of law.