Michael Slater was a senior partner in the firm of Crabbe, Farnley and Stanton, one of the largest in the north. He was arguably the most aggressive lawyer in a firm that prided itself on aggression. It was fortunate for his new articled clerk that, at thirty-eight years old, she was a woman of experience, rather than a naïve graduate, fresh from the College of Law. Slater’s usual demeanour in the office was surly and unforthcoming. He did not go work to socialise, not even at brief intervals for the sake of lubricating the office machine. He went to work to charge billable time. Billable time was the concept on which most of his decisions and actions were based. The only other abstract idea that concerned Slater was what he called “personal honour” and which those around him called “vindictiveness”. Given a choice between something that would put one over on a rival, and something that would generate revenue for Slater’s department, he might find some difficulty in choosing. Usually, he just chose the option that made the more money, regardless of its effect on other people, or how unpopular it made him.
Slater was not without emotion, but the range of emotions he displayed was almost as narrow as his range of legal specialism. He was particularly given to impatience, frustration, and anger. On the new clerk’s first day, he had a long telephone conversation with “that wanker Hartington” (the solicitor acting for the other party in the sale of an insolvent company owned by Slater’s client). The outcome of this conversation had been unfavourable for Slater. The anger which this caused had been exacerbated by Hartington’s conversational tone, which jarred against Slater’s ear because the man might use eleven words where ten would do. Having delivered the bad news which was the substance of his reason for calling, Hartington should have just put the phone down, but instead he carried on talking. Since Hartington was not capable of putting the receiver down, Slater did so on his behalf, with some force, while Hartington was in mid-sentence. He then picked up the telephone (the whole apparatus) and threw it at the new clerk (who dodged it).
At the end of a stressful day, Slater drove to his home which was a detached stone house on the edge of the Yorkshire Dales. At the back of the house was a ten-acre field, which Slater owned, and some stables and outbuildings which he had had constructed, to a very high standard, at considerable expense. This arrangement amounted almost to a small farm, on which lived donkeys, a couple of horses, goats, and a variety of dogs, cats, rabbits, guinea pigs and other animals. Michael Slater ran an animal sanctuary. These dumb creatures were the only living things whose welfare mattered to him, and which to him were more important than money.