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Paul Wade: An appreciation

19 September 11

Tribute to the litigation solicitor, born 19 March 1953; died 31 July 2011.

by Charles Hennessy

Paul Wade, who has died at the age of 58, was an exceptionally gifted lawyer and bon viveur – although he might well have disputed the order in which that has been put. He was universally recognised as one of the most accomplished litigation lawyers of his generation, and if his name rarely featured in the public domain, that can be explained by the modest and seemingly effortless way in which he carried out his work.

Only those who knew about litigation, and especially insurance litigation, knew just how brilliant he was. It is a mark of his charming and affable character that this knowledge engendered the admiration and respect of his peers, rather than their envy. Paul was not unaware of his professional skills. He just took them in his stride and wore them lightly, as he did everything else. They seemed to provide him with an acceptably tolerable diversion from food and wine.

He was brought up in Prestwick. He attended Glasgow University, where he covered himself in mediocrity on the academic front, but apparently obtained a first class honours in the social skills which made him such a wonderful friend and companion. For reasons only law students can explain, he became known as Magnus Paulus – the Roman law equivalent of the Big Yin, it seems.

All of his legal training was in Glasgow. He began as an apprentice at Biggart Baillie & Gifford, as it was then known. He then worked for a while at Ross Harper & Murphy, before becoming an assistant at Cochrane Sayers & Cook. There he began to specialise in the insurance claims work which became a large part of his practice in later years, but he was not averse to taking any cases, civil or criminal, without any anxiety, and with an apparently comfortable working knowledge of even the most obscure laws and procedures.

In 1993, he became a solicitor advocate with rights of audience in the Supreme Courts, and in that same year he joined Simpson & Marwick, a well known Edinburgh firm of insurance lawyers, to spearhead the opening of their Glasgow office. Paul was not a man who gave the appearance of being organised, especially sartorially, nor was he fascinated by the minutiae of management, but that was left to lesser mortals and he imbued the office with his own personality.

He was not a man for formal training of legal staff, but no case was too trivial nor point too difficult or obscure that it could not be brought to him at any time by his colleagues and discussed sympathetically. Infuriatingly, he always got the point, had dissected it, reassembled it and dressed it in new clothes before the explanation of the case had been completed. And that was not just within the office. Many judges benefited from his analysis of what a case was really about – pitched at a level appropriate to the intellectual capacity of the listener, with a charming style which defused any impression that he might have been reading Jackanory to a child.

He was, without doubt, a superb lawyer with a massive intellect. He was a formidable opponent in court for no reason other than that. He was scrupulously fair and known to be so. It was always enjoyable litigating with him. There would be no funny business, no cheap tricks, and no tantrums. He had a “bumbling idiot” mechanism which enabled him to disarm those intent on fighting with him. Paul did not go for the jugular. He didn’t need to, because he had usually spotted umpteen other areas of vulnerability which his opponent didn’t even know existed – and is probably still trying to figure out now.

Amongst many highlights, perhaps he will be remembered for the leading role he took in organising and instructing the defence in a very lengthy and taxing prosecution, the first “corporate killing” in Scotland, following the Larkhall gas explosion, and then his representation of Strathclyde Fire and Rescue throughout the recent Rose Park Nursing Home tragedy fatal accident inquiry. Sheriff Principal Brian Lockhart has paid tribute to Paul’s advocacy skills and the insight and wisdom of his closing argument. This is the more impressive given that through much of the inquiry he was also undergoing chemotherapy. In February 2008 he was appointed as a part time sheriff, a role which he fulfilled with relish and which reintroduced him to the delights of the criminal cases he had left behind from his early days at Glasgow Sheriff Court. He was invigorated by this fresh challenge, and completely at ease with this new role which he found fascinating and worthwhile.

Work and life seemed to come easy to him. He was scrupulous in observing his responsibilities to the courts and clients in his work, but life was always the more important. He loved his food and wine. It was as simple – and as wholesome – as that. He loved the conviviality of a conversation with friends. He loved his cars, of which he could never have too many. He said that he loved walking, reading, travelling and cooking. He loved having a laugh. He loved telling stories which were never as short as they should have been, and usually featured him in some idiotic role. He did not take himself seriously at all. He had an impish look and an impish tone which often preceded a story of some improbability, like how he came to have an entry in Debretts (a true story as it happens).

When he was first diagnosed with cancer about five years ago, the one thing you could see quite clearly was that he was certainly not going to allow himself to be “stricken” by any aspect of the disease, despite its many and varied assaults on him. It is difficult to understand and impossible to describe just how miraculously he dealt with it. He made it appear to his friends that it was no more than a trivial inconvenience from which he would frequently extract the maximum humour at his own expense, and treat with the offhand disregard he would have reserved for an indifferent Chianti. He went out of his way to capitalise on having his name in Debretts (why not?), in which he listed one of his recreations as “surviving metastatic colorectal cancer”. His capacity to enjoy life was in no way diminished by the constant spectre that haunted everyone bar himself. It may seem strange to say so, but he was a source of strength and comfort to his friends and family in his last few years, and it is worth recounting some of the true events which can be seen as a measure of the man.

When the hospital nurse who was looking after him following his first surgical procedure told the consultant that he was not taking sufficient fluids, he called upon all of his forensic skills to frame that perfect question, “Is wine a fluid?” – for which he was rewarded by the only scientifically correct answer and the swift accumulation of a small wine cellar, courtesy of his visitors. They were grapes, but not as hospitals knew them. When he was advised at a later date of the presence of cancer in his liver, he informed his friends of this news, which might have shaken Zeno himself, in a hilarious email memorably entitled “The Foie Gras’ Revenge”. He frequently socialised without hesitation a day after (sometimes hours after) surgery or treatments, with tubes sticking out of various pieces of clothing. This never bothered him; why should it bother us?

When he was in Edinburgh Royal Infirmary after another piece of major surgery, it did not seem unreasonable to suppose that he would appreciate visitors in the immediate aftermath. Two from Glasgow made the mistake of thinking he might actually be unwell, and found an empty bed in the ward with his name on it, whilst Paul had persuaded the consultant that there was really no need for him to hang around like some kind of patient and he would be as well to nip off home. When he was eventually tracked down later that same day he was in his office, and on being asked what he was doing there he replied: “Have you seen daytime television?”.

His attitude throughout suggested – and we believed it – that he had found a way to transcend the disease. It was an inspiration to us all, and although sadly he succumbed to the fourth assault on him, in so many ways he did transcend it. They say that old lawyers never die, they only lose their appeal. Paul never once lost his appeal, his good humour, his zest for the enjoyable things in life, and his capacity for, and ability in, his work. Indeed, his last few years magnified these characteristics, rather than diminished them. He will be sorely missed, but will be remembered as a great man, Magnus Paulus, all the way to his untimely end.

He is survived by his wife Gillian, who was a source of great strength and consolation to him, his daughters Katherine and Charlotte and his son David from his first marriage to Kirstine.

 

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