Law: How to survive when a Paxman attacks: A training course for solicitors offers tips on dealing with TV and radio. Fiona Bawdon joined a class

'I WISH I wasn't here,' says Myra Codlin, of Fareham-based Brutton & Co, one of eight solicitors attending a Law Society media survival training day. Mrs Codlin is becoming increasingly anxious as the time for her first mock television interview approaches.

The courses are organised by the Law Society to teach solicitors how to use the media to their advantage, and to improve public perception of the profession. They are run jointly by the head of the society's press and parliamentary unit, Sue Stapely, a solicitor who once worked as a BBC director, and Peter Wheeler Associates, a training company that also teaches media skills

to MPs.

'A discomfited solicitor is undoubtedly one of the most entertaining things to watch on television,' says Mrs Stapely. It is to avoid such entertainment that the course has been set up.

According to one of the tutors, Peter Wheeler, who has been a newscaster for Granada Television and a BBC interviewer, solicitors often stumble when dealing with journalists. 'I wish I had a pound for every person who has appeared in front of me with a wholesome case but failed to get it across because of lack of familiarity with the process,' he tells the class.

Most of the eight participants simply wanted to feel more comfortable in their dealings with the media. Some report unhappy encounters in the past. Nigel Shepherd, of the Stockport firm Chafes, tells how he appeared on local radio to plug his firm's sponsorship of a cycle race. 'It went wonderfully,' he says. 'Then I realised that I'd forgotten to mention the name of the firm.' Sara Robinson, from the London-based Simkins Partnership, was terrified by her television experience. 'I felt quite miserable afterwards,' she says.

Each participant undergoes three-minute mock television and radio interviews, which are then replayed, to the embarrassment of the subject and the general merriment of the others. Mr Wheeler and his fellow tutor, Diane Mather, who has also presented BBC regional television news, take on a variety of interviewing personas, including a bolshie Geordie 'who fancies himself as the next Jeremy Paxman' and a distressed caller on a radio phone-in.

It is not a day for the faint- hearted. Egos are routinely deflated. 'I mean this in a caring way,' Mrs Stapely says before launching into an attack on the interviewee's five-o'clock shadow, sticky- up hair, or shifty mannerisms in front of the camera. Myra Codlin is advised to buy some 'cover-up' to deal with the 'luggage problem under the eyes'. She is also berated for looking too serious. 'You are allowed to smile,' she is told. 'I thought I was smiling all the way through that interview,' says Mrs Codlin, bewildered.

Mr Wheeler seeks to reassure her on the fickleness of the camera. 'I've even been made to look overweight,' he says, patting his paunch.

Both Mrs Codlin and Ms Robinson allow Ms Mather to coat their faces with the kind of make-up most people wear only after death, in the interests of looking 'healthy' on screen. The effect on camera is impressive. 'You both look as if you've been on holiday since this morning,' says Mrs Stapely. In the same game-for-anything spirit, Robin ap Cynan, a Law Society council member and solicitor at Shrewsbury-based Clarke & Son, sits passively while Ms Mather douses him with hairspray.

Mr ap Cynan is a natural. He breezes through his interviews, keeping all his limbs under control and making all his points. His only error is to finish off by saying, 'I'm obliged to you.' 'Sounds terribly pompous,' says Mrs Stapely. 'People will think you're a barrister.' Definitely not the image we want at all.

Simon Thomas, of the Devon practice Michelmores, is smoking furiously by this stage and repeatedly writing out the three points he wants to get across in the hope of fixing them in his brain. It doesn't work. He blanks ('blancmange brain syndrome') and the interview is restarted. During the second attempt, he begins frantically scratching his ankle. The camera operator gleefully zooms in. No, she isn't being unnecessarily cruel, explains Mrs Stapely, that is what would happen during a real interview.

Mrs Codlin also complains of blancmange brain. 'I didn't make any of the points. I couldn't think; I forgot about everything,' she says. The replay, however, tells a different story. She has stood up pretty well to Peter's 'cheap populist' approach. No, the divorce laws are not a 'cad's charter' and no, she doesn't know any 'gold-digging girls'. Most people want a fair settlement and to get on with their lives after divorce, she insists. 'You must live in Ambridge,' says Mr Wheeler later, clearly unconvinced.

Both Nigel Shepherd and John White, a solicitor with the Stock Exchange, get the regional accent (Scouse and Geordie, respectively) treatment from Mr Wheeler. 'If you want to emerge alive from this encounter, don't trust this man,' advises Mrs Stapely. She has a point. Mr Wheeler doesn't so much ask questions as lob unanswerable statements. 'Lawyers are greedy, aren't they, Nigel . . . We're fed up with hearing solicitors complain that legal aid is inadequate . . . The Maxwell scandal is the biggest cock-up ever, man.'

'I didn't understand him half the time,' Mr Shepherd complains afterwards. Mr White (an ex-soldier) turns aggressive.

Everyone is warned to use simple, non-legal language. 'This woman wouldn't know a 'reciprocal agreement' if it bit her on the bum,' says Mrs Stapely. 'Entrenchment' and 'impasse' are no-nos, she insists (even on BBC 2), and 'living together' should be used rather than 'cohabiting'. Runaway metaphors are another problem. Mr White talks about errant solicitors as both 'bad apples' and 'bad eggs'. 'I was waiting for the putrid plum and the 'orrible orange,' Mr Wheeler says.

Some of the participants are transformed in the afternoon session. Ms Robinson keeps the others spellbound during her interview on mediation: she speaks with great enthusiasm and compassion about a divorcing couple whom she helped to get back together. For a moment, the others forget to watch for embarrassing ticks and are lost in what she is saying.

Mr Shepherd seems to have heeded the advice to 'make it real' for the audience. He dramatises the dangers of cuts in legal aid with the tale of a client he has seen earlier in the week who had been protected from her violent husband by an emergency injunction. He confesses afterwards that it was total fiction. Ah yes, but it could have been real, Mrs Stapely says approvingly.

(Photograph omitted)

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Dunham
booksLena Dunham's memoirs - written at the age of 28 - are honest to the point of making you squirm
Jacqueline Bisset has claimed that young women today are obsessed with being 'hot', rather than 'charming', 'romantic' or 'beautiful'
Arts and Entertainment
A bit rich: Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey
tvDownton Abbey review: It's six months since we last caught up with the Crawley clan
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Frank Lampard and his non-celebration
premier leagueManchester City vs Chelsea match report from the Etihad Stadium
Life and Style
A new app has been launched that enables people to have a cuddle from a stranger
techNew app offers 'PG alternative' to dating services like Tinder
Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden sings his heart out in his second audition
tvX Factor: How did the Jakes - and Charlie Martinez - fare?
premier league
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvOnly remaining original cast-member to leave crime series
Mario Balotelli celebrates his first Liverpool goal
premier leagueLiverpool striker expressed his opinion about the 5-3 thriller with Leicester - then this happened
Britain's shadow chancellor Ed Balls (L) challenges reporter Rob Merrick for the ball during the Labour Party versus the media soccer match,
peopleReporter left bleeding after tackle from shadow Chancellor in annual political football match
Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says
tvSpoiler warning: Star of George RR Martin's hit series says viewers have 'not seen the last' of him/her
Plenty to ponder: Amir Khan has had repeated problems with US immigration because of his Muslim faith and now American television may shun him
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Head of Marketing and Communications - London - up to £80,000

£70000 - £80000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Group Head of Marketing and Communic...

Nursery Nurse

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: Level 3 Nursery Nurse required for ...

Nursery Nurse

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: L3 Nursery Nurses urgently required...

SEN Teaching Assistant

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: We have a number of schools based S...

Day In a Page

A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments