I started to talk around the subject: that’s a difficult question, one shouldn’t try to over- simplify these things etc. etc. I lost him before I got to the end. Typical lawyer, he would have thought, wraps everything up and never comes to the point.
Later I would have relied on my experience to give a percentage, even at the risk of oversimplifying, and then adding a humorous caveat afterwards.
On another occasion I had to advise a Home Secretary whether he had power to refer a case to the Court of Appeal. Do I, he asked?
I should just have said "yes". Instead I started by referring him to the section in the Act “under section 18 of the XYZ Act”. I lost him as soon as I said that. He immediately looked away and started playing with a paperweight. Why can’t he give a straight answer he was probably thinking! I rescued the conversation shortly afterwards, but it was embarrassing.
By the time I got to be a head of legal I had truly learned the lesson: Keep It Simple, Stupid.
In a later job – as head of legal at the Ministry of Defence – I positively enjoyed the meetings where the lawyer had only one or two sentences to get the advice out before the meeting moved to one of the other twenty people round the table.