I realise that last month’s column was a little, well, maudlin, so this month, with Christmas around the corner, the first doors of the advent calendar open and on the brink of a new year, I am eager to be – unlike Ebeneezer – the spirit of optimism, positivity and, most likely, at least 15 per cent proof. We are about to be thrown into the party season, acting as though the recession had never happened, let alone continues to consume us. Austerity is replaced by opulence and for a short period only, misery is replaced by good cheer. Already I have been invited to more parties in the month of December than I was throughout the Jubilee and Olympic celebrations put together. This is a time for barristers’ chambers to give back to instructing solicitors (and encourage us to keep them in mind next year) and for firms to give back to their employees (and remind us how happy we are to go to work, even if there hasn’t been a pay rise in a generation). Of course, I am not talking from personal experience, I am sure that all the parties I have been invited to are strictly a celebration of goodwill and seasonal merriment.
And, my, how the parties have changed. No longer are we collected by limousine and escorted to the firm’s private jet, flown to Monaco for an evening of fine wine, gourmet food and gifted $100 to fritter away at the roulette tables before being collected the following morning for a champagne breakfast and a ‘working from home’ day to recover. Well, not all of us. This practice is now more commonly known as the ‘Partners’ Conference’ and still remains something of myth and legend among the rank and file, only to be spoken about should we be lucky enough to find a loose lipped junior partner who has experienced such a thing. Oh no, the festive parties we enjoy nowadays are something more befitting our role and status. Tough meat, overcooked vegetables, a Costco cracker and – if we’re lucky – karaoke. Of course, the karaoke will be monopolised by the aforementioned junior partners, singing inappropriate songs, in an unrecognisable style in an all too ambitious key. But with just enough wine on the tables and slightly insufficient food on the plates, who will remember after New Year? Not the partners, you would hope.
Christmas parties are a tricky rite of passage for trainees, new starters, new partners and even the more senior partners. The balance between studious, cautious, sensible, risk averse lawyer and fun, interesting, credit to any department team player is a difficult one. Do you quash the nerves with a pre-party tipple, or turn up sober as a high court judge and head straight for the complimentary fizzy wine?
Either way, on an empty stomach it won’t be long before you find your tie around your head (or someone else’s), your skirt with a longer slit up the side than when you started following that primary school gymnastic display you suddenly remembered or sitting on the senior partner’s knee telling him or her how good you have been and what you want for Christmas (pay rise, extra holiday, corner office). The easily led, eager to please first timer can be both the centre of attention or the painful reminder of your own long forgotten fallibility. When meeting colleagues from other floors or offices, a first impression will frequently stick with little opportunity to make it again, expensive face transplant aside.
Alternatively, you could be the sober, all seeing, omnipresent wallflower. The information you take away could be immeasurably valuable. What you take away from the night might be a token to treasure, for future use, or alternatively to tease those who might have unwittingly fallen into the earlier ‘first timer’ category.
If you’re not a wallflower yourself, beware. Or befriend. The choice is yours. But be careful.
Finally, it is important to be yourself, but not too grotesque a version of that. Be witty, be charming, be modest in your dance floor abilities. Share the karaoke microphone, get the ladies on reception a drink and tip them a wink (although, use cautiously for fear of formal grievances) and above all, be personable. I know not everyone has the ‘moves like Jagger’, fortunately, but those of us who do should not get carried away. Mick may have survived a 50 year career, but he’s not in so conservative a profession.
Finally, have yourselves a merry little Christmas. Roast your nuts from a safe distance and remember how granny gets after a glass of sherry before dousing the pudding in brandy.
Until the New Year. And until then, please, no more talk of ABS!
This article was first published by Solicitors Journal on 30 November 2012, and is reproduced by kind permission