For some reason, the public’s image of a lawyer seems not to have changed in the past hundred years or so. Even a high profile legal aid crisis can’t shift the negative way in which we are often perceived. This is not good.
Even with Rupert Penry-Jones sexing up TV show Silk, Michael Fassbender on the big screen as Ridley Scott’s Counsellor and former Dr Who star David Tennant adding a tragic unreality to The Escape Artist, when most people think of a lawyer I’m sure they picture an aloof, rotund, Dickensian ‘fat cat’ or a pompous, wiry character from a 19th-century Vanity Fair cartoon. What more do casting directors need to do?
Sadly, we haven’t seen much on the big or small screen about the real lives of lawyers since the shenanigans of This Life housemates Milly, Egg, Miles and Anna in the late 90s. In some ways, this was the anti-Friends, showing the seedier side of legal life for the 20-somethings. Was it synonymous with everyone’s idea of fun? Perhaps not – and certainly not for the parents of this aspiring lawyer at the time – but it did make lawyers seem real, flawed and separable from professional life.
When we dispense legal advice, often at huge financial cost, sometimes with sympathy and compassion, we are solemn and sincere. We should not and I am sure we do not relish in our client’s circumstances – for better or for worse – offering a fair, considered, remote and even distant evaluation, critique, focus and direction.
We take our own personal satisfaction in a good result, a fair or financially satisfying outcome, but we do not and should not make it personal. We work with what we have on behalf of our clients to achieve whatever outcome they perceive to be a good result – for them. This is why fun so often seems lacking in lawyers generally. We are on show to our clients and we act as we anticipate they will want us to act, right?
I was at a mentoring event for entrepreneurs. The aim was to provide the benefit of our experience, as mentors, to assist new and young businesses as they seek to establish themselves. The entrepreneurs signed up alongside each mentors’ name for a ten-minute session. I know there was some stiff competition, from the likes of former Dragons’ Den panelist and serial business-starter Doug Richard, but I still felt a little embarrassed when, by the end of the first session, I was still sitting there staring at an empty chair and trying to look welcoming. I thought I had done everything right – I hadn’t worn a suit.
With the first two sessions down and only six opportunities remaining, I took action and asked someone why all the lawyers there were being sidelined: “You know what the problem with lawyers is? They’re just not fun.”
“I’m fun,” I offered, enthusiastically. But where do I go from there? The law can and does seem dry and a necessary evil, but one to be avoided until absolutely necessary. In this hotbed of positive thinking, enthusiasm and apparent disregard for bleak economic reality, lawyers can be just a little too real. As a result, we come across as being no fun. But it’s not [always] us. It’s what we stand for and represent.
I did have a queue of bright-eyed business folk by the end of the morning, keen for commercial as well as legal guidance. What’s more, I have since heard from the same young entrepreneur who accused us of not being fun. She took back the allegation and clarified that we were just not portrayed in “a very socially friendly light”. So with the excuse of Christmas around the corner, go forth and party.
This article first appeared in the Solicitors Journal and is reproduced here with kind permission