I used to watch Crown Court on television and loved the theatricality of the bar. I thought that was where I was heading.
My legal training was something of a Curate’s Egg. The tutorial system at university was excellent – it forced you how to think into the corners, to make fine distinctions and to look for the issues. The College of Law in contrast was (in those days) intellectually debilitating. You had the same seat, in the same class, day after day and to get maximum marks had to answer in a way where you put down everything you knew about a subject – an approach we have to coach out of many young lawyers.
On occasion you can forget how your legal training pervades your approach to everyday problems. We always tend to think several moves ahead about the consequences of our advice for our clients, but in the real world a direct approach is often better taken. You can have too much finesse.
I think standards across the profession are incredibly high. Most lawyers I work with are friendly and constructive. However, there is always the odd one who has a point to prove/a chip on their shoulder/an inflated sense of their own importance.
Thanks to investment bankers, people’s social reaction when I say I’m a lawyer is a lot better than it used to be.
I am pretty agnostic about the benefits of specialisation. Certainly true sector specialism, such as we have in a number of areas, is great for the clients, but it can be restrictive of lawyers and make them unduly reliant on a small number of clients or on a narrow area of law. From the lawyers’ perspective, while it can be assuring to have a clear focus and recognition as an expert, I feel that for some it comes too soon and possibly at the expense of other attributes.
In the UK at present there are too many lawyers. I have heard a number of managing partners say we could do with a couple of failures without the lawyers being rehoused in other firms. But of course it is a fine line between feast and famine, and the market does not need to move much to change all that.
I don’t have many regrets about the way my legal career has gone and in a sense would be happy to do it all again. But I know Generation Y see things differently and in their shoes I can imagine I might well not aspire to become a partner and opt instead for a less attritional career.
Chris Godfrey is a partner (corporate finance group) at Burges Salmon