Many solicitors fear that once their training contract begins and their life behind the desk starts, the end is nigh for any extra curricular activities they may once have enjoyed.
What with the long hours, the all-night meetings and the weekend work, finding time to see family and friends is difficult enough, and the idea of continuing hobbies or interests must sadly be relegated to the back burner.However, beneath the sharp suits and tough talk of the corporate lawyer lurks an arts subculture, with a number of solicitors channelling their frustrated creativity into activities such as drama clubs, music societies and poetry groups.One of the biggest is Poet in the City, a project set up in 1999 with the aim of bringing poetry into the Square Mile.
Recent events have included a John Donne evening held at St Paul's Cathedral, an audience with poet Wendy Cope, and in honour of national poetry day earlier this month, a champagne breakfast held at Clifford Chance with readings from Roger McGough OBE and the City's poet in residence John Mole.A number of London firms are involved with the scheme -- Bates Wells & Braithwaite, Clifford Chance, Dechert, Hughes Fowler Carruthers, Lovells, Penningtons, and Pollecoff Solicitors.
Rosamund Smith, a partner at Bates Wells & Braithwaite and chairman of Poet in the City, explains that there is a surprising amount of poetic talent hidden away in offices and boardrooms around the City.'Lawyers have a natural affinity with words -- after all, words are the tools of their trade,' she says.
'Poetry also communicates arguments and messages in a powerful way, and being a lawyer means that you spend your life honing just those skills.'Poet in the City not only holds workshops for aspiring solicitor wordsm iths, but also organises events and readings by well- known poets -- current poet laureate Andrew Motion is a strong supporter of the scheme -- all with the aim of blurring the boundaries of work and play.'We want employees to bring more of themselves into the workplace,' says Ms Smith.
Although she admits that some people prefer to keep different areas of their life separate, the benefits of poetry, she maintains, are considerable.'After the events of 11 September, we organised a reading to reflect on the tragedy and explore some of the issues involved through poetry,' she said.
'It turned out to be very intense and tremendously cathartic.
Not everyone wanted to go to a church, temple or mosque, and poetry allowed them to express themselves in a different way.'Encouraging solicitors to express themselves in a different way seems to be the guiding principle behind these societies, and one that Tom Butler, retired partner at City firm Holman Fenwick & Willan and chairman of the Law Society's Art Group recognises.'There are some aspects of being a solicitor which make you feel that you have no control over what you do, and you're at the mercy of clients and the world at large,' he says.
'Art is one area that you can make things happen, and get all your frustrations out of your system and onto the canvas.'Membership of the art group stands at around 100 and this summer, along with private viewings of new exhibitions, demonstrations and talks by artists, 16 members went on a painting trip to Greece organised by the society.
Previous groups have been to Venice and Tuscany, but the highlight of the calendar is the annual exhibition of solicitors' work, which will be held at the Law Society, 113 Chancery Lane, from 9 to 23 November.The standard is 'varied', according to Mr Butler, with the influence tending more towards Women's Institute than Damien Hirst.
'People paint because they like to paint, and that's the important thing,' he says, although he adds that over the 40 years of the group's existence, the annual show has been judged by some 'very eminent' artists, who 'have been pretty impressed with the overall standard'.The overall standard of musicians in the City is also surprisingly high, according to Tim Crosley, an assistant at Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer and the musical director of EC4 Music, a cross-City group of lawyers and other professionals who perform at an annual classical concert in St Bride's Church, on Fleet Street.This year's concert in June was easily sold out -- all proceeds went to charity -- with an audience of curious work colleagues and proud family members.
Such is the interest in the society that Mr Crosley is hoping to extend the orchestra and put on more concerts.'Lots of people played instruments or sung at school and university, but where's the opportunity in the City?' he says.
'There's a real pool of talent -- we have about 100 people in the choir and 55 in the orchestra, although we're always looking for more recruits -- and having rehearsals somewhere as central as St Bride's means that people can easily walk there from their offices.'Not only can they walk to rehearsals but, as Heather Rowe, a partner at Lovells and that firm's EC4 Music representative, says: 'The rehearsals are at 6 or 6.30 [in the evenings], so people can always go back to work afterwards if they need to.'Workaholic tendencies can be both a boon and a burden to extra-curricular activities.
'All EC4 members work hard in their day jobs, which tends to lend itself to working hard and concentrating in rehearsals, ' says Mr Crosley.
'However, you have to be mindful that people have had a hard day in the office, and you've got to be nice to them in rehearsal, or they simply won't come back.'Although the lure of restaurants, bars and the family home is strong, so is the sheer adrenalin rush of performing.
'Playing and singing is not only relaxing and wonderfully de-stressing, but there's an incredible atmosphere at rehearsals and the performance,' he says.
'There's such enthusiasm from everyone -- doing something completely different on your doorstep is very appealing to a lot of people.'So appealing that the City is obviously big enough for more than one musical society.Lawyers' Music, established in 1980 and with a membership of more than 100, is a performing society for lawyers and their friends.
It gives five major concerts a year in venues in St James's and Knightsbridge, along with lunchtime recitals and an annual residential weekend.With such a pool of talent, it is not surprising that many firms have set up their own in-house arts societies.
James Munro, a trainee at City firm Denton Wilde Sapte, was instrumental in setting up an amateur dramatic society in September last year.'People had either been involved with drama before and wanted the chance to take it up again, or they just fancied trying something new,' he says.
The inaugural production -- Peter Shaffer's farce 'Black Comedy' -- sold out the firm's auditorium for its three-night run, raising more than £1,000 for charity.'The cast was trainees, secretaries and fee-earners,' he said.
'Although some people had never acted before, it all turned out better than we expected, and everyone certainly enjoyed doing it.'The problem, of course, is time, and finding lawyers in a busy City firm willing to give up large chunks of their leisure time to stage managing or learning lines is not always easy.
'I doubt we'd ever do more than three plays a year, simply because of the work that goes into each one,' he says.This seems a shame, for in terms of encouraging relaxation away from the office -- as post-work poetry reading, amateur dramatics, painting and orchestra practice are meant to do -- there is probably very little to beat the sight of a senior partner treading the boards in full bewigged method-acting mode.