24 July 2000
I'm writing this on the beach. These days it's the thing to do en vacances. And it isn't just me who thinks that. There are quite a few of us gadget freaks here, frolicking in the sun and the surf with our splash-proof MP3s, our Palm Pilots, our WAP-enabled mobiles.
It's the leisurely lifestyle, though, that is the natural state of humankind. According to anthropologists, we're not sufficiently evolved to cope with the stresses of the post-industrial age. We're still running on Cro-Magnon time. We can cope with the odd hunter/gatherer-style excursion from the bar to the pool and back again, but that's about it.
But here we are, allegedly relaxing in the sun while furtively indulging in a spot of pool-side phoneupmanship. These days, far from being the idyll that it should be, "The Beach" is like the local branch of PC World. There must be at least five blokes here, filing their stuff back to the office at a top speed of, what 15 wpm?
Let's face it, some people just cannot relax. And a lot of them are lawyers - reluctant relaxees, people so out of touch with the business of fun that they think Club 18 to 30 means the hours they work at the weekend. You can picture the type - the corporate partner hijacked by his wife and kids (his high-yield derivatives) for 10 whole days of mandatory R and R. He might as well be on remand. You see him on the beach or at the pool, distracted, out of sorts - the guy whose only concession to dress down is open-toed sandals with socks.
He basks in the shallows - the great white (for the first week anyway) shark. A guy who lives for the deal - and it shows. Not a big family man, this one. The word he most associates with grandma is sell. And if he loses the kids at the pool, it's not carelessness, it's that he doesn't quite remember who they are. There's the overtaxed assistant, the compulsive paper-shuffler with great bug eyes and maggoty pallor acquired through months of sleep and light deprivation.
If this lot tell us anything, it is the ineluctable fact that all work and no play makes a very dull lawyer indeed. If one clear theme has emerged in this astonishing year (and it's still only August!), it's that we're working some people too hard. According to a report in the Financial Times, the Trainee Solicitors' Group helpline has recorded a rise in serious complaints ranging from poor training, abuse at work, bullying, having to work 12 to 14-hour days, being paid less than The Law Society minimum and having to do the work of fully-qualified solicitors.
The TSG says this is "extremely worrying", and that it might be the tip of an iceberg. The iceberg, eh? Big ships, take note. If we go on like this, we're in danger of producing more burnouts than a problem housing estate. Take a break. And if you can't, then at least give your people one. God and the asteroid willing, it will all still be there when you get back - refreshed, relaxed, and of far more value to your clients.
Oh, and one last thing - leave the IT kit at home. The only laptop that need concern you as you go native and succumb to the more unhurried pace of sun, sea and surf, is that of your holiday partner.
Leslie Perrin is managing partner of Osborne Clarke. He can be contacted at email@example.com