The not so private lives of lawyers
20 May 1997
Television dramas might portray the life of the lawyer as a whirlwind of work, networking, sex and drugs but, discovers Jeff Stewart, it is not quite so exciting. Jeff Stewart is a freelance journalist.
The story goes that a large group of law trainees went out to a restaurant for a birthday meal. They had a few drinks, they looked around the restaurant and talked about all the interesting actions that could be brought against it; they invented possible avenues of defence; and they considered the intricacies of a possible flotation on the Alternative Investment Market.
When the bill came they all chipped in for what they had eaten, and the one with the loudest voice added up the money and found that they had contributed, to the nearest penny, exactly the right money - the bill plus an agreed 10 per cent tip. Soberly they went home and dreamed of partnership.
Meanwhile, Amy Jenkins read law at University College London, joined City firm Theodore Goddard as a trainee, worked for a year, then left and decided to write a titillating legal drama that became known as This Life.
In it, sexy City trainees smoked dope and shagged a lot, live in a grand tumbledown house that they filled with arguments and hugs, and showed a healthy dislike of work.
Around the country people realised just how much damage the habitual wearing of pinstripe suits could do to a young person fresh from college and a law course during which they only ever wore jeans. They also looked at their high street solicitors with wonder - bewigged judges had always been regarded as a bit kinky, but now there were all these other lawyers, too, with such exciting lives and deviant sexual practices. The profession almost gained new respect.
Except, of course, This Life is just fiction. It is stuffed full of sexually-charged action and barely credible plot lines to entertain people. None of it is true. But then again... Amy Jenkins must have got her ideas from somewhere.
To get to the truth behind the fiction we spoke to four trainees, two male and two female, all of whom are only a few months from qualifying and prepared to spill the beans about the private lives of lawyers.
"Everybody's addicted to This Life," the four say in unison. "And people do sometimes have affairs with their supervisors. But we don't have that much time for sex. We have to work very hard."
"On This Life," says one of them, "they always seem to leave at 5.30 and go home. That never happens. We have to work a lot later."
"We are like a family," says another. "We bicker a lot."
"Not that much," comes the reply.
So what snippets of advice do they have that new trainees might find helpful?
"One thing you wouldn't want to do is throw up over the feet of a partner," one of them says. He denies that he has ever done so, but adds that it had happened to someone he knew, a couple of weeks after joining the firm, at drinks in the partners' dining room.
"There was no food, just loads of wine, and I hadn't eaten all day, and I was nervous and thirsty," he explains.
They all agree that the partners are important and that you should be polite to them. They say that in their first few weeks as trainees the firm made them sit through lots of boring talks about what it did and what was expected of the new intake, while in the evenings it poured alcohol down their throats in an attempt to make them believe that law is fun.
The most exciting event was being given stationery packs full of business cards, and dictaphones and paper. The new trainees were advised to look after these items carefully, because getting new stationery was difficult. They also learned how to use the computers and e-mail.
"You must be in control of technology," advises one. "I get about 40 e-mails every day."
"It's how all the trainees keep in touch," says one of the others. "I get about 50 a day."
"You've got to keep your e-mailing out of sight of your supervisor though," says another. "I'm sent 60 a day."
There is also advice for those who find themselves staying behind late to finish work.
One of the female trainees says: "Once I was very tired when I was working all night, and I went and slept for a bit in the bath in the partners' bathroom. It was the only place I could find to lie down. I like the partners' bathroom. You can hide in it."
"The first aid room is also useful for that," says one of the men. "It's even got a bed in it."
"You've got to be careful using the bed," adds one of the women. "There are cameras everywhere inside the offices. Don't get caught on them."
The four deny that trainees get up to anything like the sexual antics portrayed in This Life, but they do not rule out the odd bit of flirting.
"The receptionists at our firm are very gorgeous," says one of the male trainees.
"But it is the partners who get to sleep with them," adds the other. "There are also lots of Australians who do the photocopying, but I haven't got anywhere with them either."
The group is reluctant to reveal anything really scandalous for fear of being identified: the best story they know, which involves a partner and a drunken trainee, they are not prepared to have repeated in print. It was quite a good story, and it is a shame we cannot reveal it.
They have a lot to do the next day because their firm's property department is having a big party with loads of free drink and some of them had not quite made up their minds about which department they wanted to qualify into. This is just the opportunity they need to have an informal chat with a few property lawyers. Perhaps, after all, This Life is more accurate than they make out.