Finding your own conversational gambits used to be the mark of the averagely socially skilled lawyer.
So there’s something faintly depressing about the notion that Camerons’ fee-earners need a computer program to help them swot up on discussion topics in advance of a cocktail party. It seems a very expensive way of prepping; surely a cheaper bit of advice would simply be to read the paper properly without just scanning the headlines.
I don’t necessarily blame Camerons for trying to make their fee-earners’ lives easier; we all need crib sheets now and then, and a bit of knowledge-sharing goes a long way. But there’s a more fundamental point, which is that even normal business interaction has fallen prey to systematisation. This extends particularly to recruitment - the more students apply for training contracts, the greater the need for filtering systems.
But as many law firm partners privately acknowledge, selection is not a science, and a lot of their best senior colleagues would not have got in under current recruitment criteria. I sense an unease that a generation of identikit lawyers with the same personality type is being created and that the obsession with Ucas points is not necessarily landing the best recruits. Diversity should extend to character as well as social or ethnic origin: is that pleasant, diligent, spoon-fed candidate really going to be the big business-getter or client partner of tomorrow?
Some firms explicitly recognise this: Freshfields does not consider Ucas points on its application forms, while Addleshaws has an excellent scheme for candidates from more challenging backgrounds who for whatever reason did not excel at A-Levels. This reminds me of the story of former Baker & McKenzie London chief Russell Lewin, who when he was graduate recruitment partner used to sneak in a couple of trainees every year who didn’t meet the academic requirements. There was just something about them he instinctively thought was promising, a bit of spark or flair; but he never disclosed who they were.
By the way, if you want to feel positive about today’s teenagers, turn to page 18. We interview four state school pupils about their legal aspirations after they attended the Lawyer 2B careers day. What they say might surprise you.