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Elizabeth Street
14 July, 2008  
The chinless wonders of the law

Those with a prominent legal pedigree used to be carried by their firms. Now, as Lizzy Street discovered at her firm, having a well connected legal name might get you in the door, but it doesn’t guarantee survival

imageFrom the moment I started as a wide-eyed fresher at law school I was warned that success in law was all about who you knew, not what you knew.

That was all well and good although it sometimes made wading through the “what” I had to know for exams a little tedious, particularly as I was more interested in stepping out with as many “who’s” as possible.

Now that I am ensconced as the most junior of solicitors in one of the great factories of the law I’m in a position to test the proposition about the who and the what.

The law, like other professions, has its royalty. There are names, the mere utterance of which are met with awe-filled sighs.

One special prince, descended from a long line of legal royalty including judges, silks and solicitors, happened to start work at my firm.

He did not appear the least bit remarkable – rather like the Windsors’ Prince Edward, who has all the charisma of a postal clerk.

It rapidly became apparent that our prince’s expectation of the job and his capacity to do it were different from that of the firm’s.

He operated under the assumption that his surname was simply enough for survival.

Perhaps he thought that endlessly repeating his name, like Denny Crane, would bring management to it’s knees in a swoon.

It didn’t.

The firm must have thought that if this chap was who he claimed to be he’d be perfectly capable of turning out beautifully crafted pleadings day in, day out.

The first sign that he couldn’t deliver was the avoidance technique of plenty of sick days. Cruch time came quickly, and brutally.

Surname or not, for every firm the winner is the almighty buck and while this fellow wasn’t meeting the targets and pulling in the money he was history.

I do wonder what his stellar family had to say about his less than elegant departure.

Regardless, it just goes to show that who you know may get you the job, but it won’t do the work.

In olden times, I’m told, he would have survived much longer and been “carried” – just for the name.

While our dedicated mission is to crank out loads of profit for the partners, it is infinitely better to be an unknown robot than a legal celebrity.

I put my survival down to bad luck. Bad luck that I’m here, trying to be a robot, when I’d much prefer to be a legal celeb.



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