The cautionary tale of a failed legal career, Part 1

A Rake's Progress: I - The Heir (Public Domain)

It's hard looking back on a failed career, knowing that it's far too late to put things right. You only get one life, and you messed yours up. Still, at least my cautionary tale might be a useful lesson to others.

Anyone contemplating a career in the law can easily find advice from those who have carved out a successful career in the profession, but I don't recall ever coming across advice from a lawyer whose career has not been a success. This strikes me as slightly odd: surely, just as one learns from one's own mistakes, others can learn from them too?

Anyway, that's my rationale for embarking upon this recounting of my sad little legal career.

Part 1: Wrong choices

Where to start? Well, I think things began to go wrong when I was just fourteen years old, faced with the momentous decision of what O-levels I should choose to study. I say 'momentous', as the choice effectively entailed deciding between the arts and the sciences. Looking back, I find it appalling that someone so young had to make such a choice, but there we are.

And I made the wrong choice. I went with the arts. As far as I can remember, the primary reason for that was that I wasn't too great at maths, although that probably had something to do with the fact that my maths teacher was quite hopeless.

Anyway, at a stroke my course in life was steered away from a science-based career. Of course, I could have changed track later, but that is never an easy thing to do, and in any event it was only some considerable time later that I realised my mistake, by when I had taken on financial responsibilities, making career change much harder.

Still, many different career choices remained available to me. The problem was that I simply didn't know what to do. I was not one of those fortunate ones who from a young age harboured an ambition to pursue a particular career. I had no ambition, and no idea what career to follow (the 5-minute interview with the school career officer was, as one would expect, quite useless).

And time was running. O-levels were followed by A-levels, and soon I was expected to choose what to study at university.

Well, not knowing what else to do I did what I suspect many young men do: I followed my father. He was 'in the law', having qualified as a barrister, and then being a magistrates' clerk. I recall I also had the (probably outdated) thought that a law degree was considered by many employers as a 'good all-rounder', providing access to other, non-legal, careers.

And so it was that in 1976 I found myself at Reading University. The next three years were some of the best of my life, but not because I enjoyed my studies. On the contrary, I loathed them.

OK, some subjects, such as criminal law, were quite interesting, but others, such as land law and equity, were utterly impenetrable. I remember that in the first year we had to study a non-law subject, and I chose history. I very nearly switched from a law degree to a history degree, but only didn't because I feared what my parents would think. Another bad choice.

So I struggled on with the law, eventually scraping a third class degree, which was probably more than I deserved.

But the whole experienced had so put me off of the law that I decided that a legal career was not for me. I therefore did not enrol at law college for the following year, as I would have had to do if I wanted to become a solicitor. Instead, I spent that year contemplating what on earth I should do with my life...