Is it possible to be a successful family lawyer without being a member of 'the club'?
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"I don’t want to belong to any club that would have me as a member."
- Groucho Marx
Well the quote went something like that, although its exact wording appears to have been lost in the mists of time. Still, it does seem to accurately reflect my own views.
In my series of posts painfully cataloguing my hideously unsuccessful legal career* I touched upon the fact that I was always an 'outsider' to the legal community. That has caused me to ponder: is it even possible to have a successful legal career without being a member of 'the club'?
Before answering that question I must first ask another: what do I mean by "being a member of 'the club'"?
As I explained in my 'failed legal career' posts, I first realised that I was not a member of 'the club' when I was a law student at university. It was not that I was ostracised by fellow law students, just that I had nothing in common with them. I had good friends at university, but none of them were law students.
Why was this? Well, law students were different from me. For one thing, they had an interest in the subject that I did not possess. But it was more than that. They had an ambition that I also lacked. But even that does not explain it all. The biggest thing was that they had a self-assured belief that I did not. You could almost call it an arrogance - that is how it appeared to me, but I'm not sure that that is fair.
And this feeling of difference carried on into, and throughout, my career.
I never wanted to be with fellow lawyers and, with a very few notable exceptions, they never seemed to want to be with me. Yes, there were occasions when I found myself in a 'social situation' with other lawyers, but more often than not I avoided these, and when that was not possible, I was the 'outsider at the party', alone to the side, pretending to be having a good time, but actually looking for my moment to escape.
A classic example of this was the firm's Xmas party. One was expected not just to attend, but also to enjoy oneself. I initially did not do the latter, and then did not do the former. I simply did not enjoy the company of fellow lawyers, who were quite different creatures from myself.
OK, part of all of this is simply that I am not a very social person. As I have said elsewhere, social distancing during the current pandemic comes naturally to me.
And I also fully admit that I never liked the law. I only really went into it because I did not know what else to do.
But this is about more than just me being anti-social. And it is about more than me not liking the law. After all, few people are lucky enough to do a job they like, but that does not prevent them from being successful.
I guess it was that I was not naturally a member of the 'lawyers' club' and, like Groucho Marx, I was not prepared to pretend to be like members of a club to which I did not want to belong. Many of the things I did over the years simply said to members of the club: "I am not like you."
And, accordingly, doors were closed against me.
Right, having got that out of the way, let's turn to the question posed by the title to this post.
Perhaps the first thing to say is the obvious one: simply being on your own must put one at a disadvantage when it comes to having a successful career in anything, not just the law. Every day people get a 'leg up' in their career simply by virtue of who they know, rather than what they know. And if you are part of the 'lawyers' club' then you will know people.
Of course, most of this goes on out of public view. But there are times when it is there for all to see. One primary example is the 'awards club' to which many lawyers belong. The club grants annual awards to its members, thereby giving them a helping hand up the greasy pole.
But not all lawyers are members of the awards club. Many simply go quietly about their work, never seeking or receiving any gong for their efforts. But they may still be part of the lawyers' club, promoting fellow members.
This of course affects anyone seeking to climb the ladder within an organisation. As I explained in my failed career posts, I never merited a significant push up that ladder, but it is easy to imagine anyone who did merit it still being denied, because they did not 'fit in'.
Perhaps the best chance for anyone excluded from the club is to further their career as a sole practitioner. However, even there, the club may make life difficult for them.
And, whilst I am no expert regarding the dark side of our profession (I am talking about barristers), it certainly seems unlikely that you could succeed without being a member of the club. How would you even gain a pupillage?
In short, and I will repeat that the legal profession is probably little different from any other walk of life, your chances of a successful legal career are surely greatly diminished if you are not a member of 'the club'.
The moral, therefore, must be to work out what club you belong to, before choosing your career path. Of course if, like me, you don't belong to any club, then that could be a problem...
* These can be found here, albeit not in chronological order.