17.2.07

Day 97 (week 20): OldSmoothie

Received a visit today from a member of Chambers that I shall call ‘OldSmoothie’. Not after the yoghurty fruit drink but because of his oily, self-confidence which oozes from every pore. Think To the Manor Born and Milk Tray Man but not quite there on either count. He’s about fifty. He was made a QC five years ago until which time he was moderately successful. Since then he has struggled for any work at all. It’s a common misconception that all QCs are rich. Sure, many earn just oodles of cash. Others earn no more than before they took silk. Then there is a significant minority whose practices simply collapse. They’re now too senior for the cases they were doing before and simply not good enough to get the cream. Worst of all, once you’re a QC, you can’t ‘un-silk’ yourself or whatever the word might be if someone ever tried. Have wondered if perhaps there might be some sort of legal action on the basis that it is anti-competitive or unduly restrictive. However, most people at that stage would have too much pride to fight for such a demotion and the public humiliation that would go with it. The other side of the coin is that most have stashed away enough by that point to be financially secure in any event. Many go on to become judges. Others, go on to become Committee Men, both at home and at work. Committees for their golf clubs, their private members clubs and of course, for their Chambers. OldSmoothie was just such a man.

Well, today Smoothie had a task for me from one of his committees in Chambers. It was in fact, the pupillage committee and what he wanted me to do was to sift through all of the applications for mini-pupillage and weed out those who we didn’t want. He instructions went as follows:

“You’re an Oxford man like myself. Figure I can ask you to do this properly without any complaint. Here’s what I want. Plain and simple. Take out the following and then give me the rest. No sixth-formers looking for work experience. No-one who’s been to a polyversity or whatever they call themselves these days. Doesn’t fool me. No-one over fifty – we’ll be subsidising their rent for ten years and then they’ll retire. Oh, and no-one called Wayne or Shane. Just wouldn’t look good on the board.”

Reminded me of the apocryphal story of a recruiter for an investment bank who randomly picked up half of the application forms and threw them in the bin.
“Well”, he answered, “we don’t want the unlucky ones.”

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