LPC student Cat Pond doesn’t fancy joining the Sloanes, but what are the alternatives for a wannabe lawyer?
Lawyers are victims of a huge array of stereotypes. The media perpetuates unrealistic depictions of, either, the downtrodden but crusading advocate facing up against impossible odds, or, the blood-sucking corporate lackey interested only in money. Meanwhile, jokes about the legal profession’s collective lack of soul are commonplace, as are perceptions that the work undertaken by lawyers is nothing more than glorified arguing.
But what of a far more insidious and rarely talked about stereotype that seems to be present in the minds of many law students as they take their first steps into the profession? I speak of a rather unfashionable subject: class. In London, at least, it is fair to say that the top law schools seem to contain more than their fair share of Oxbridge graduates, the wealthy, and the connected. Expensive clothes, skiing holidays, tales of exotic gap years and nights in the capital’s priciest hotspots are everywhere – and the effect on new students is telling.
When sharing their first experiences of law school, students who do not come from privileged backgrounds often talk with unease about classmates whose style of life might be entirely alien to them. The barrier of money can stop friendships forming – or worse, exacerbate insecurities at the time when a student needs all their confidence.
An especially worrying conclusion that may be drawn is that in order to win a training contract, effort should be made to emulate a certain mode of behaviour. It’s not uncommon for students to begin to pare down their personalities into the shape that they decide is ‘expected’ of a potential law applicant. In doing so, they often hide the aspects of themselves that make them stand out.
The problem of encouraging diversity is certainly an ongoing one for the legal profession, with much currently being done to foster different attitudes. However the changes so far have been small and extremely localised, meaning that a certain ‘high school’ atmosphere remains. Clothing, as ever, becomes an immediate battleground, and even vocabulary and accents begin a modification process. Left with little option, the new entrant to such a world either withdraws from their peers entirely or begins slowly to change their views.
In a profession where networking is an essential skill and the connections forged from law school onwards can help careers enormously, it is clear that this forced homogenisation has a number of consequences. Not only does it create a negative public view of the type of person drawn to law, but it’s also damaging to the profession itself as it re-populates continually with incoming lawyers uniformed in Barbour jackets with problems connecting to those outside their circle.
In a changing legal profession that is set to feel the de-regulatory effects of the Legal Services Act over the next few years, this mentality will be probably prove unsustainable – outside the elite firms and chambers, at least – as law loses some of its old-fashioned status. Until then, it will be up to the individual to what extent they chose to adopt a reigning mentality that may prove to have a major effect on their lives.
Cat Pond is currently studying the LPC at the College of Law. Previously she studied history of art, then completed the GDL, and hopes to go on to work for a London firm.