‘The Chances You Don’t Take Are The Ones You Regret’

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By Joshua Rozenberg on

Ed note: This is the first in a series of posts where leading members of the legal profession share their wisdom with the next generation of wannabes. We’ll be featuring one-a-week in the run-up to the ‘Legal Cheek at the Google Campus‘ event in December.

If I had known then what I know now, I would have become a barrister rather than a solicitor, writes Joshua Rozenberg.

I found it very difficult to get through the solicitors’ exams in the early 1970s – though I made it in the end. The Bar exams were reputedly much easier at the time. Why, then, didn’t I read for the Bar?

Nine months working as a solicitor’s outdoor clerk (delivering briefs, getting deeds stamped; asking High Court masters for leave to file out of time) persuaded me that barristers were much cleverer than I could ever aspire to be and that solicitors merely needed to be methodical.

This turned out to be a gross misrepresentation of both sides of the profession…

The only solicitors I had met were high-street practitioners; I didn’t know that partners in City and other commercial firms were as bright as any barrister. The would-be barristers I knew at university were much cleverer than I was; but it turned out that there were some areas of the Bar where advocacy skills and an understanding of human nature counted for more than book-learning.

Above all, I would have enjoyed the camaraderie that existed at the bar; certainly 40 years ago when the profession was much smaller, and perhaps still today.

Of course, what I didn’t know until the BBC offered me a job on its news training scheme at the end of 1974 was that I would leave the profession that I had struggled to join before taking out a single practising certificate. When it became clear that I was going to make my career in journalism rather than law, I allowed my name to lapse from the roll of solicitors. If I was going to join a branch of the legal profession in order to leave it, the Bar would have been a more sociable option.

I am therefore immensely flattered when barristers mistake me for one of their own, an understandable mistake given that I am an honorary bencher of the friendliest of the Inns of Court.

If I had known the state that journalism was going to be in now, I would still have devoted the best part of 40 years to it. But I would certainly not advise anyone to go in for it now.

As a job, it looks very easy: just listen to what someone has to say and summarise it. As a job it is very easy, which is why so many people go into journalism when they have nothing better to do. What’s difficult now, though, is getting a job in journalism. With newspapers in rapid decline and the electronic media paying little or nothing to contributors, the chances of making a living out of it – unless you started when I did – are vanishingly small.

So my advice for anyone seeking to follow in my footsteps is: don’t. But the one thing I did know when I was young was to take opportunities when they came along; the chances you don’t take are the ones you regret. And that’s something I have never forgotten.

Joshua Rozenberg is Britain’s best-known commentator on the law. He hosts Radio 4 show Law in Action and writes columns for The Guardian, The Law Society Gazette and Standpoint.