Comment

Why lawyers need to loosen the ‘stiff upper lip’

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49

Macho demonstrations of ‘resilience’ are overrated

Prince Harry started something earlier this year when he admitted that he had sought counselling recently to help him deal with the death of his mother.

Soon after, a pledge to bring about “real action on mental health” made it into Theresa May’s General Election manifesto — and ultimately proved to be its most successful part as the wider Tory campaign bombed.

Since then barely a day has gone by without a wellbeing-related headline in the press. The flames of the trend have been fanned by a growing army of Instagrammers dedicated to promoting a more Zen approach to life.

While some of the cod social media psychology associated with this movement can be annoying, it is surely no bad thing that bastions of the British establishment are at last finding the confidence to open up about their feelings.

Sectors of society which are disproportionately exposed to pressure stand to benefit. One of those groups is the legal profession, whose members (and future members) often find themselves operating in Hunger Games-style conditions. Certainly, a legal career can at times feel like a punishing battle just to survive, let alone make it to the next level.

Take law students, who must battle a constant stream of messages that their careers are over if they fail to obtain firsts in all their modules. They are expected to achieve this academic excellence while maintaining the even temperament of the lovely all-rounder who thrives in City law firm assessment centres.

When the lucky few who get that far become trainees, they’re immediately plunged into a two-year long hell of uncertainty. The big-money carrot of newly qualified (NQ) pay — which is often more than double trainee remuneration — ratchets up the pressure. Add into the mix a tightening of the NQ job market brought about by a combination of Brexit uncertainty and advances in technology, and you have a pretty potent cocktail for sleepless nights, at the least.

There’s no respite when it comes to qualification. Then it’s all about climbing the greasy pole to partner while being a brilliant young parent with a massive mortgage. With lawyers often described by their clients as “being paid to worry”, there is huge pressure not to put a foot wrong.

It certainly doesn’t help that lawyers inhabit a world where daring to discuss stress has traditionally been frowned upon. Not that this is illogical. Indeed, in a profession where one of the most commonly advertised qualities for future joiners is “resilience”, it seems prudent to limit reflections about one’s frazzled state of mind.

Unfortunately, this tendency towards the stiff upper lip doesn’t do anyone much good. All too often law students and lawyers struggling with anxiety and stress get caught in their own bubble and lose perspective.

In reality, their predicament is usually not as bad as they think. If you don’t get the magic circle training contract there are plenty of other good firms out there. If you don’t get taken on as a trainee then maybe the opportunities you get elsewhere will work out better in the long run. If you make a mistake it may well prove to be a useful learning experience rather than a fatal career blow. Sometimes, it’s just about finding a person to guide you to sane conclusions.

Given the cut-throat nature of legal career paths, and the aforementioned premium placed on resilience by the industry, it’s perhaps over-ambitious to expect law students and lawyers to open up to people they know at university or work. This is why it’s so important for them to be able to access independent and anonymous counselling and advice from people with an understanding of their sector.

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49 Comments

Not Amused

If there’s one thing Britain needs it’s more emotion.

Corbyn. Symphathiser

I think Britons are already well-endowed with emotion, but showing emotional vulnerability is not and should not be considered wrong or weak.

If this is what you meant, then I agree wholeheartedly.

Anonymous

Faker, you can’t empathise with anything but a sissy.

Anonymous

It’s one thing to examine your personality, seek to improve yourself and teach yourself resilience. It’s another to embrace emotional weakness and blame the world for your inability to deal with it.

The former is the basis for major philosophies and religions. The latter is a modern phenomenon.

Corbyn. Symphathiser

I’ve not seen anything noting your assertion in this article. Unless you are in fact involved with the “cod social media psychology associated with this movement.”

Anonymous

You’re a bumder

Not Amused

Sarcasm is lost on the sanctimonious.

As are most decent human characteristics.

Corbyn. Symphathiser

I’m sorry I gave you the benefit of the doubt and assumed you were empathising with your fellow man. I thought that was a decent human characteristic, but I suppose you disagree.

Anonymous

Pipe down bender

Interloper

Yeah, you’re an apt example of this.

The sheer irony of you using the word sanctimonious. That is priceless.

A Barrister

Sorry- law is no place for snowflakes.

If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the frying pan.

Anonymous

Yeah! All those tough guys and girls who stick it out (and turn to alcohol and Xanax) are really tough.

Anonymous

The problem is that law firms are full of personalities with expertise in sniffing out weakness and exploiting it. So in the end you learn to conceal your sadness or anxiety and put on a facade of bravado.

Junior Counsel

I was in court last week, instructed the evening before for a mention where the Solicitors had failed to do all sorts of things.

The judge was in a foul mood and wanted all sorts of answers that I couldn’t give him.

I explained that I had been instructed last minute, it wasn’t my case and I could not get hold of anyone who had the answers. I was told that the buck stops with counsel and that by convention I was personally responsible for the conduct of the case, and that he wasn’t interested in hearing excuses.

He ordered wasted costs against my instructing Solicitors, who have complained to my Chambers, and it looks like I’ll never get work from them again.

I felt like crying at times, or telling the Solicitors or clerks, or even trial counsel that they had royally shafted me sending me into a hearing like that without any answers, knowing what the hearing was for and not being available to give me any answers.

Thing is, if I showed my emotions, acted like a snowflake, cried, complained etc, then I would be finished at they Bar.

A stiff upper lip, resolute but deferential attitude and keeping it together are damage limitation in a hearing like that.

The fact is, junior counsel are sent to face the firing squad, and doing so with wet cheeks and wet pants does not assist in your career progression:

I agree that the law is no place for snowflakes.

Anonymous

Do you really want their instructions though, doesn’t sound like they have their files in order.

Anonymous

Yep, they sound like a right bunch of Charlie Hunts that firm. If your chambers aren’t supportive regarding the circumstances you were placed under (i.e. shrug off the complaint and tell the solicitors to suck it up given their shoddiness) then the same would seem to apply to them.

Wankington Bear

You sound like a wanker.

Anonymous

Is that all you have to say, ever?

Anonymous

Takes one to know one, Bear.

Ode to the Shot Messenger

NEVER tell a judge ‘it’s not my case’: it became your case the moment you stood up, if not before, and regardless of the type of hearing / how long you’ve held the brief. It is at best a poor excuse and at worst its akin to snitching.

And the buck doesn’t stop with counsel, irrespective of what was said in frustration, as shown by the fact that wasted costs were ordered against your IS and not you.

Suck it up and move on: it’ll not be the last time that you’ll take one for the team, I’m sure.

Another Junior Counsel

My sympathies for what sounds like a rotten morning. But although it’s fine to let the judge know that your instructions are limited because you’ve been instructed last minute, that clearly does not mean that it is not your case. It obviously was your case, and the judge was clearly not going to become MORE sympathetic on the question of wasted costs when the sols had sent someone who hadn’t had a chance to prepare properly.

Another Junior Counsel

Also, I genuinely don’t think that showing any emotion about something like this would mean that you would be finished at the bar. I would think nothing of venting to the clerks and other barristers about something like this! I agree tears are ideally kept out of chambers, but even then it’s not the end of the world.

Anonymous

Evident that the LC ‘reporters’ are not ex-solicitors. Every one of these type articles paints the legal profession to be some grimy, savage, brutish existence, where you have no friends or time and essentially live as a shallow husk of a human being.

I’m not saying its a walk in the park and its not difficult to succeed or even get into, but Christ alive! A bit of perspective please.. its not a day down the mines or walking along main street in Syria.

There are plenty of great people in law, and lots of interesting work as well as way above average pay at most places. JUST PLEASE STOP BLOODY MOANING

Anonymous

Interesting notion. So do you apply that philosophy to all areas of your life (Brexit, North Korea, racism, cheating partner etc)?

GIMP FINDER

Interesting notion: jumping from working at a firm/chambers, to NORTH KOREA. Go play buzzword bingo somewhere else you gimp.

Anonymous

So you just say stop moaning when suits you? Ok cool story bro.

GIMP FINDER

Leave me alone faggot!

Corbyn. Symphathiser

Mods?

GIMP FINDER

NB – the second gimp finder is not the original gimp finder, just an imposter. The original gimp finder identifies gimps wherever and whoever they may be, and does not accredit levels of gimpiness based on any kind of sexual, political or religious factors.

In short, the imposter gimp finder is most certainly a GIMP.

GIMP FINDER

This snokeflake gimp is impersonating my account. Let’s be real here, poofters are all gimps!

GIMP FINDER

Geez, you really must be a gimp. To impersonate an online commenter. I thought I was a sad loser gimp, but this takes being a gimp to a whole new level.

GIMP FINDER

Can GIMP FINDER stopped acting so triggered and homophobic and get a life? Anyone who prides themselves on “spotting gimps” is a sad twat.

Anonymous

You’re an imposter and a snitch!! It just keeps getting worse for you.

GIMP FINDER GENERAL

Silence, underlings!!!!!!!!!!!

GIMP FINDER GHANDI

Would you rather sit on a dick and eat cake, or sit on a cake and eat dick?

Anonymous

Can we please abandon this notion that anyone who gets a TC is ‘lucky’ and therefore anyone who fails to get a TC does so only because of an ‘unfair’ system/bad luck?

I hear so many people going through their third or fourth years of applications saying “I’ve worked so hard, I deserve this” as if effort alone entitles one to a TC.

Simply put, not everyone has the skills and characteristics required; some people would do well to accept this and re-evaluate their ambitions.

tl;dr – we need to stop teaching people that they can achieve anything if they simply work hard enough.

Will Smith

Don’t you ever let somebody tell you you can’t do something. Not even me. All right?

Martin McFly

If you put your mind to it, you can accomplish anything.

Anonymous

Hey McFly, you yella belly

Corbyn. Symphathiser

Great Scott!

Griff

What’s the matter McFly?

CHICKEN???????????????

Anonymous

Pretend Corbyn. Sympathiser. I will make you eat manure knuckle head.

Anonymous

The law:

Where one small gap in your knowledge can end your career.

Where you are expected to “self-refer” yourself to the Law Society or Bar Council if you mess up.

Yeah- really relaxed environment.

No cucks here

Title says it all

Bull

Clean up the pie, sissy.

Geoffrey Fairbrother

Pies, pies, who wants a custard pie?

Old Codger

I got the Hi-de-Hi reference even if I-one else did.

Anonymous

Weak article.

You don’t need to loosen the stiff lip at work. You don’t need to show a lack of control or resilience.

No one is preventing you from crying in the toilets, at home, or indeed releasing your pent-up anger by shitposting on TSR. All professional adults face difficulties in their career (particularly as they start out with little experience).

TL;DR loosening the lip at home, and keeping a quietly determined face on at work are not mutually exclusive

Newburger LJ (no fries)

Loosen neither your stiff upper lip nor sphincter.

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