It's gruesome at the bottom
Sunday, November 13, 2016
Justinian in Barristers, Briefs, Junior Junior, Solicitors

The hunt for briefs ... Networking events for hungry barristers ... Telling lies to solicitors ... Junior Junior fills up on cheese balls 

HAS there ever been a good time to come to the bar?

I ponder this question while moving uneasily through a seething mass of lawyers, feverishly clutching my two glasses of sauv blanc. I'm in hot pursuit of a tray of hor d'oerves. Fried camembert balls. 

Another floor has thrown a networking event, and a mixture of anxiety, guilt and the prospect of free food and alcohol has drawn me here. As one of the bar's youngest members, I don't know from where my next meal is coming.

I stuff two camembert balls in my mouth like a squirrel gathering acorns for the winter. My right hand reaches for a third, the glasses of vino dangling precariously in my left.

Networking is like professional peacocking. It's commercial whoring, with crumbed cheese balls and crumpled business cards. I hate it, and invariably avoid human contact at these events like a Médecins Sans Frontières volunteer in an Ebola clinic. 

I admit, if I had any sense I would suck it up and engage with these mystical bearers of briefs, these "solicitors". I would listen to their inane jokes, their frustratingly mundane anecdotes. I would feign interest, laugh at the right moments, be impressed by their credentials, resist the urge to yawn. I would say things like "Your practice is so interesting ... We should do lunch". I would hand them a business card, tell them to give me a call. I wouldn't make fun of their comb-over, or suggest that their story about conveyancing could have been told in two minutes rather than 45.

For the newly-robed, the most difficult part of networking is answering the question posed by many a solicitor: "So, what areas do you practice in?"

I may be a terrible networker, but on that point I can offer a few words of wisdom. Junior juniors: ignore this at your peril. 

First, never answer truthfully. Deep down, we all know you will take whatever dog-eared, coffee-stained, hospital-pass you can get your impecunious digits on. An answer to that effect does not instil confidence. Saying things like, "I'll do whatever you want! I have children to feed!" is not likely to boost your annual turnover, even if it is your internal mantra.

Second, be vague. By giving the solicitor a list of real practice areas you only pigeon-hole yourself. Keep things general and the solicitor is more likely to throw work at you. That interstate bovine easement brief that he's been negligently sitting on for two years? That could be yours. A matter where default judgment was entered against his client six months ago? Yours.

So, remember to describe your practice with buzz words and phrases that don't really mean anything, but which sound impressive. My favourite is "equitable commerce", but I also use descriptors like "space torts", "human-avian relations", "mortgage scepticism" and "negroni law".

Third, remember that the solicitor doesn't know anything. This is obviously a generalisation; some solicitors are actually quite competent. Unfortunately, these aren't the ones briefing you. Accept your place at the bottom of the barrel, and remember to speak slowly, use small words, and increase your indemnity insurance cover. 

Fourth, and finally, remember not to follow my example. The bar is a tough place for young players and the chances of survival aren't good. Networking is something to take seriously. It's not a joke.

At some point I will get my act together. Right now, though, I'm seeing how many of these cheese balls will fit in my mouth.

Article originally appeared on Justinian: Australian legal magazine. News on lawyers and the law (http://justinian.com.au/).
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