It’s hard to think of a profession as romanticized as it is vilified as the law. In countless books and films the lawyer is the last bastion of truth and justice. The saver of lives condemned to the gallows. The professional who can change hearts, minds and laws. So powerful is the image that in a poll of actual American lawyers, Atticus Finch from To Kill a Mockingbird was named the greatest lawyer of all time. And by the American film institute as the greatest American hero in cinema.
That said, try selling Atticus Finch to an audience more used to Danny De Vito in The War of the Roses and lawyers as greasy, rapacious slime-balls living off others’ misery, or cold hearted ambulance chasers in American cop programmes.
Then again, I once saw a survey in a newspaper which named lawyers as the second sexiest professionals. Politicians came top in the poll but I’m sure participants in the survey were thinking JFK, not one of the gingery bores at Westminster.
It's interesting to me how American and British TV shows see the profession too. American shows have cool blondes and square jawed hunks in haute couture. They drive fast cars, live in opulent apartments and win arguments in court that go to the heart of the human experience. The first series of LA Law led to a huge increase in young people applying for law school because the career seemed so, well, glamorous. American legal shows portray the legal profession as providing a lifestyle.
In Britain we have pot bellied Rumpole and usually Julie Walters in particularly frumpy, mumsy garb playing a harassed barrister who hasn't even got time to get her roots done. They are usually as frayed as their surroundings, over stressed and under paid. The legal profession is largely portrayed as a public service.
It may seem frivolous to focus on image but there is a bigger issue at play too. A solicitor recently observed that when she was at a legal event I'd organised about Radicalisation and Family Law, she was struck by how there was no-one under 30 there. 'What is our legacy?' she pondered, 'if younger lawyers aren't choosing family law?'
It's something a criminal lawyer raised on social media too. Like my tweet about email briefs, his comment resonated with many lawyers who agreed; crime is simply not paying for young lawyers.
Is the legal profession still attractive to young people choosing careers? Is Family law a number one choice for them or just something you do if you can’t make it in other fields?
These are questions worth asking because new blood is vital in any profession but particularly if it is to survive with the integrity of past decades and centuries. I'm not sure I have any easy answers. But in a tiny way I'm doing my little bit to draw attention to the profession.
On 11th October Middle Temple and www.itsalawyerslife.com are hosting a light-hearted debate asking Who is the Greatest Fictional Lawyer?
The event will be a rare opportunity for lawyers to be cast as glamorous, media friendly figures as we discuss the most famous legal eagles in literature and film. It will be interesting to see who the voting audience most sees as best representing their profession?
Personally I've always thought that every lawyer starts off aspiring to be Atticus Finch and settles for somewhere between Elle Woods from Legally Blonde and Vinny Gambini from My Cousin Vinny!
Anyway, all the cool lawyers will be at the debate. Come join us. Follow the conversation on Twitter: #MTdebates #LawyersLifeFestival @itsalawyerslife@middletemple