Downton Abbey – law as cricket

Watching last night’s episode, the last in the series, I found my mind straying away from legal issues and instead enjoyed the humour of pulling together a decent cricket team from nothing.

Victoria Symons, Brecher

Victoria Symons, Brecher

Maybe it brought back happy memories of trying to achieve similar feats myself. How many of us, perhaps after one shandy too many, have been able to resist the gauntlet thrown down by a much larger organisation to ‘take them on’ at some sport or another, usually involving either an exceptionally large number of people or great skill. One of my most humiliating experiences was coming last (by quite some way) 3 years straight in a charity dragon boat event, although at least we didn’t capsize unlike some law firms I could name…

After mulling over further, it occurred to me there are in fact many similarities between cricket and the law. Both are undoubtedly great British institutions, loved by many but boring the socks off many more. And the comparisons go on. Take the types of transaction we deal with. You get your one day internationals or floodlit 20-20s, usually high profile deals that go from initial instruction to completion in a hugely time pressured environment. Those all nighters are not an urban myth. Then you get your equivalent to a test match, deals that just seem to go on and on like Groundhog Day with no sense of getting anywhere at all until the day they close. Thankfully, at least in our world they rarely end in a draw.

Even the office environment matches an oval: large expanses immaculately kept, with small hubs of intense activity and vast areas populated by people wandering around to no apparent end.  I mean, really, what do ******** [word deleted to avoid office strife] lawyers actually do?? And then there’s your team. In cricket, the team of course consists of 12 players, with the twelfth man taking the role of gofer. Working units within most law firms today consist of cross departmental teams rather than following the more traditional departmental divisions; after all, how many transactions fall fairly and squarely within one box? Some firms opt for hot desking so that teams for particular transactions sit together for the duration of that deal. Me? I’m not giving up my window seat for anyone. And yes, there is usually a gofer on the team, whose valued role is to make the rest of us feel better about ourselves.

Regardless of where one sits, the strength of any team is its variety. Many of us will be lucky enough at some time or another to work with outstanding all rounds akin to Botham or Lara, and we will learn much in the process. But in reality, a team is driven just as much from behind with stalwarts like Trott: they might not set the world on fire, but never undervalue a safe pair of hands.

The truth is that being good at law is no longer enough to make you a good lawyer. By the time you look for a training contract, you will also be expected, as if by osmosis, to have acquired some degree of business acumen, and come prepared at interview to wax lyrical about your plans for business development. Ironically, those doing the probing probably have no more idea how to generate new clients than you do, or they would be out there doing it rather than interviewing. Turn the tables, I say, and grill them on their approach.

So that brings us to an end of Series 3 and indeed of my blogs. Who knows what the future may hold? Matthew (aka Dan Stevens) is off to Broadway, and Lady Edith (Laura Carmichael) made her West End debut this week (lets hope Sir Peter Hall opts not to travel to Broadway lest this week’s disruption be repeated). Who will be left and, more amusingly, how will those exiting the stage be written out? Answers on a postcard please…