Even from a tender age, in a modern environment fixated on success and failure based on weekly tests, yearly exams and the like, we’re forced to make early choices about choice of career. The oldest professions remain as popular as ever – law, medicine, engineering, accountancy. Some even consider politics; it pays better than the average wage!
So, what does success look like and at what cost? Looking at trainees lawyers, especially those working in magic firms, there is increasingly a sense of master/servant; ‘they’ feel (and of course they would?!), that they’re being ‘beasted’. Having worked slavishly at school, Oxbridge or Redbrick, there was probably an aspect of idyllic thinking that life would become ‘a little easier’ or ‘less demanding’ when in work. This myth evaporates pretty quickly with grotesque reality taking its place. The (very) long hours’ culture; the incessant demand for perfection; the need to get it right first time, each time; the constant pursuit of value add and commercial excellence begin to take their toll early, such that pedicures and manicures – being non-sexist – quickly become a thing of the past. Junior lawyers are expected to commit life and soul to the job, such that there are, shamelessly, sleeping pods in the basement, with takeaways, laundrettes and dry cleaners on tap, not to mention bespoke tailors!
So, is being ‘beasted’ the inevitable price to pay for ultimate success? Is it a right to passage? Now seems like a good time to introduce some statistics, raw data. Trainees in magic circle firms are starting on c.£50k; on qualification, they’re paid c.£90-100k; they enjoy healthy pay increases year on year to the tune of c.£10-15k per annum. Now let’s compare that with the average hourly minimum wage of £7.20 (for over 25s); that roughly 80% of new jobs on average pay less than £17,000 and that the national average take home pay is £26,500, you quickly begin to see the differentials. There are those who would argue that being ‘beasted’ for that kind of reward is just and fair and who can argue?! They would even go so far as to say; ‘if only we were given the chance?’ Opportunity lost.
But let’s focus on those who claim to being ‘beasted’ and whether their claim is fair or not? To an extent their current role might be a stepping stone to an in-house role; at some stage they might take their careers international; they might scale back and work for a boutique practice or a national practice where the working hours’ aren’t as heinous. The fact is they have options. Crucially what gets them there is the stint they’ve done at the magic circle firms (while being ‘beasted’). Prospective employers take huge comfort in the fact that the candidate in question hasn’t crumbled and has galvanised their academic learning in a stressful, hustle bustle, aggressive work environment and therefore they’ll be able to roll with the stresses ahead. This is an indirect reward for having been ‘beasted’. Many would argue, me included, that this is a fair price!
If being ‘beasted’ is the new metric by which you prove yourself worthy, then it becomes the informal kitemark trainees and future lawyers need to be willing to measure against, aspire to. At times, it helps to know what you’re walking into before there, so you can mentally, physically and emotionally prepare for such an ordeal. Who said it was going to be easy!