Meritocracy, diversity, nepotism and trendy hipster lawyers

Readers of last week’s blog will remember that on Thursday the SJ team went to Matrix Chambers’ summer party. The event coincided with the launch of its sister brand, Matrix International, which opened an office in Geneva in 2013 and is looking to grow its overseas client base.

It is impressive that a chambers is overtly recognising itself – as many law firms have – as a brand that must be actively promoted, like any other business. With globalisation, the days of firms and chambers being able to sit back and wait for new clients to stroll through the doors are long gone. It will be interesting to see which other chambers make similar moves.

Meritocracy over diversity?

Matrix’s party, which took place at Latin American-inspired restaurant Floridita in Soho, was a veritable legal who’s who and it was standing-room only for the most part. So editor at large Kevin Poulter, junior writer Laura Clenshaw and I made the most of the networking opportunity before the dancefloor opened.

I spoke to BAME Law Society council member and vice chairman of the British Korean Law Association, Philip Do Youn Kim, who told me that diversity in the legal profession was important, but that he disagreed with the ‘affirmative action’ suggestion made by the deputy president of the Supreme Court, Lady Hale, recently. Instead, Kim maintained that the profession must remain a ‘meritocracy’.

A working environment built on meritocracy, and in which diversity thrives, is a goal that all law firms and chambers should strive for. Despite progress, nepotism is still alive and well, though – at least anecdotally. As Nick Cohen said, in an interview with The Observer in 2011: “The dim children of the well connected can go a long way before they are found out.”

The fact remains that future BAME lawyers are often under-represented in the elite law schools up and down the country. Those students who attend the finest schools and have the best connections maintain a leg up on their peers and they can take advantage of this by entering the leading firms and chambers.

Of course, firms want the brightest students and choose their trainees accordingly but favouritism of certain institutions continues. A ‘CV blind’ approach as part of a graduate recruitment policy may be the first step in breaking the Oxbridge bias but more can surely be done. Meritocracy and nepotism make strange bedfellows. Meritocracy and diversity should not.

Legally hip trends

The latest Twitter hashtag craze, #Hipsterlaw, has drawn much amusement in the SJ office. Created by prolific tweeter Sean Jones QC of 11 King’s Bench Walk (who is also Twitter-famous for the #MarriedtotheBar hashtag, which was his advice to George Clooney on marrying a barrister).

Hipster, for those of you who are unaware of the term, is used to denote an international subculture that values independent thinking, counter-culture, progressive politics, an appreciation of art and indie-rock, creativity and intelligence. In London, members of this colourful clique can be found on the streets and in the pop-up stores around Shoreditch, close to SJ Towers.

Hipsterism is, from the outside at least, the complete opposite of what the legal profession is stereotypically seen to be. Hipsters value craft beer, healthy eating from sustainable Fairtrade sources and are often portrayed as coffee aficionados. You would be hard-pressed to find a hipster downing a chain-bought latte while rushing to court, or tucking into a processed chicken sandwich hastily bought from the local supermarket before returning to the office for an afternoon filled with exciting e-disclosure.

But what if hipsterism and the law merged? The SJ team has trawled trough Twitter to bring you the top #Hispterlaw tweets to date from some of the UK’s finest legal hipster minds. You can see our full Storify here.

Although, as My Learned Friend pointed out: “#hipsterlaw was sooo last week.” With that in mind, we can’t wait to see what Sean Jones QC comes up with next.


This blog was first published in the Solicitors Journal on 9 July 2014 and is reproduced with kind permission.