Ed. Note: This is a guest post from the good people at RollOnFriday. In addition to covering all of the salacious news and gossip happening across the pond, RollOnFriday occasionally endeavors to explain England to us Yankees when we beg them. Check them out.

Awards ceremonies feature large in the British legal landscape.

For our lawyers, it’s not merely enough to trouser wheelbarrows full of cash every month; they’d like some recognition too, please. A cheap statuette to keep in the lobby or to line the window sills of their corner offices. Something to wave at clients as proof that they really are the most awesome at negotiating sales purchase agreements.

And where there are awards, there are awards ceremonies. What essentially started as a ruse by impecunious publications to raise a bit of hard cash seems to have become an industry in its own right. Lawyers are charged thousands of pounds for a table, a dry husk of meat, and a lackluster comedian — all for the so-called prestige of winning an award that almost invariably seems to have been allocated on an entirely random basis.

RollOnFriday was privileged to have been invited to one such ceremony last week, The Lawyer Awards 2011, run by one of country’s most long-running legal publications….

The evening started off with pre-dinner drinks. Giddy at their release from the office, stiff men in suits and uncomfortable-looking women in inappropriately plunging evening dresses stood around necking champagne self-consciously and laughing at weak jokes about collaterised debt obligations.

When play time was over, the assembled throng was marched to the main event to take their seats in the dingy basement of London’s Grosvenor House Hotel. The venue was a large and dimly lit bowl of soullessness filled with hundreds of tables all tightly-packed together like sardines -– forcing attendees to essentially rub their arses in the faces of lawyers as they squeezed through the crowd to their tables.

The lights dim and the event organiser arrives on the overly-lit stage with a rousing speech about the legal community and the inevitable self-serving introduction. Then it’s over to the compere, Welsh comedian Rob Brydon.

Brydon is pretty successful in the UK. He’s a stalwart of comedy panel shows, star of one of the best loved comedy dramas of recent years (Gavin and Stacey), and sometime side-kick of comedy legend Steve Coogan. So understandably corporate gigs might not represent a career zenith for him. But still it could be presumed that the £20k+ pay check might make a couple of hours of cracking jokes to a roomful of lawyers slightly more bearable.

But it seems not. He starts off OK with a couple of chortlesome japes, but his heart clearly isn’t in it and he spends much of the following two hours reading out law firms’ names and quipping, “there are a few jokes I could make about that one, but I don’t think I need to even say them.” Yes you do, Rob Brydon, that’s exactly what they’re paying you the country’s average yearly salary to do.

In fairness, the evening is long and given that there are approximate eleventy billion awards to hand out –- including such zingers as In-house Commerce and Industry of the Year –- it might be expected that the life would begin to seep out of our eminent host.

And there are so many winners that the awards are split into two parts: Part I pre-dinner and Part II post-dinner.

The winners all troop up, inexplicably to the rousing boom of such pop classics as Queen’s “Don’t Stop Me Now,” collect their bits of spikey metal and pose awkwardly with the stiff-backed Brydon, before being followed back to their seats by some paparazzo-like official photographer.

It is like pulling teeth, particularly as the entire room is either desperate for some food to soak up the industrial quantities of acidic white wine they are ingesting (Part I) or just desperate to leave the whole shebang to drink away the pain / see the family they never normally get to see / sleep (Part II).

After Part I drags interminably to an end, relief erupts. It’s food time. Dinner is the rubbery filling in between the sorry slices of boredom that make up the awards-giving.

The meal kicks off with a starter of cold smoked chicken salad. Which tastes of, well, cold. But it’s late, everyone’s hungry, and it’s wolfed down anyway. Gallons of sauvignon blanc are sloshed out, and everyone gets on with the real purpose of the evening: getting pissed with their mates. Some rather dry hunks of beef follow, a stodgy pudding, more wine. The room gets louder and more boisterous, as partners with high-functioning Aspergers and personal hygiene issues decide that they might be in with a chance with the pretty woman from their PR team who’s babysitting them.

But before they can make their move, it’s Part II of the awards. This section of the evening scrapes up all the in-house awards – with our compere attempting to be enthusiastic about the accomplishments of Shell Upstream International and Glasgow Housing Association.

Finally, it’s the big one. The equivalent of the Academy Award for Best Picture (sort of). This is the climax of the evening, the announcement of the Firm of the Year 2011. Who will it be? RollOnFriday’s been betting on all of the awards (with limited success, admittedly) but we had all plumped for Travers Smith to win this one after its stellar year.

But our run of appalling predictions continues. Travers doesn’t even place. The winner is Norton Rose thanks to its ability to merge with firms in Canada and South Africa. The firm’s big cheeses troop up to the stage. Brydon manages to mispronounce the name of the firm’s head of litigation, to a death stare from her and a quiet word in his ear.

But it is at least over. A relieved hand clap goes round the room. Those sitting on the tables in the middle of the room are swiftly ejected from their seats to clear the way for a dance floor. The team from The Lawyer clinks glasses, reflecting on whether they will be able to milk the withered teat of the awards for one more year.

Realising that their opportunity has nearly passed, gaggles of partners swarm in desperate circles around the handful of pretty women still in the room. Trophies are brandished like phalluses. It’s all getting rather messy, and those with friends in tow and better places to go stumble out to get a stiff drink.

£340 ($544) a head. Bargain.


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