Drinking, General Counsel, In-House Counsel, Letter from London, Media and Journalism, Racism, United Kingdom / Great Britain

Letter from London: Port, Nazis, and In-House Lawyers

To qualify as a lawyer in the U.K., you first have to eat 12 dinners. Seriously. OK, it’s only barristers (British trial lawyers) who must meet this requirement. And they have to pass legal exams as well as eat. But the essence of my slightly sensationalised opening sentence is true: no dinners, no qualification.

Here’s what happens: students go to law school in the day, then every month or so go and eat a formal dinner at one of London’s inns of court (ancient clubs for trial lawyers). The medieval ritual has its roots in the pre-law school days when “sons of country gentlemen” from across Britain would come to lodge in the inns, attending lectures, taking part in mock courts, and dining together in the inns’ main halls (Harry Potter-style places that are famous for hosting Shakespeare’s original plays). Certain traditions are still followed, like toasting the Queen and refusing to shake hands with anyone (barristers are historically forbidden from shaking hands each other’s hands). But mainly it’s about getting drunk — on port, the U.K. establishment’s tipple of choice.

Why am I telling you about this? To give you a sense of port’s central role in the education of our young, as a primer for a story about the Oxford University Conservative association accidentally revealing its hate-filled Nazi soul at a recent “port and policy” night….

Over to the Daily Mail:

One video, filmed in the common room at Corpus Christi college, is said to show a student drunkenly chanting: ‘Dashing through the Reich’, before being silenced by another member. The song’s full version, to the tune of Jingle Bells, continues: ‘Dashing through the Reich / in a black Mercedes Benz / killing lots of kike / ra ta ta ta ta.’ The word ‘kike’ is a derogatory term for Jewish people.

As the E.U. verges ever closer to a disorderly collapse, it’s a comfort to know we have a bunch of well-educated far-right lunatics to take over the reins when a desperate electorate votes in an extremist party a few years from now.

Happily, there’s another installment of our beloved News International phone-hacking soap opera on its way to divert us from such dark musings. On Thursday, the management-speak-loving son of Rupert Murdoch, James Murdoch, goes in front of the U.K. parliament for a second time to face questions from politicians about underhanded practices at the now defunct British tabloid, The News of the World.

Over the summer, Britain got really into this stuff, revelling in the opportunity to finally stick it to Rupert Murdoch after the years he has spent bullying our leaders through his trashy newspapers. After a while, though, it got a bit boring and mired in technicalities, and we started worrying about World War Three again. But now it’s back, with the latest twist boiling down to whether or not James Murdoch knew about an email showing that phone-hacking was widespread at the News of the World and not just the work of a single rogue reporter. James says he didn’t; the News of the World’s ex-head of legal, Tom Crone, and the paper’s former editor, Colin Myler, claim that he did. As the Observer newspaper put it on Sunday: “The stage is set for a dramatic confrontation.”

If Crone is anything like the in-house lawyers I interviewed while working for Legal Week, the British law mag, he’ll be hating all this. Having quit the rigours of private practice for a quiet life drawing up lists of external legal advisors, general counsel don’t tend to be ones for to go after trouble. But, then, working on a Murdoch paper can’t have been your conventional in-house job. Crone once remarked that doing legal work on the News of the World could feel like being on “a forward patrol in Helmand province” with “plenty of incoming, occasional hand-to-hand combat and a high risk of casualties.” He’ll need to show this sort of fighting spirit if he’s to successfully face down his old boss. Go on Crone, do it for the in-housers!

Alex Aldridge is Above the Law’s U.K. correspondent. He also writes a weekly column for The Guardian and is the Editor of Legal Cheek. Previously Alex was Associate Editor of Legal Week, having begun his career with The Times. Follow Alex on Twitter @AlexAldridgeUK or email him at alex@legalcheek.com.

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