Celebrities, Letter from London, United Kingdom / Great Britain

Letter from London: Celebs Flock to Biglaw

Last week Britain was treated to the surreal sight of a junior lawyer collecting a lifetime achievement award for his services to pop music. Dave Rowntree, drummer in the band Blur — honoured with a lifetime achievement award at Wednesday’s BRIT awards — now spends his days working as a trainee lawyer at London corporate firm Kingsley Napley, and plays music part-time. Judging by his constant fiddling with his Blackberry during the awards ceremony, Rowntree seems to have got into the spirit of Biglaw.

The lure of the legal profession hangs heavily over celebrities in Britain….

Alongside Rowntree, other recent celeb converts to law include Judge Jules (a well known U.K. DJ, rather than an actual judge) and former Premier League and England soccer player Stuart Ripley. Jules quit Radio 1, the main U.K. pop music station, to join London media law firm Sheridans, having completed law school part-time last year. Before he became a DJ, Jules, 45, graduated with a law degree from the London School of Economics — hence the ‘Judge Jules’ nickname. Meanwhile, Ripley –- a star of Blackburn Rovers’ Premier League title winning team of 1995 –- joined Manchester sports law firm Brabners Chaffe Street as a trainee lawyer in 2008 following his completion of law school at the University of Central Lancashire, where he enrolled after retiring from soccer.

As with many new entrants to the profession, the trio profess strong enthusiasm for the law. When I interviewed Rowntree a couple of years ago for Legal Week while he was at law school, he described the temporary paralegal work he was doing as “brilliant” and “fascinating”. Amazingly after his years of rock star living, he remembered a trial he observed during this paralegal stint as “the best time of my life”, adding: “I’ve done some amazing things with Blur, but that, for me, was more interesting. The lawyers involved were absolutely incredible. I guess I love being around clever people. I was devastated when the weekends came.”

Ripley is less prone to hyperbole, but it’s clear that the former Premier League star holds the legal profession in high regard. Certainly his decription of himself as “fortunate enough to land a training contract with Brabners, a law firm with a fantastic sport department where my background in football was an asset” carries none of the usual braggadocio associated with pro-soccer players. There was pride, too, in Jules’ recent announcement, upon quitting his radio career, that “I’m off to become an entertainment lawyer at Sheridans.”

Will this enthusiasm prove lasting? There was more than a hint of mid-life crisis about Rowntree’s confession that “turning 40 causes certain chemical changes to happen in your brain”, and that he had “started to wonder if everything I’d done to date had been a trivial waste of time.”

But Ripley has been a lawyer now for four years now, loves “the grey areas of law where debate and case law emerges” and recently secured a position on the U.K. national soccer body’s Judicial Panel. In other words, he looks to be in it for the long run. Maybe the reams of glass-half-empty lawyers simply just don’t realise how good they have got it?

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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