A legal road less travelled
My resume states, “Schooling: St Thomas More, Chelsea, London”, however my school report read, “Lazy, talkative and notable”. I thought “notable” did not sound too bad until I realized it was “not able”.
They were the days before parent rage stalked school halls and teachers would give their unrestrained opinions, such as my gym teacher who wrote “physically immobile”. Today, I would probably get a more subtly insulting “You must be very proud of him”.
I left school having failed every exam, except art.
I had lost both parents by the age of 11. This gave me an independence and freedom, of which most teenagers could only dream.
I made a promising start by taking up smoking and hitch-hiking around Europe. However, my “walk on the wild side” ended when I joined London’s Metropolitan Police Cadets. I was 16. My father had been a policeman at West End Central and I wanted to follow in his footsteps. The reality, however, was marching, exercise, study and discipline. I was terrible at it all or so they said, however, there was a gradual improvement.
After two years, I had achieved average and was assigned to Greenwich Police Station. The Police Sergeants, who were our instructors, did this by shouting “Move yourself” and “Shut up”; Still good advice for me today.
At 18, I saw an advertisement for a US Summer Camp Counselor. I left the police. At the Camp I was a judo instructor for 8-12 year olds. As Woody Allen said, “the bigger the opponent, the bigger the beating” but I did not tell them that. The US experience changed my life and within four years my resume would record LL.B (Hons).
My first job was as a law clerk at McMillan Binch, a large Toronto firm. Unlike Australia, an Englishman in Canada is not immediately disliked, they wait a few minutes.
Finally, I started two year articles in a general practice called Rimmers in Aylesbury, UK. Years later I was to base the look of my legal cartoon character on my long suffering and kind Principal, John Fortgang who eventually became a judge. Now people ask if it is me.
In 1982, I qualified, met Lord Denning and married a lawyer.
I became a solicitor at New Scotland Yard and then at the criminal firm, which once represented Christine Keeler. In 1985, my wife and I opened the first Brennans solicitors in Lewisham, South London. On the first weekend someone carved their initials into our brass plate and a man was murdered in the pub next door.
I represented up to 5 defendants a day in London’s Magistrates Courts: Burglary, drink driving, assaults. Soon, I employed other people to go to court as the property boom was creating a lot of legal work.
After two years, we emigrated to Sydney. Within 6 months of arriving, the flat property market boomed and my wife and I had set up Brennans no. 2.
The boom ended and we went to Hong Kong, where we stayed for 10 years. At first I was a consultant at a criminal firm: Smugglers, Madams and a transvestite shop lifter. It was an improved class of criminal clientele and better dressed too.
After that I was at the Hong Kong Law Society conducting investigations, disciplinary proceedings and intervening in failed solicitors firms. Eventually, there was an ICAC raid with many arrests in order to try and curb corruption in some law firms.
I ran the Macau Marathon. The following day I found the pain eased by walking backwards.
For the next 5 years, I was at the US Multi-national, Intel conducting anti-piracy raids in Asia: Limos, stock options, 5 star hotels and no billable hours. Like most people working in-house, I resent any of you for thinking that it was easy.
After Intel, I was called to the bar and became a tenant barrister in the Middle Temple, London. From there, I was head hunted to be General Counsel of the Federation Against Software Theft to conduct enforcement and lobbying in the UK and Europe. I became a post graduate in IP law and wrote my first book. Later I was sent as an EU IP enforcement expert as part of a delegation to Beijing. I haven’t been invited back.
Now, I am in general practice with my wife on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast. We have four children and yes I did lecture them on the importance of hard work by skating over my own school record, as most parents do.
My experience is that the law in other countries can feel very familiar, depressingly so for some people. A legal issue can turn on one word or the lack of it, I know. But, clients have the same legal issues worldwide and lawyers tend to apply similar solutions. I try to make my writing on law internationally applicable and if possible, funny.
My books, CDs and ebooks have titles like “The Law is an Ass…Make sure it doesn’t bite yours!”, “The 10 Greatest Legal Mistakes in Business …and how to avoid them”, “A Legal Guide to Dying….Baby Boomers Edition”. It is the sort of daily advice that small firm lawyers give to their clients.
My current blog http://www.101reasonstokillallthelawyers.com/ is for the legal profession. It has legal cartoons and humourous legal articles. It takes all the bad things people say about the law and the legal industry. It examines each one. I decided on 101 reasons as I didn’t want to depress the entire legal profession by having 1,001.
I have a monthly eZine called “Law & Disorder”. I am a speaker and MC. I draw legal cartoons for the Australian Financial Review. My cartoons have just been launched in America by The Billable Hour Co as greeting cards; Lawyer jokes are international too.
So, for any young lawyers, who has an interest in drawing legal cartoons, speaking and writing about law humorously, this is an ideal career template. For anybody else, career planning may be an attractive alternative.
(c) Paul Brennan 2008.
This article first appeared in the Queensland's Law Society Magazine The Proctor in 2008.