Thursday, 19 May 2011

Law, Business, Sex and Cookery

Right. This one is going to be a little different, more of a polemic. 

Before we get to talking about sex and cookery, let's discuss elitism and intellectual snobbery. Many of those reading this post are lawyers, and, judging by a continuing theme on twitter and in blogs, there are a good number of lawyers who believe that the law is an Olympian construct of the intellect, a triumph of ideas, far above the grubby world of business. This notwithstanding that many of history's eminent lawyers, starting with Cicero, were men on the make. 


I'm a big believer in the rule of law. 
But everyone has somebody who looks down at them. I did my undergraduate degree in the physical sciences, trying (only partly successfully) to get to grips with courses like Quantum Mechanics. My tutor was a genius. I got a decent degree but, at the end of the 4th year, my tutor's career advice was "be a lawyer". You could roughly translate that comment as "You're something of an intellectual dilettante. Some of your thinking is basically sound. You seem to enjoy an argument. You're very average at science. Why not leave it behind and go and hang out with the crowd doing law". 

I suppose my tutor would have approved of the route taken by Ludwig Wittgenstein, who studied aeronautical engineering before going off to dabble in philosophy. This is the school that believes that, if you want to spend your time debating the nature of language, it's best to train your mind first by getting to grips with something important, like fluid dynamics and the design of wings. Next time you want to know what's more important, the Tractatus or fluid dynamics, try looking out of the window on Easyjet on your way to Tuscany or Provence or wherever lawyers are supposed to spend their holidays. The thing that's keeping you and your fellow holiday makers up in the air isn't "Wovon man nicht sprechen kann, darüber muß man schweigen." I never understood why people thought that comment was so clever anyway.  


Many lawyers seem to take the same approximate approach to the teaching and practice of business as my former tutor in physics did to the teaching and practice of law. It's all relative (ho, ho, wouldn't Einstein be proud). As Ben Hoff tweeted, ironically, to me yesterday "Law and Business just don't mix. Everyone knows that". 


But people who really think that are missing the point. Even if law is something that physicists look down on, it is a construct of the intellect. I don't think business is the same category of thing at all. Business is like cooking or sex. It's a human appetite, some kind of atavistic drive that everyone has and everyone does, to a greater or lesser degree. Swapping and hoarding things is something the very youngest children do. You don't have to teach people to be businesslike, any more than you have to teach them to eat. They do it quite instinctively. They start doing it at birth and do it throughout their life, weighing the value of things around them and competing in almost everything they do. Human nature impels people towards being naturally businesslike.


Let's have a closer look at cooking (easier than a closer look at sex). I hope nobody reading this would dispute that the quality of cookery spans a huge spectrum from, say, beans on toast at some god-forsaken motorway service station to haute-cuisine at a great restaurant. They may grumble about the number of TV chefs, but nobody in the law faculty at a university takes the time and trouble to criticize people who teach and practice cookery as less worthwhile than teaching or practising law. Why would they? It's a different category of thing. People who spend their days debating the meaning of justice are perfectly capable of heading to the market to select ingredients before going home to make a killer soufflé


Some people care passionately about food, some less so. Some people are naturally good at cooking, some are not. But everyone can improve and, in the hands of some, cooking reaches the level of an art. 
The French shudder when they think of the approach of the British to cookery (although they're as out of date as those Brits who think the French wear berets). Jacques Chirac famously said about the Brits "You cannot trust people whose cuisine is so bad". 

The same holds for business. Some lawyers shudder at any attempt to encourage law students or practitioners to be better at business. But why? You don't need to forswear business in order to maintain your intellectual purity as a lawyer, any more than you need to 
take a vow of chastity. Being a lawyer is not the same as being a monk.

Being told "you're bad at business" is like being told "you're bad in bed". I have only one message for lawyers. Don't stand for this drivel. If you like cookery, cook. If you enjoy business, then throw yourself into it
. You may have natural aptitude, you may not. If you're prepared to learn from others who know more than you do, you'll improve. If you get really good, you might even make it into an art.

No comments:

Post a Comment