Determining whether the institutional values of the legal profession have changed means delving under the surface. This exercise is worth doing.
The news this week that Baker McKenzie's Paul Rawlinson is temporarily stepping away from his role as chairman, due to exhaustion, represents a Eureka moment for the legal profession. His decision is a courageous achievement. He has demonstrated how male honour codes can healthily change, if male lawyers are willing to change.
Close personal scrutiny
The idea that a man should be exempt from close personal scrutiny, and should stand and fall only by his career achievements, is male potent. But it has always missed several fundamentals. When Dominic Carman published his book ‘No Ordinary Man: A Life of George Carman’, in 2002, howls of male anger ensued. These infantilised men were unable to recognise their own reaction as fear. The poorly equipped will always define ‘achievements’ myopically.
George Carman had risen to become one of the highest profile barristers in British legal history. After his death his son Dominic treated the world to magnificent insights into his father’s celebrated trials. But his portrait of George Carman, the private man, provoked male outrage. Dominic pulled no punches. His father emerges as a chain-smoking alcoholic with homosexual inclinations who suffered prolonged periods of impotence, had a severe gambling problem and repeatedly beat all three of his wives. In most legal circles Dominic Carman’s disclosures were rigidly classified as the ultimate in filial disloyalty. Wounded and disorientated males, in ‘kill the messenger’ mode, set about viciously questioning the motivations of Dominic Carman.
It is the case that a man will incline to defend the indefensible when he fears his own survival might be at stake too. This is how the morally abject male honour code makes little shrimps fall into line. The demand for filial loyalty, like the demand for fraternal loyalty, is what makes the wheels of organisational hierarchy go round. An ambitious man is required to wretchedly do almost anything to secure the support of his utilitarian advancers. To date, men have lacked any capacity to devise - or even envisage - a healthier scheme for organisational existence. But Baker McKenzie's Paul Rawlinson has now facilitated an exceptionally healthy possibility for fundamental rule changes. The value of a man to his colleagues and to his organisation does not have to be measured almost exclusively in abject self-subjugation terms.
The male honour code has also ensured that man has never been close to Overkill in the brotherly love stakes. So even a successful man is never secure. Even sycophants have the potential to be rivals and usurpers. This is why control is considered king, to all men. The black arts of ‘loyal dissent’ merely create illusions, within an organisational scheme where men are not much capable of healthily existing at all. Male working life routinely involves a lifetime of enforced silence about many things, including the bowing, the scraping and the humiliations inflicted on him by other men.
Costs and value judgments
Dominic Carman laid bare the price his father paid for his years in the professional limelight. It constitutes honest biography, because it articulates that advancing up the male totem pole of working life has punitive costs. Career advancement routinely requires a ruthless trampling over the human existence of colleagues, friends, families and clients. Career advancement also routinely requires a ruthless trampling over the human existence of oneself.
Dominic Carman wrote a strange, unsettling book about his father. The legal profession still has a strong tradition of burying in mind-altering aspic what the life realities of practising lawyers actually involve.
But Paul Rawlinson has most courageously given all lawyers a priceless chance to discuss and re-evaluate the true costs of the fraternal ‘honour’ codes that continue to plague organisational existence.