Movers and shakers

Robed in ceremony but not in court, nepotism is rife in the law world, writes Natalie Buckett

Legal nepotism

The rituals of today’s elite are not quite as conspicuous or official as those of years gone by. Beneficiaries of privilege can no longer be pinpointed by crown or cape. These days, a tiny distinction in accent is more likely to betray a private school education.

Make no mistake though–the traditions of the elite are just as opulent as in centuries past. They are just no longer carried out in the public forum.

Sometimes though, when you least expect it, you stumble upon these rituals. When I did, I was sitting in the Supreme Court of NSW, surrounded by Hugo Boss business suits and a battery of bespoke briefcases.

Every year, throughout university, graduates are admitted as lawyers at a ceremony held at the Supreme Court in NSW. They must bring along a person on the Roll of Lawyers in NSW to officially “move” their admission.

Caricature and banter between law student’s talk suggests they talk about their mummies and daddies more than any other aspiring careerist. The ritualistic nepotism at the legal admissions confirms this.

“May it please the Court, I move that my son, Peter, be admitted as a Lawyer of this Honourable Court.”

Whilst there is no requirement that a law graduate elect a member of their family to move them, a huge number do. The guiding note provided to those moving an admission says, “May it please the court, I move that [blank space] be admitted as a lawyer of this Honourable Court.”

The blank space allows a mover to use a student’s familial history to indicate their projected future, You can fairly safely assume there are families in here whose legal lineages stretch for decades, and that more than a few have close ties with the judges observing the admissions.

When I went to watch my mum be admitted as a lawyer, she simply took along a lawyer friend-of-a-friend. But when my sister was admitted as a lawyer, my mother admitted her. When I am admitted as a lawyer (touch wood), my sister will probably admit me.

The days are, thankfully, gone when everyone ended up doing what their parents did: butcher, baker or doctor. And yet, antiquated notions of inherited vocation and lineages of privilege still permeate certain professions. Though there is nothing explicitly negative about simply following in the steps of one’s parents, much like the American political ancestries of the Kennedy, Clinton and Bush families, it can feel uncomfortable to watch those so historically empowered continue to assume positions of power with so much ease.

And it does feel easy: following a predetermined career path means that certain gateways are held open for you. Whilst my mum was completing her law degree later in life, my sister began hers straight out of high school. As my sister graduated from the Australian National University, I wandered into Sydney.

In law, securing a grad job is heavily contingent on the network you establish at career nights, cocktail mixers and faculty dinners. Having connections beforehand undeniably gives you a head start.

I have no doubt that many of the lawyers admitted in the legal admissions ceremony will go on to do great things, and I view the court system in Australia as one of the finest in the world. Yet, when you stumble into the casual rituals of the legal profession, you can’t help but be reminded it can be a persons past that determines if they will be a mover and a shaker in the future.