Here’s a question that my boss likes to ask external candidates at interview: “What’s the one thing you would need to have at hand on your first day of work here?”
Some say access to a precedent library is that thing. Others talk about having a friendly face to introduce them to the business. Some want a LexisNexis subscription (yeah, right).
But that’s all for the birds, frankly. There’s only one thing I’d need to have at hand on my first day in a new job, or any other day for that matter: a large cup of strong coffee.
I can work without colleagues, I can work without a computer, phone, or desk. My private practice cousins will find it hard to credit, but I can even work without a secretary.
But I can’t work without coffee. Lots of coffee. Buckets of it. With extra shots. The sad truth is that I’m unable to function without a huge shot of caffeine-based goodness first thing in the morning, with regular top ups throughout the day.
Without it I’m like Harry Potter without his wand , like Wonder Woman without her cape – just a civilian with no special powers. With it I’m a super-charged hot-shot deal-making legal wonder with an attitude problem.
I’m not the only one who feels that way (well, maybe not the attitude problem). The law runs on coffee, from the trainee who needs to fuel their long hours and late nights, to the partner who needs a pick-me-up after a hard night entertaining clients.
The coffee run is a key part of any lawyer’s training. Hell, it should be part of the selection process – if a candidate brings good coffee to the interview they get a pass on the negotiation role play.
Tweet about coffee, and a dozen lawyers will chip in within minutes, debating the merits of various local, national and international chains. It unites (and divides) lawyers more than alcohol, more than the six minute unit, more even than over-use of the phrase “for the avoidance of doubt”.
Let me lay my cards on the table: when I say coffee, I mean one or more shots of espresso topped up (or not) with hot water to taste. Milk is just about acceptable, provided that no frothing is involved.
But none of the fripperies of the modern coffee emporium, please. Be honest, the latte is coffee for people who don’t like the taste of coffee; a long drink of warm milk more suitable for babies than dedicated professionals. And let’s leave the pomposity of the double-decaf soya latte with maple flavouring to the commercial bar, shall we?
This may strike some as a macho, corporate lawyer attitude to coffee. But real coffee is a drink both pleasurable and utilitarian: if it doesn’t taste good and it doesn’t give you that big caffeine kick then what, exactly, is the point?
And for the avoidance of doubt: if it comes in a jar or in a sachet, it’s not coffee. Yes, I know that the 1970s periodically wander back into the public taste, but even fashionable nostalgia has its limits.
I have no particular rules about the source of the daily hit. I have my favourite retail experience, and you have yours. I even know a lawyer who swears by the coffee from Pret – I do not judge.
But coffee there must be, or the legal world does not turn. And since you ask, mine’s a venti Americano with an extra shot, black.