The Bizzle

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Spilling the beans: reflections on the importance of coffee in the law

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.

8 responses to “Spilling the beans: reflections on the importance of coffee in the law

  1. Julian Summerhayes February 10, 2011 at 11:27 pm

    My best trainee was the one who always got the coffees in on a Friday. An old navy man who knew what traditions meant but then that included the odd drink or two!


  2. Melanie Hatton February 10, 2011 at 11:31 pm

    Coffee? I don’t think so. For me its all about the tea. Green tea of course. Sencha or Mao Feng to be specific. Preferably decanted in one of those fancy pyramid-shaped bags with all the bits of foliage in it. Teapigs do a good one, and so do Jacksons of Piccadilly. Water at 85%. I thank you.

  3. travisthetrout February 11, 2011 at 9:09 am

    Important, but not part of the job description (for anyone). We don’t really have a coffee run as such – people will go off and buy their own coffee when they need some. (which is why I have cut out buying coffee since the new year – expensive habit). So unfortunately it is a tea (free) boost for me which can be annoying because I have to do a tea run and make a whole tray of tea (but we all take it in turns so I really only make one cup a day).

    The odd thing is that in client meetings (with freshly made coffee) my senior partner now knows how I take my coffee.

    That all said any solicitor would be eternally grateful if you bought/brought them a coffee.

  4. uklegaleagle February 11, 2011 at 10:01 am

    Nothing like the smell of freshly roast coffee in the morning!

    Actually that’s rubbish, the smell of fresh baked bread is better. Anyway, can’t say I am a mad coffee fanatic. I do (don’t unconnect with me for saying this) like my Latte when I get into the office. We have a machine on the floor which makes pretty good coffee. One of the perks of BLP I guess :-).
    One point to ponder, I think there is another profession who takes its coffee far more seriously than the law and that is . . . doctors. My wife is obsessed as are all her fellow medics. They used to judge the hospitals they worked in by how good the coffee was at the coffee shop. She would consider twice before going to work in a hospital if she did not like the coffee franchise!

  5. @HampshireLawyer February 11, 2011 at 10:33 am

    2 good strong coffees in fairly quick succession in the morning sets me up for the day.

    We have a proper machine in the office – the true test of an enlightened firm!

    And when did these american pseudo-italian words come in? I like coffee. Full stop.

  6. Tom Hiskey February 11, 2011 at 1:08 pm

    Haha! Mr B, you’ve hit upon one of my passions. If latte is for those who don’t like coffee, I suggest you haven’t had a good one. Or a flat white perhaps (that’s a sort of small latte with textured milk and a good shot of espresso). But I agree that most lattes are horrible things… a bucket of milk and a teeny bit of terrible espresso at the bottom! For fabulous local independent coffee haunts you might be interested in one of my hobbies: A great way to find big strong, tasty espressos to keep you on your toes! Tom

  7. Derek Rodgers March 15, 2011 at 8:12 pm

    Possibly the most important article ever written about the practice of law!

  8. Pingback: Week 6: Sum it up!

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