Those of us who are die-hard fans of the Apprentice will be enjoying the weekly cringe-fest currently being shown on BBC1 (Wednesdays, 9pm). Over the last 10 years, I have often wondered why it is that Alan Sugar – a man who sat alongside a lawyer for the first 8 years of the Apprentice and who no doubt relies on the advice and wisdom of his legal team almost every day of his business life – hates lawyers so much.
This year, he’s been lumbered with two of us: Lauren, a family lawyer based in London, who has been heard over the last 7 weeks to communicate sensibly and intelligently; and Felipe, from Columbia, who became a lawyer, he says, because he wanted to change the world. In last night’s task, the project manager took both lawyers to New York, to pitch a brand new soft drink to an audience of marketing executives and PR gurus. Admittedly, Lauren stumbled over her words and Felipe’s heavily accented English was sometimes difficult to follow, but Sugar’s main criticism was that they were “dull, dull, dull”.
Sugar often prefaces his attacks on his legal apprentices with an acknowledgement of the high probability that they have a brain, yet is profoundly dismissive of the skills a lawyer brings to the table: organisation, critical analysis, communication skills, integrity and strategic vision (not to mention – usually – the ability to count and to know the difference between imperial and metric measurements). Last night, true to form, he subjected Lauren to the benefit of his wisdom, and fired her. This notwithstanding that, of all the members of the team, she was without doubt the least culpable.
Why then is the great man so immune to our charms? My old firm, Kingsley Napley, will have some insight into this: he is suing them for allegedly negligently advising him in relation to the tenancy of some premises in Mayfair which he owns, and for which he is claiming compensation of £1.3m. But this is recent stuff, happening now, and doesn’t explain his historic disdain for the people who have assisted him in the acquisition of his vast wealth.
Sadly, as we all know, his views resonate with a large number of people, who accuse us of being money-grubbing, hand wringing, double dealing, self serving, truth avoiding pedant peddlars, but what he forgets is that what we do – pure and simple – is sort things out. If there’s something wrong with your contract, your will, your divorce, your neighbour, who are you going to call? Not Ghostbusters, that’s for sure.
So, Lauren was fired, and now faces a bleak future as a young woman with an education, a smart business idea and her brain. Sugar can carry on hating lawyers, but so long as human beings create the sort of chaos that requires the intelligence, clarity of mind and expertise brought by a lawyer to resolve, then Lauren and all the rest of us can sit back and yell at the telly, “No! Alan! YOU’RE fired!”