A law unto themselves

Finbarr Bermingham plots the trajectories of three famous ex-lawyers and finds their legal training may not have been completely in vain

Gerard Butler


Paisley-born actor Gerard Butler obtained a degree in law from the University of Glasgow, where he even served a term as president of the university's law society. After graduating, he joined Edinburgh solicitors Morton Fraser as a trainee, but his legal career was to be short-lived. While doing his training contract, Butler was also a member of a rock band that often gigged on week nights. Fed up with his erratic behaviour and poor timekeeping, the firm washed their hands of Butler two weeks before he was due to qualify.

He has since pursued a mega-successful acting career, suggesting that he rarely sheds tears over his failure in the legal profession. But scattered throughout his CV there are clues as to what type of lawyer he might have made, had things turned out differently. While he's occasionally dipped his toes into the failsafe genre of rom-coms, Butler has become renowned for his leading roles in action movies, usually cast as a powerful, yet sensitive, warrior.

He shot to fame in 300, in which he played the Spartan leader King Leonidas. A master of strategy, Leonidas led 300 Spartan soldiers against the full might of the Persian army, winning the respect of his opponents in return. He played a leading role in Beowulf & Grendel, starring as Beowulf, a Norse warrior out to conquer the villainous troll Grendel. In Law Abiding Citizen, his character, Clyde Shelton, attempts to avenge the murders of his family members. Shelton's tactical battle with the law unfolds like a game of chess and while he ultimately falls victim to his own conniving, his astuteness and foresight is a highlight of the movie.

Based on the many brainy yet bloodthirsty roles he's adopted, we're inclined to think that Gerard Butler could have been a star of the cutthroat world of corporate practice. One of his most recent roles, however, was as a peacemaker. In Ralph Fiennes' adaptation of Shakespeare's Coriolanus, he played Tullus Aufidius, the leader of the Volscian army who admirably extends an olive branch to the title character despite the pair being longstanding enemies up to this point. But an ability to work with your rivals is also essential in brokering big commercial deals, so combined with his aggression and his strategic and leadership skills, we think Butler has the versatility make a successful career in corporate law - as long as he can work on his punctuality.

Margaret Mountford

TV personality

Steely-eyed decision making, the dedication and stamina to work on long, laborious projects, the ability to analyse documents to the most minute detail: all key ingredients in the mix that makes a great lawyer, and all skills that Margaret Mountford has demonstrated in abundance over the course of her long and varied career.

The iconic, silver-haired former star of The Apprentice became a solicitor at a private practice upon graduating from Girton College, Cambridge before going on to become a partner at Herbert Smith, a huge, international law firm. Her competency as a lawyer is established, then. But we feel there may be another role in the legal world which, should Margaret tire of her current pursuits, she would be perfectly suited to taking on.

Lord Sugar handpicked Margaret to work as a non-executive director of his software company, Amstrad, after being impressed by the work she did on his company's flotation, while at Herbert Smith. The relationship went from strength to strength and as one of Lord Sugar's special advisors on the BBC's The Apprentice, Margaret proved a sage, unyielding influence. Alongside Lord Sugar's PR guru Nick Hewer (who she's since appeared with on Countdown), Margaret cut an authoritative figure: straight-talking and possessing great clarity of mind. She left the show in 2009 in order to pursue a PhD in papyrology - the study of ancient manuscripts, a pursuit that requires a methodical, disciplined and scrupulous approach. Margaret also chairs the board of governors of a London school, showing her to be comfortable in a position of power.

All of the above lead us to believe that she would make a fine judge. In this role, Margaret would be able to combine her legal expertise with the skills she's acquired in her far-reaching subsequent career. And as anyone who ever saw her on The Apprentice will attest, there would be few defendants willing to challenge her authority!

John Grisham


It's no surprise that bestselling author John Grisham comes from a legal background: he was a pioneer of the now well-established legal thriller genre and his novels have provided material for many a Hollywood courtroom drama. After graduating from Mississippi State University in 1981, Grisham practiced criminal law for ten years, while simultaneously serving in the House of Representatives. He swapped writing legal briefs for novels in the late 1980s, but the fingerprints of his former career in criminal law are all over his body of literary work, as well as clues to an interest in other areas of the law.

Take his first novel, A Time To Kill. Based on real events in his adopted state of Mississippi, the book tells the story of a black father who kills two white men who have brutally raped his 12-year-old daughter. The father ends up in court facing the death penalty, at which point a white lawyer is assigned to try and keep him off the chair. The book and film adaptation highlight the racial tensions in the Deep South of the last century and the fight for human rights that accompanied them. Without the work of many civil rights lawyers, the movement would never have progressed as far as it has, so perhaps this area of practice could be one for Grisham.

Grisham's second novel, The Firm, again nods to the author's former life as a criminal lawyer, but also sees Grisham explore elements of corporate law and the murky world of tax evasion. �The firm" in question has been infiltrated by the mafia and its lawyers are disappearing at an alarming rate. The main protagonist eventually manages to syphon off $100 million from the firm's Cayman Islands' account, showing Grisham to have a good grasp of tax havens and fiscal loopholes, so perhaps a career as a tax lawyer wouldn't be out of the question, either.

Moving on through Grisham's oeuvre, The Pelican Brief tackles environmental law, The Rainmaker focuses on personal injury lawsuits, while one of his more recent novels, The Litigators, deals with dispute resolution. It all leads us to believe that should John Grisham decide to return to the legal world, he would be well capable of holding his own in just about any area of practice. But while the prospect of working at a law firm may have some graduates licking their lips, Grisham may find it struggles to live up to the gangster and murder-loaded excitement of his own works.