"F**k, it's early."
With that line, Clayton Utz lawyer Joshua Knuckey commenced his speech on the topic of "Cleaver Greene's tips on how to lower the Bar (even further)" at the NSW Golden Gavel Competition this morning (20 May).
To be fair to Knuckey, it was early. He took to the podium before 8am as the third of nine speakers all vying for the prize of NSW finalist at the national Golden Gavel awards to be held in Melbourne in September.
Not content with dropping the F-bomb while the more than 300 people in attendance at the Shangri-La Hotel in The Rocks were tucking into croissants and bacon and eggs, Knuckey proceeded to lower the tone even further - much to the delight of the audience and Folklaw - when he remarked that barristers had "incredible sex drives" and that "to a barrister, a billable unit is an apartment where prostitution takes place".
From there, the witty one-liners flowed as liberally as the foul language. James Foley from Rockliffs Solicitors must not have read the book How to Win Friends and Influence People; when outlining why he should be the Chief Justice of NSW, he told the assembled audience - including Golden Gavel judge Justice Ian Harrison of the NSW Supreme Court - that "judges are old, really old". To illustrate the point, he mentioned that the recently announced new Chief Justice of NSW, Tom Bathurst QC, graduated in 1971 - the year the film Dirty Harry was released, with an admission price of $1.65.
Wisely, People's Choice winner Dhruv Nagrath, of Lander & Rogers, tried to charm Justice Harrison, remarking that he is "a very attractive man" while speaking about "Why practising law is so sexy", before bringing down the house with his comment that "Gilbert + Tobin could easily be the name of a children's show about talking wombats". "Hi Gilbert, hi Tobin," he said in a very convincing wombat voice.
Runner-up Sam Sykes addressed a topic that provided him with much fertile ground: "Snakes and ladders - the path to partnership". Sykes had a few people, including Folklaw, nodding in acknowledgement when he opened his speech by stating, "I could stand here for five minutes talking about why you should not sexually harass your PA, or fall pregnant, because these are obvious snakes on your path to the partnership".
He went on to link the path to partnership to a multitude of board games, talking about the senior associate on the cusp of partnership who "is rabidly middle-aged, slightly overweight, your life and kids have left you, you don't interact with colleagues, all of which is fine, because you have lost the ability for human interaction, empathy, warmth and emotion and can only communicate through previously generated precedents. By this stage you turn inwardly, and start aggressively attacking all available work and stealing as many billable hours as you can. You are a Hungry Hungry Hippo."
However, there could be only one winner, and Justice Harrison's verdict was Charles Ashton of Allens Arthur Robinson, who spoke about "The Royal Wedding - From a divorce lawyer's perspective".
He made the point, to general agreement from the male members of the audience, that Prince William was "duped into marrying the wrong sister". "Call me fee-hungry," he said, "but I am not all that confident that a marriage between a commoner and a royal is going to last the distance. It is a bit like Clifford Chance merging with Chang, Pistilli & Simmons."
As he presented Ashton with his trophy, Justice Harrison nearly stole the show by sharing with the audience his wish for a new trophy to replace the Golden Gavel. "It galls me to be handing out a golden gavel, or a gavel at all," he said.
"The march of Americanism into our traditions troubles me. Gavels are used by real estate agents - some people don't know the difference between judges and real estate agents. But in all events, Charles, it looks like it is made out of redwood, and that is great in a fire."
Folklaw can only concur, and hopes that event host the Law Society of NSW Young Lawyers waives its requirement that only lawyers under the age of 36 can enter the competition, in order to ensure Justice Harrison gets a start as a speaker next year.
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