Home Alone: the birth of a lawyer
This article was first published in the New Law Journal on 17th December 2021.
We need to talk about Kevin McCallister.
Can you remember the day you decided to become a lawyer? Or perhaps it is more accurate to say: the day you realised that you were already a lawyer. Because lawyering is something that is always within us, waiting to emerge, like a tarantula from a terrarium. All it needs is for the terrarium to break and the spider of justice is freed.
For Kevin, that moment occurred on 24 December 1990, aged eight.
Kevin’s legal epiphany is documented in the film, Home Alone. The pivotal moment in that story occurs when Kevin’s family travels to France for Christmas, accidentally leaving Kevin behind at home, alone. Well, I say ‘accidentally’. In fact, I suspect there is something Freudian going on. Perhaps Kevin was the unintended result of a night of passion and there is an unconscious rejection thing in play. Who knows? Whatever the reason, his family’s attitude towards the irritating young Kevin is summed up in Uncle Frank’s statement: ‘you little jerk.’
All of which is meant as a compliment, of course, because lawyers should be irritating. It is our job to be irritating. Of course, Uncle Frank is also irritating, as is Kevin’s brother, Buzz, as is in fact almost everyone else in the McCallister household. But Kevin is irritating in a uniquely lawyerly way:
- He asks difficult questions. ‘Is this toothbrush approved by the American Dental Association?’
- He provides challenging advice. ‘If you miss him,’ Kevin suggests to Old Man Marley with reference to his estranged son, ‘why won’t you call him?’
With this last interaction, Kevin perhaps first senses his inner calling. He would have experienced that rush of adrenaline as he gave an opinion, felt that power dynamic of the lawyer-client relationship and sensed that frisson of self-importance. The thought sends a tingle down my spine. These feelings never grow old.
Because we all remember that first time when, as a trainee, we actually have to make a decision. The partner is not around; the associates are not around. We are Office Alone. Much like Kevin, we plead the trainee equivalent of ‘I don’t know how to pack a suitcase. I’ve never done one in my whole life’. Bless. Perhaps we can’t use the photocopier, or remember the secretary’s name, or mentally ingest a 500-page securitisation agreement. So, like Kevin, we improvise and survive. And, to continue the analogy, we revel in that sense of relief when everyone returns and we haven’t shredded Mrs Jones’s deeds or mistakenly settled some litigation or hit someone in the face with a can of paint.
But this is all by way of introduction, because we have not yet reached the precise moment when Kevin becomes aware of his inner calling. That occurs at around 9.30pm on Christmas Eve.
Kevin is sitting at the top of the stairs in his unfeasibly large house. He has spent the last half hour defending his home from two criminals, Harry and Marv, who lie stricken beneath him after suffering the combined effect of falling irons, slippery ice, heated door-knobs, more ice, bitumen, nails, glue, more ice, feathers and, overwhelmingly, a sense of existential inadequacy. As any good litigator would do, Kevin makes a settlement offer: ‘You guys give up or are you thirsty for more?’
The penny drops. The lights go on. You can see it in his eyes. ‘I AM A LAWYER’, he realises.
And, later, as the criminals find themselves hanging on a rope 20 feet above the ground, what does Kevin do? Well, I can hardly say this through my tears of professional pride, but he emotionlessly cuts the rope, so that they swing at speed into a wall.
They should have taken Kevin’s offer.
And so Christmas Day dawns. Kevin is still alone, but by now, he is exhibiting all the skills of a fourth seat trainee. The stockings are pinned up, presents are wrapped, the Christmas tree lights are on. Kevin has come to terms with his destiny. He is a changed being. He is a lawyer. All that he lacks is a practising certificate.
When Kevin’s father returns, he notices something strange about his son. He sees the shadow of the adult that Kevin is to become. The father looks quizzically at Kevin, and adopting a line from Goodfellas, says: ‘What a funny guy.’ And, at that moment, we have a sense of Kevin’s future, as we urge him to respond, as Joe Pesci does in Goodfellas: ‘I’m funny how? I mean, funny like I’m a clown? I amuse you? I make you laugh?’ But the beauty of the moment is that this is all unsaid. Instead, Kevin smiles and the man remains concealed within the boy.
Roll forward to Christmas 2021. Where is Kevin McCallister now? Well, at age 39, he has just become the managing partner of a mid-size New York law firm. Who would have thought that little Kevin, a wealthy white male with psychopathic tendencies, could have risen so high so quickly?