Ex-Clifford Chance lawyer jacks it in to do something funny
This week we speak to Simeon Goulden, who, after six years at the biggest law firm in the world, gave it all up to write comedy. We wanted to find out more….
mtl: Let’s start at the beginning. Take us through your career.
Simeon: Ok. I studied English at Manchester University. I briefly considered going into journalism or teaching but the pay always seemed ridiculously low.
mtl: Why did you decide to go into law?
I don’t think I ever actively decided to take up a legal career and that was perhaps half the problem. My family is awash with lawyers so it was a business that I was already quite familiar with. But in the short term, I think I was most attracted to the prospect of spending another two years messing about as a law student in London.
I joined Clifford Chance in 1998 and qualified into the Litigation department in 2000. Litigation was the only department that I enjoyed – I just couldn’t get excited by other areas where no one seemed to win or lose. The group was pretty dynamic and the people seemed bright and sparky. I was there until 2004.
mtl: So what made you decide to leave?
Simeon: I think essentially there was a push and a pull factor. The push was that the job made less and less sense. I’m not sure I am quite the right character type for that sort of organisation and prefer to have more responsibility and control.
The pull factor was that for a number of years I had wanted to write comedy and I was fast approaching a time when if I didn’t do it soon, it would never happen. I basically became more afraid of the regret of never having tried than the possible failure.
While I was still at work I submitted a sketch to a Radio 2 show. When the script editor wrote back to say that they had enjoyed it, I was so disproportionately happy that I realised I had to give it a go.
I left in 2004 and just started writing. I had been introduced to a radio producer who was working on a new Clive Anderson show and he was kind enough to give me the chance to write some topical material. I concentrated on radio comedy because you have better
odds of getting your material broadcast.
1992-95 Manchester University; English BA (Hons)
College of Law, London
Trainee Clifford Chance
Qualified into Litigation
Left to write comedy
That said, I would write for anyone and anything that would take a look so I submitted an entry to the BBC Talent Sitcom competition for which I was long-listed. Within a couple of months I had sold some topical gags and sketches to Parsons & Naylor’s Pull-Out Sections on Radio 2.
By 2005, I was writing regularly for a satirical stage show called Newsrevue and had started doing a bit of script editing. I also sold some more material to Parsons & Naylor as well as the Bearded Ladies (Radio 4). Plus I had started collaborating with a couple of guys on some other TV and radio pilots which got us a few meetings with producers.
And since about March of this year I have been working with an actor, Thomas Nelstrop, and we have co-written a show called The Plan B Show (www.theplanbshow.com) that we’re taking up to the Edinburgh Festival this month.
It’s been fairly hard work but we’re near to having a product that we are pleased with so fingers crossed.
mtl: Well done. And now for a sensitive question: how are your finances?
Simeon: Not great. I have had to rent out my flat, sell my car and occasionally I go to market research groups for some tax free cash with all the other bums and scroungers that your taxes pay for!
But don’t think I’m living out some romantic fantasy of the struggling writer - if I could churn out sitcoms whilst living in Cap Ferrat and driving an Aston Martin, I would!
mtl: Ever think you’ll go back to law?
Simeon: Quite possibly. The trouble with the comedy writing world is that it is very poorly paid, very difficult to infiltrate and very slow moving. I am very ambitious but also realistic. If it reaches the point where I don’t feel I’m progressing fast enough, I may decide to cut my losses. However, if I did go back to law, it would be a conscious decision and I would embrace it. There are definitely parts of the job that I miss. And an annual salary of more than £739 would be nice.
mtl: So what would be your advice to other budding lawyer-writers?
Simeon: I don’t think I’m in a position to advise anybody on anything. Don’t forget, you’re talking to a man who sometimes doesn’t get up until 3pm! I suppose my only generic advice would be to have the courage to leave the law if you feel genuinely tempted by another career. Let’s face it, you can always go back.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m trying to finish a joke about a Rabbi and a gymnast.
mtl: Simeon Goulden, good luck with that, and with Edinburgh, and thank you for speaking to us.
If you know any other ex-lawyers who have gone and done something interesting or unusual with their lives then please get in touch.
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