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The fall and fall of the lawyer

5th October 2005 – a momentous date in my life; the pinnacle of years of studying hard, getting into a prestigious university, an intensive costly and supposedly ‘practical’ course, the elusive training contract and two years of blood, sweat and tears as a trainee. But my story is pretty uneventful; I did a straight law degree, preceded by the Legal Practice Course and then a training contract at a high street firm two years after that. 18 months later I joined Hodge Jones and Allen, where I have been since; so I have only really worked at two firms in my relatively short legal career.

Ten years ago I qualified as a solicitor. Ten years later the scene for potential would be lawyers is much changed and changing.

For one thing, it’s not even called a training contract anymore. Since 1 July 2014, the correct term is a ‘Period of Recognised Training’ which was introduced by the SRA’s Training Regulations 2014. In April 2015, the Law Gazette reported on its first champion of the new scheme, with 28 further applications at that time.

Secondly there is no longer the guaranteed minimum level of pay, which was abolished as of 1 August 2014 (previously £18,590 in central London and £16,650 elsewhere).

I have recently become involved on the other side of the table, interviewing for trainees. There is a marked difference in applicants who come through our door. Every one of whom have had years of paralegal experience, a plethora of extra-curricular activities (including saving the world), and a burning determination to qualify. To be fair I am not sure if I was applying for a training contract today that I would succeed amongst the wealth of talent flocking to the law.

But time and time again, the message we hear loud and clear is that there are too many wannabe lawyers and not enough positions for them.

Figures from the SRA show that 5,097 training contracts were registered between 1 July 2013 and 30 June 2014, compared to 5,302 in 2012-2013. The law gazette reported that the number of LPC students was eclipsing trainees by nearly 1000.

With the cost of the LPC at nearly £15,000 for a full time course in London, many graduates are forced to study it part time whilst working as a paralegal and this has reflected in the average age of trainee applicants being higher than in my time.

Even after you get through the doors though, there is no happy ending. Many of my peers no longer practise in law, the ones who remain wish they had the courage to get out and do something else. Satisfaction amongst lawyers is at an all-time low. This was one of the areas that our Innovation in Law report looked at. The stats do not make for happy reading:

  • 69% of legal professionals would not recommend the profession.
  • 57% of legal professionals are not hopeful for the future of the profession.
  • Although 55% of legal professionals intend to carry on.
  • According to Reed, lawyers are not even in the top ten paying sectors anymore.

So why did I and why do I still want to be a ‘lawyer’? From a young age I understood that an education was the key to social mobility and a better life. My parents were immigrants who never had the opportunities that I did. Law was a well-respected career and a solid degree to have under my belt. I did not start off with the burning passion to get into law like many of the applicants I have interviewed.

But law has grown on me in a pleasantly unexpected way, much like motherhood. The years have not dulled the satisfaction you get when you achieve a result for your client, which I have learnt is not always synonymous with a win or a loss. The relationships you build with clients and colleagues, the respect you gain as a professional, the shared comradery in the legal world. The law is ever changing and being a part of that is very humbling. My days are rewarding and challenging, and I continue to learn and develop as a lawyer and a person. But above all it’s the ability to use the law to help those in need, to right a wrong and restore faith in the law. Justice is still a valued commodity amongst lawyers, and especially at our firm which upholds it with integrity and social conscience.

In my 10 years of practise I have seen the erosion of access to justice what with Jackson, LASPO, and the ever increasing court fees. It is becoming more difficult to do my job and help those in real need of legal assistance. Firms are closing, merging, being bought out and we all need to adapt in this climate to survive.

I hope that in years to come, when I look around, I can still see fresh and ambitious individuals determined take up the mantle of the ‘lawyer’ undeterred by the pressures they face and will face in the coming years. And I hope that I will still be a lawyer in the next 10 years.