Is using 'young' and 'junior' lawyer interchangeably in the workplace adding to the issues facing junior lawyers?
This may appear to be just another lawyer becoming frustrated with semantics. But, the assumption that those who are new to the profession are young in age is incorrect. In 2017 the average age of a newly qualified solicitor admitted to the roll in England and Wales was 29 years old.
Our newly-qualifieds are no longer the 21 year olds straight out of university. There are many reasons for the increasing age of our new solicitors - many have been successful in previous careers, some have qualified into law through less traditional routes, and some may already have child care responsibilities. Confusing the terms young and junior highlights some of the big issues facing our junior lawyers, including access to the profession and age discrimination. These issues can have a negative impact on mental health for those who are newly qualified.
'Too old'? Encouraging diversity in the profession
In order to encourage the best people into the profession, including those who can bring great skills from previous careers, we need to break down any perceived barriers. I am frequently contacted by individuals who are considering a career change to law but are fearful that they are 'too old' because they would not fit into the 'young' solicitor category.
So often organisations do not realise that just using the two words 'young solicitor' on their publicity materials can instantly deter excellent applicants. All too often I have seen well-meaning websites promoting the excellent support offered for their 'young' lawyers, or networking events with intermediaries for 'young' lawyers. This will also hamper business development objectives within a firm. It needs to be recognised that many junior level contacts within intermediaries and clients will be of all ages, and will simply be looking for opportunities to associate with others at their level, regardless of youthfulness.
Mental health and wellbeing
Our junior lawyers are facing greater stresses than ever before and many are leaving the profession as a result. The connotations of "young" are of the carefree who can be expected to blithely take on extreme amounts of pressure. This downplays the mental health issues faced by junior lawyers that need highlighting. It also ignores the additional stresses faced by an aging demographic of junior lawyers - those who have made a career change will often have taken a significant pay cut, and increasing numbers have child-care responsibilities.
The Junior Lawyers Division of the Law Society ran their second Resilience and Wellbeing Survey for junior lawyers (those up to five years PQE) this year. In the survey 82% of respondents stated that they had experienced stress in their role in the month before completing the survey, with 26% of those experiencing severe/extreme levels of stress. Coupled with the fact that 83% of respondents thought that their employer could do more in relation to mental health at work, it is clear that our junior lawyers are not receiving the levels of support required.
Aside from the technological advancements and our 24/7 era placing greater challenges at the feet of our junior lawyers, these results are not surprising when you consider that the demographic of the junior lawyer has changed over the past few decades. Most junior lawyers are now grappling with the fact that it has taken them longer, and a larger amount of debt, to qualify.
We must all speak up
I regularly take issue with people and organisations when they refer to 'young' lawyers and have sent countless letters of complaint to those adopting this term. The Equality Act should prevent age limits being imposed for activities aimed at junior lawyers, but we cannot rely on this alone to ensure that our new solicitors are not being left out of events which will assist with their careers, just because they do not fit an age bracket.
As a profession we are increasingly aware of the need to support our number and this is demonstrated in the mental health and resilience initiatives being adopted across the country. This is key to ensuring that we retain a diverse and excellent profession, particularly those who are new joiners. A simple way to ensure that we are clear about the support required for those who are the future of the profession is to rid ourselves of the out-dated term 'young' lawyers and the practices associated with it.
Views expressed in our blogs are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the Law Society.
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