Our New Year’s resolutions for the profession in 2020

Many of us may have over-indulged this festive season and as January brings the start of a new year with good intentions, the Junior Lawyers Division of the Law Society discusses some of its key objectives for the year ahead to support junior lawyers in England and Wales.

Charlotte ParkinsonTo promote a healthier alcohol culture

The JLD’s 2019 mental health and wellbeing survey highlighted that alcohol is a contributing factor to mental ill-health and is being used as a coping mechanism for those dealing with work pressure. The JLD therefore aims to encourage alternatives to alcohol and drinks-related activities.

We all have a responsibility to be more mindful of our alcohol consumption and contribute different ideas in order to ensure that social, team and business development events are inclusive to everyone. Many individuals can be left feeling excluded from events such as “Friday drinks”. For example, if your organisation employs apprentices, they may be under the age of 18 and not able to attend this event.

To support this objective, the JLD will not be serving alcohol at any of its events in January and will seek to work with catering teams going forward to ensure a wider offering of low or non-alcoholic drinks, served in the same way (and glass) as alcoholic options.

To support access to justice, including those who advise individuals seeking justice

Cuts to legal aid over many years have resulted in a significant shortage of criminal lawyers and duty solicitors, and a career in criminal law is becoming unsustainable for the next generation of lawyers. The reducing number of legal aid firms offering training contracts mean fewer solicitors than ever are qualifying into legal aid. This will have a significant impact on those who cannot afford to pay for legal advice. Speaking particularly about the family courts, Baroness Hale of Richmond who has recently retired from the Supreme Court, recognised that “it is that lack of initial advice and help which is a serious difficulty”.

Just over a year on from the Ministry of Justice’s (MOJ) announcement that there was to be a review of criminal legal aid (CLAR), the JLD continues to lobby for an increase in funding and fees, to fairly reflect and pay for the work done under legal aid schemes. Following the general election, the JLD hopes to see further announcements from the CLAR and the MOJ in order to ensure that justice is accessible to all.

To strive for a profession that is accessible to all

A number of schemes have been implemented by organisations to help improve social mobility in the profession, however it’s not clear whether these are truly solutions.

JLD Executive Committee member, Adam Hattersley, recently hosted a roundtable in Manchester to discuss social mobility. It was suggested that education of the most junior is key to ensuring that a legal career is not off the table simply because you are not exposed to individuals working in the profession. We could all do more to give back to schools and universities in our local area to ensure that careers advice is supported by those at the forefront of this profession.

2020 is likely to see the finalisation of the design of the SRA’s Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE) (something which has been at the top of the JLD’s agenda for a number of years now). However, the qualifying work experience (QWE) element of the SQE raises many questions and concerns. The SRA has a responsibility to ensure that in designing the new qualifying examination, junior lawyers are not exploited or lost in the system. The JLD wants to see better guidance and support for junior lawyers to assist them in understanding the type of work experience they may want to seek and what they should expect from that experience.

Our pre-qualification work-place training of junior lawyers is the envy of other jurisdictions. It is therefore more important than ever that the SRA ensures that the SQE, and the QWE element, is seen as credible both here and internationally. The JLD will continue to consider the message that is being delivered to the profession and will press for guidance for both the junior lawyer seeking and the organisations offering QWE, to ensure that all understand their obligations to the training and development of future lawyers.

If the SRA can develop a credible route to qualification that the profession supports, hopefully we can stop the traditional filter of A-level grades or choice of university from being an invisible barrier to entry into this profession.

The journey to achieving some of these aims may take longer than the next 12 months, however, with an idea of the route ahead, the JLD aims to look back at the end of 2020 knowing that they’ve made a difference for juniors who are, or strive to be, members of this profession.

Charlotte Parkinson is the chair of the Junior Lawyers Division of England and Wales and a commercial litigation associate at Addleshaw Goddard

A version of this article was first published on 7 January 2020 by The Lawyer and is reproduced by kind permission.

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