The life of a child abuse solicitor
As a university student, I must admit that my aspirations were not to be a child abuse solicitor. I knew I wanted to be a high street solicitor who helped ‘Joe Bloggs’ but that was about as far as it went. I also didn’t know at the time that being a solicitor was much more than case work. Hindsight is a wonderful thing.
The child abuse realm, which is mostly funded by way of legal aid, is a world away from the glamorous corporate and commercial work many of my university friends chose to take up.
The same can be said of the wages. I, as many others law graduates before me have done, essentially fell into my current practice area. Following a background in personal injury work and during a seat on my training contract at my current firm in their child care department, I came to notice that many adults who had been abused as children grew up with mental health issues. These issues, more often than not, would cause the local authority to become involved and take their children into the care system. I felt that these people needed a voice and decided, almost on the spot, that I wanted to be a child abuse solicitor. That was in 2016, and I haven’t looked back since.
Officially, my job is to bring civil claims against perpetrators for historical childhood abuse. Mostly I bring actions against public bodies / organisations such as local authorities, the NHS, the police, football clubs (and other sports organisations) or detention centres, for failing in their duty of care to protect children from an abuser. The truth is that it is so much more than that. As a child abuse solicitor, you are a listening ear and the voice of the survivor.
As mentioned, the majority of my clients suffer from mental health issues which range from mild to very severe debilitating conditions. Such conditions often have arisen as a direct result of the abuse that they suffered as children. For many survivors, I am the first person that they have ever told about the abuse that they were subjected to and building up trust can understandably be very difficult and take time, as they have been so badly let down in the past.
The toughest part of my job is not opposing legal departments but facilitating the client relationship. That could be their expectations as to the end result (as how can you put a monetary value on childhood abuse?), making sure they understand the advice being given or ensuring that I have clear instructions. Often it can take several meetings to obtain full instructions, whether that be due to difficulties in opening up or having buried the memories so deep that it can take time to recall all of the specifics. It is fair to say that my clients are often very vulnerable. Our conversations cover the most horrific periods of their life and can be very emotional, both for them and me. I have fought off tears on more than one occasion.
There aren’t many specialist child abuse solicitors in the UK, particularly at the junior end of the profession for several reasons: the complex nature of the work, the fact that it is legal aid funded (which many junior lawyers are told to avoid as it is considered by many to be a dying trade) and the fact that abuse work is ‘heavy’ in the emotional sense. I love my job because I feel like I am making a difference and that gives me a sense of achievement.
The question that I get asked most often is ‘how do you cope with hearing survivors’ stories every day – do you not take it home with you?’
Honestly, I don’t. I switch off from work listening to the radio in my hour driving home; by the time I have got home I have put my day behind me. I compartmentalise by focusing on the fact that I am doing the best I can for my clients and concentrating on the end result. The main reason I am able to do this is because the abuse is historical (and therefore no longer physically ongoing – although certainly ongoing psychologically).
Whatever line of work you end up in you will face difficulties whether that be target pressures, managerial issues or a high workload and, of course, there are always clients that really touch you. Whatever issues you face, it is important to look after your resilience and wellbeing otherwise you will simply burn out.
Amy Clowrey is vice chair of the Junior Lawyers Division and a child abuse solicitor at Switalskis Solicitors.
This article was first published on 4 May 2018 by Lawyer2b and is reproduced by kind permission.