New lawyers at the admission ceremony are full of enthusiasm for their future career. I still share that enthusiasm; but what can we do for those who struggle to cope with the demands of the job?
Other Presidents have written about the admission ceremonies of our newest solicitors, and I’m sure many more will do so in the future. They are truly one of the highlights of the presidential year.
We welcome the new solicitors’ mums and dads, grannies and grandads, siblings, partners, friends and even children, all of whom have dealt with the tears, the pressures and in some cases the penury that has to be gone through to get to the admission ceremony. So many happy, smiling people all gather together, as our new members embark on what promise to be challenging and fulfilling careers. It was great to see so many new entrants all enthusiastic about the future – some will go into high street practices across Scotland, some will join large firms who operate in Scotland, across the UK and around the world and, increasingly, others will pursue an in-house career.
Two days after the ceremony I spoke to a friend, a solicitor who was admitted over 30 years ago. I was expressing my enthusiasm at seeing the next generation of solicitors at the ceremony and, sadly, my friend was of the view that if they had their time again, they would leave the profession and build a new career – a sentiment which, as someone who absolutely loves being a solicitor, I find difficult to comprehend.
I’ve met solicitors who are weary of the profession, some who may have better enjoyed an alternative career – and indeed those who have left to pursue other avenues. In a few cases they’ve made excellent politicians (naming no names), and others have achieved success along another path of their own choosing.
But for those who remain dissatisfied in the profession, what has changed – and what can the Society do to help? Undoubtedly the demands on solicitors are high and seemingly ever increasing. To many of us, pressures such as dealing with client demands, new legislation and regulations or making ends meet as a legal aid solicitor in a small firm have become routine, but I suspect that for some they can overwhelm.
Many who qualify as solicitors are high achievers who strive for perfection. In addition, lawyers are often so busy helping other people with their problems that they don’t always take time to deal with their own issues. So those same aspects of solicitors’ personalities that drive them to succeed for themselves and on their clients’ behalf can also mean that they take on too much. This can lead to stress, anxiety or depression.
If any of this rings a bell with you, please do something about it. There is help available. You have a dedicated constituency Council member whose role it is to represent your concerns in the Society’s work. You have access to a Professional Practice helpline at the Society for work-related ethical matters. And LawCare provides the space for members of the legal community to talk about anything that might be worrying you.
And there are things you can do to help yourself. Be mindful of the distinction between your working hours and recreation time. Turn off your work mobile when you’re not working! And remember that the good work you do can change people’s lives and open up opportunities for individuals and communities.
The focus of this year’s Law Society of Scotland annual conference is on the power of law to work “for the greater good” – we’ll be looking at equality and diversity; the tension between ethics and commercial imperatives; the moral and socio-economic factors behind helping vulnerable groups; and discussing the motivation behind entering the law and contributing meaningfully to it.
I hope we can remind people of all the positivity and enthusiasm they felt when they entered the profession – like the new solicitors I celebrated with last month.
The profession is more diverse than ever, and the vast array of roles and opportunities means that we are better equipped to satisfy our members’ personal and professional aspirations. So let’s welcome our new admittees and wish them well as they carve out the rewarding and enjoyable careers they deserve.
Graham Matthews is President of the Law Society of Scotland