I’m writing with a sense of sadness, from where I’m standing as a Family Lawyer who is on the cusp of hitting two years post admission experience, things aren’t looking good.
I can’t shake the sense that the divide between students and lawyers and ‘old’ vs ‘new’ is growing, I can’t shake the sense that I’m not welcome in some spaces.
Almost right after I could call myself a lawyer, like many of you, I stumbled upon countless Facebook groups offering to create communities of lawyers, herded into likeness, and which profess to encourage sharing and collegiality for all lawyers within that particular herd. I jumped on those ‘request to join’ buttons quicker than you can say ‘Gorman flash sale’ and the rest, I thought, was history.
You see, the possibility of tapping into a resource of established Solicitors and Barristers who had been doing this thing I’d signed up to for quite a while was too good to resist. I thought these groups would teach me how professionals speak to each other, I thought I’d get a glimpse into how a Solicitor vented about a frustrating matter or how a referral to a process server was sought, for example. I always planned to lay low, to learn by osmosis.
What I found in those groups, particularly in the last few months, is almost a resentment for law students and early career Lawyers invading ‘Lawyer’s spaces’. I’ve seen posts questioning whether law students and early career lawyers even belong in Lawyer’s conversations, I’ve seen posts of practitioners almost enraged when a law student or early career lawyer reaches out for job opportunities, tips and tricks, even carefully constructed questions of law.
I often joke that I work at ‘Disneyland for Lawyers’. I landed my dream job straight out of university and have the opportunity for personal development, to learn cutting edge techniques, to ride on the coattails of a hugely respected brand whilst I found my feet. I’d found a place with fixed fee billing and where I was regarded as a human first and a lawyer second. My workplace wants to learn about my family, my favourite brand of brie and asks what’s going wrong if I’m seen working late at the office too many days in a row. Where I am, overwork is a symptom of everything else going wrong. I say this as, even though I worked at ‘Disneyland for Lawyers’, I had a tremendously difficult first year and bit in the profession.
Learning to be a Lawyer (and these days, you learn this whilst you already hold the title of Lawyer) is incredibly difficult. I do not recognise the woman I am in my admission day photos because she has no idea what is coming for her! All of this is a good thing, all of this is inevitable and important and is a prerequisite for taking on the incredibly privileged position of being someone’s advisor and having the regard of the community as someone to trust. It’s still so hard.
I say this because I’m on the cusp of hitting two years post admission experience. I say this because I can blend into a crowd of Lawyers now, because a Court event no longer means I don’t sleep the night before and because honestly, I’ve not had a proper all out cry in some months (#smallwins). I say this because I feel like I can breathe now but I remember what it’s like when I couldn’t.
Please don’t close the door on law students and early career lawyers and tell them there’s no place for them here. Please don’t take the approach that a career in law is blood, sweat and tears and there’s nothing us professionals need to offer the newer amongst us because ‘it was hard for me so it should be hard for them too’. Life is all about perspective, I can only sleep the night before a Court event because I’ve been to enough by now to know the Judge probably isn’t going to kill me. Share your perspective far and wide, tell law students and early career lawyers that a life in law is awesome and that they will work it all out. Speak to the newer amongst us with respect; if it has to be all about you, think of them as your succession plan or better yet, future opponents that you’d rather know their stuff than have to drag through a matter like me out of a Gorman flash sale (had to loop back to that one).
I don’t know if these Facebook groups are an actual temperature test for our profession or rather a sad indictment on the internet (I hope it’s the latter, some research will point you to so many very large Facebook groups having to be closed in the last few months due to hate and division). But, I can say this- if Lawyer’s spaces aren’t welcoming to law students and early career lawyers we will unintentionally forbid diversity in our profession. If life is all about perspective, and tomorrow’s Lawyers are seeking us out for that perspective, and they can’t get it, we’ll be left with only those who’s paths were paved for them by family or wealth who can succeed. If that happens, many of the wonderful lawyers I know wouldn’t be here today and the law would be so much more worse off for it.