My three sisters and I were all herded into the College of Law whether we liked it or not. Our mum was determined that her four rebellious daughters should get good professional qualifications, which she herself only managed to achieve with enormous difficulty in late middle age.
The best part of my training was at the University of Kent, where law was taught in a social context, but when I did ‘articles’ the training was haphazard and unstructured. Legal training is much more demanding now – I’m very impressed with the skills young lawyers have. There are clients whose expectations are impossible to manage, but they are very rare.
I welcome increased specialism and more rigorous training which means clients get a much better service. But the cutting of legal aid means that access to justice will be very limited in future.
The worst part of running my own firm was being responsible for every last detail of the management of my practice. I was glad to close my own practice after 30 years [Harman joined HJA last October]. I think the days of the small practice are numbered.
I was suspended in 2005 [for leaking a client’s papers to her sister Harriet Harman, then solicitor general]. I still feel angry and frustrated that I couldn’t ensure the exoneration of my client, who, in my view, was unjustly found to have harmed her daughter on the most unreliable evidence. That lack of resolution is still with me after all this time.
I was touched by the amazing support of my clients who understood the dilemma I faced, and this gave me the courage and determination to restart my career after suspension. My only regret is that my client is still separated from her daughter.
I am pleased that since that time the family courts have become far more open, and what I did, which was found to have been in contempt, would now be perfectly acceptable.
If I was starting out as a lawyer now I would like to have had the same career again, but this would be impossible because of the legal aid cuts.
Sarah Harman, specialises in clinical negligence claims at Hodge Jones & Allen