Last month saw the handover to a newly elected executive committee of the Junior Lawyers Division (JLD) to continue another year of supporting, promoting and representing junior lawyers in England and Wales. It’s been a whirlwind year as vice chair and that shows no signs of stopping into my chair year. The policy items I intend to focus on moving into next year will include (but are certainly not limited to) the following:
Access to the profession
The JLD has worked hard to ensure that the junior lawyer’s voice is heard in the Solicitors Regulation Authority’s (SRA) development of the Solicitors Qualifying Exam (SQE). Since April 2015, when the idea of the SQE was first introduced, to now being involved in discussions with the SRA in relation to the pilots and intricacies of SQE1 and 2, including consideration of the Legal Services Board’s approval of SQE part 1, the JLD is lobbying hard to ensure that this new system of qualification is credible, accessible and an improvement on what we have currently.
The JLD supports the idea of a centralised assessment for all those wishing to enter the profession but we recognise that accessibility doesn’t mean that absolutely anyone should qualify as a solicitor. The solicitor title needs to retain prestige and credibility, both domestically and internationally, whilst also being attainable for those from all backgrounds. This means that cost, funding and salary (particularly for the qualifying work experience (QWE) element) are all important topics the JLD will continue to push.
Protection of junior lawyers
It is important that junior lawyers are not exploited, particularly during their QWE by working for free or lower than minimum wage, in order to simply gain the experience they require to qualify as a solicitor. We have seen from the JLD’s annual resilience and wellbeing surveys (2017-19) that junior lawyers are at risk of experiencing significant stress and mental ill-health in the workplace due to (among other things) high workload, client expectations and lack of support. Financial worries would only increase the levels of stress and pressure junior lawyers can come under.
Further, this year the JLD has spoken with the International Bar Association (IBA) in relation to its bullying and sexual harassment survey and report, 'Us Too?'. The JLD will continue to be involved in conversations to develop and implement solutions and to shape the workplace culture for the better. The JLD also hopes to work with the Law Society in order to support employers and junior lawyers alike with such issues with a view to changing the culture and ensuring protection of solicitors.
Finally, in light of the SQE and our impending Brexit, the JLD will continue to develop its international relationships near and far. We have already established strong connections with the European Young Bar Association and the American Bar Association Young Lawyers Division and look forward to these relationships continuing to grow well into the future. Over the next year, the JLD will look to build closer relationships with all junior bar associations across the globe but particularly with the Young Canadian Bar, the IBA, the Scottish young lawyers and Northern Irish young lawyers. The conversations we can have with our international friends help to better shape our policies and positions, to ensure a more informed representation of junior lawyers in England and Wales.
So here’s to 2020
There are, and I am sure will be, many more items on the agenda for the year ahead. But finally, the JLD extends a huge congratulations and thank you to Amy Clowrey, the 2018/19 chair, for all her hard work and commitment to the cause. She’s had an incredible year and made such an impact by putting junior lawyer interests at the centre of many important conversations.
The JLD of the Law Society represents LPC students and graduates, solicitor apprentices, trainee solicitors and solicitors up to five years’ qualified. The Executive Committee (EC) of the JLD is a group of 13 elected members, including a student representative and three members who sit on, and represent junior lawyers’ interests, on the Law Society Council.
Charlotte Parkinson, chair of the Junior Lawyers Division