The ending of my year as chair of the Junior Lawyers Division (JLD) later this month also marks the end of my time as a junior lawyer. During the six years I’ve pursued qualification, it’s also been my privilege to be involved with the JLD.

Manda banerji

Manda Banerji

I began my work with the JLD in 2015, when I became the representative for Nottinghamshire just as I collected my first practising certificate. Two years later, I found I’d been bitten by the advocacy bug, so I stood as a candidate in the JLD executive committee elections, and was voted in. In 2019, as I approached the end of my two-year term in the committee, I realised that after seeing the impact of the JLD’s work and the changes it had brought about, I could not simply step away. So I stood for vice chair, a two-year term in which you take the role of chair in your second year.

When I took office as vice chair in November 2019, of course I had no idea what was about to come.

Pandemic life

These last two years have been strange for us all; particularly for me, as in the midst of Covid, I found myself caring for my new-born baby and chairing the JLD remotely. This wasn’t what I’d expected my year as JLD chair to be like. However, it has been an eye-opening experience that taught me many things, for which I am grateful.

The chair of the JLD has a unique vantage: while you are in a position of real privilege, it is a humbling one, as you learn from many others who, ordinarily, you would not have the chance to learn from – particularly fellow junior lawyers. As junior lawyers, we often immerse ourselves in our work, focussing on billing and impressing our seniors, and pay little regard to events in the wider profession. Sitting on the JLD executive committee gives you a perspective that reveals there’s more going on in the profession than you realised.

During this past year, I’ve heard from many of our members and realised just how resilient junior lawyers are. We face immense pressures, day in and day out, yet we continue to deliver. But junior lawyers are facing a hard time, and we must acknowledge and speak openly about this, without shame or fear of judgement. During the pandemic, LPC students completed their studies without ever meeting their peers face-to-face, trainees performed their contracts almost entirely virtually, and junior solicitors learned their jobs and grew in confidence without the physical presence of colleagues to offer support.

Many junior lawyers have been confined, working and living in small flats and house shares, unable to meet with colleagues, friends or family, while others had to juggle their early careers with childcare and home schooling responsibilities.

Some of these challenges feature in Lawcare’s Life in the Law report published last month. This survey of the legal profession found that 40% of younger respondents, who are also likely to be more junior lawyers (although not all junior lawyers are young in age), reported suffering burnout. Those in the 26-35 age bracket were also 10% more concerned than their older counterparts about Covid-19’s impact on their careers, and reported feeling the loss of peer support and camaraderie.

In a profession where unsustainable working hours remain and a large number of junior lawyers experience mental health problems, my final act as JLD chair is to call on the profession to look after our juniors. And not just financially.

Mental health call to action

While chair, I’ve seen media reports about ‘price wars’ in the City as firms attempt to attract and retain junior lawyers, who are leaving the profession by the dozen due to mental ill health after facing intense pressure and stress.

Attitudes towards mental health among junior lawyers are shifting. And as today’s junior lawyers are tomorrow’s senior lawyers, firms must take their junior lawyers’ health – mental and physical – seriously or face losing the best.

The JLD’s message to firms is clear: remuneration and mental health are not the same conversation, and firms cannot pay their way out of their responsibility towards their junior lawyers’ mental health.


Manda Banerji is chair of the Junior Lawyers Division and senior associate at Freeths