All journalists should be required to spend time listening to readers’ concerns, and we should do it more.
My wife was quick to put me in place when I told her I was giving a talk to solicitors about the future of the legal profession.
‘What can you tell them they don’t already know? They’re lawyers – they definitely know more about the legal profession than you.’
She had a point, but the Manchester Law Society was insistent. Anyone who’s met its remarkable chief executive Fran will know she’s a difficult person to say no to.
My brief was to speak for 10 minutes on the future of the legal profession. One Twitter suggestion was just to say ‘we’re all f*****’ and sit down for the next nine minutes and 50 seconds. It was tempting, but I was getting free food for this gig, so it seemed a little rude.
The truth is it’s difficult to know where to start when it comes to the future of the profession. I know for certain there is a future for solicitors. But what their roles will be, where they’ll work and what form their firms will take, that’s more guesswork.
There was no escaping that these are difficult times for everyone. Even my perpetually optimistic lawyer friend last week admitted he might have chosen the wrong time to enter this world. There was no point pussy-footing around and pretending everything and everyone will be ok, so I didn’t.
But equally this is an exciting time for the profession in many ways. Adversity will breed innovation and when they’re backed against the wall the best people will find solutions to get out. The Manchester Law Society is a great example of firms working collaboratively to ensure everyone’s survival, and I’m seeing more and more collaboration all over the country as solicitors realise they’re stronger together. The glass has spilt a fair bit, but it’s not half empty yet.
So there I was, filled up on crust-lest sandwiches in the offices and a gallon of water, preparing to teach lawyers how to suck eggs. Twenty-five pairs of eyes stared back at me, the majority probably wondering who this non-lawyer upstart was to tell them their own future.
As it turned out, I loved the experience. Everyone should be required to write a talk on their job for a presentation, even if it’s never to see the light of day. I found I was able to see everything with so much more clarity, finally getting an overview of this sector (as a news hound looking for daily morsels it’s all too easy to ignore the bigger picture).
It was nerve-wracking, sure, and the pale blue shirt was definitely the wrong choice – I didn’t learn from Tony Blair’s mistake all those years ago. But the chance to engage with readers and show that we at the Gazette are not stuck behind a desk in Chancery Lane was well worth any unfortunate patches.
Anyone who’s been to a conference will know the worst part of a speech is the call for questions at the end. It usually leads to some awkward shuffling as lawyers lose their tongue.
But I even had questions! And plenty too. They asked about our reporting of alternative business structures, the spin wars over the Jackson reforms, PII, the Law Society and, of course, ‘why is there no good news in the Gazette?’. I only wish our best-read stories reflected this thirst for positive news. All journalists should be required in their contract to spend time listening to readers’ concerns, and we should do it more.
Public speaking isn’t easy, but you can’t beat meeting readers and potential contacts. I’d recommend it to anyone. From this point onwards I’m available for all birthdays, weddings and bar mitzvahs.
John Hyde is a Gazette reporter