The profession is at a crossroads – but talented young people still want to join the party.
Sometimes, dear readers, you surprise me.
When we ran the story last week that Bates Wells Braithwaite’s Robert Houchill had become the first paralegal to qualify as a solicitor through equivalent means I prepared for the worst.
I could barely bring myself to open the story when I saw that comments had flooded in below, and was fully expecting this pioneer to be on the end of a diatribe of negative responses.
Yet the reaction was almost overwhelmingly positive – ranging from messages of congratulations to comments that this was a welcome new and flexible route into the profession.
Of course, the commenters were right. You can have as many scrolls under your arm as you like, it doesn’t make you a brilliant professional. There is no reason why people should be denied entry to the profession simply because they couldn’t secure a training contract.
What was perhaps an even greater surprise was that Robert wanted to be a solicitor at all – indeed he positively craved the title.
The solicitors profession is currently facing perhaps its biggest ever crossroads – how can it stay relevant in an age where people feel equipped to handle matters on their own and begrudge paying high fees even if they do instruct a professional?
Whether it is insurers settling cases without the need for solicitors, courts encouraged to mediate cases online or rival professions such as accountants moving onto their turf, solicitors are potentially a dying breed.
Yet Robert - and many others I’ve spoken to over recent months - still want the kudos and prestige (rarely, if ever, the money) that comes with the title of solicitor. It is a brand that has been undermined by politicians, wounded by an increasing complaints culture and criticised by those seeking to enter the market.
But the strength of the solicitor brand is almost bomb-proof. As long as talented young people are desperate to be solicitors, we should cherish it.
John Hyde is Gazette deputy news editor