A junior lawyer has scented a business opportunity in what he describes as the 'cultish atmosphere' within firms where juniors' gaps in knowledge are not tolerated.
Fraser Clark, admitted in 2014, says the ’Legal Practice Helpdesk’ phoneline he has set up will connect callers with experienced practitioners in various fields so that they can talk through the basics of procedure. The service is open to all lawyers but Clark said it could be most beneficial to juniors who might be afraid to ask colleagues.
‘I think there is a very serious problem in the profession with regard to admitting deficit in professional ability,’ Clark told the Gazette. ‘Lawyers are people on a knife-edge, ever terrified of exposing lack in ability. It can be, for the junior, almost a cultish environment whose tenets must be adhered to. There is no room for not knowing, for admitting knowledge gaps - and yet it may have been 18 months since studying the LPC module in question.’
Clark's company, trading as Legal Practice Helpdesk, was set up in 2015 under the name 'Assist Professional Ltd'.
The wellbeing of solicitors, particularly juniors, is increasingly being recognised and discussed with charities like LawCare and the Law Society’s Junior Lawyer’s Division (JLD) both taking a keen interest in the pressures faced by lawyers.
Amy Clowrey, chair of the JLD, which represents students to lawyers with up to five years PQE, said it was not surprising that juniors are feeling the need for support. She noted that 71% of respondents to the JLD’s 2018 ‘resilience and wellbeing survey’ indicated that they experienced stress at work within the last month and that the top causes included high workload, lack of support and ineffective management.
However, she said the onus should be on employers to work out the root cause of these issues. ‘There should not be a need for an external company to give a junior lawyer practical advice which could and should be obtained from those who are developing them,’ Clowrey said.
Clark says his helpdesk is staffed by tutors who are required to have several years of post-qualification experience. Calls are not legal advice but concern procedure. Callers are told to never divulge client identities. A 10-minute call costs £9.99.
Clark told the Gazette his own training experience helped formulate the idea: ‘Whilst training there were a couple of times when a quick call to a law tutor would have helped me. It’s a systemic training issue for juniors, in that admitting knowledge gaps to colleagues can have serious implications for retention, and yet who else is there to ask?’
Clark denied attempting to compete with the Law Society's Practice Advice Service, which he said is more geared towards helping more senior solicitors running their own practice.
A Law Society spokesperson said: ’The Law Society offers free and confidential support and advice on legal practice and procedures to our members and law firm employees. The service, staffed by experienced solicitors, is funded through the practising certificate. Lines are open 09:00-17:00 Monday to Friday and the number is 0207 320 5675.’