My girlfriend, now wife, was involved in the early stages of the development of the community law centre movement. She made me realise that the law was a wonderful weapon for helping the least advantaged sections of society achieve their rights. As an articled clerk working for two small firms, I was exposed to just about every aspect of the function of a law firm, including learning my way around the cavernous High Court and appreciating some of the difficulties that young lawyers still experience in dealing with its bureaucracy.
I was part of a Foreign & Commonwealth Office delegation after the Bosnian war helping to supervise the elections. The horror of going to Srebrenica a few short months after the massacre of thousands of Muslims and seeing the faces of deeply traumatised residents of the town will never leave me.
If you treat people with respect, in the main it is reciprocated. I had a high-profile case out of London that involved living with two QCs and a junior. Their commitment and hard work was there to behold.
Phone hacking, the experience of being part of a close-knit collective group of firms fighting News Group and winning, was unique for me. Making a legal aid practice profitable in the face of the determination of the Legal Services Commission and governments to restrict its availability is a challenge.
The decimation and reduction of legal aid is going to cause considerable problems in a relatively short time. I do not believe anything has been gained by the penny-pinching approach of the Ministry of Justice. The world is far more complex and has changed dramatically since I qualified in 1976. It is nigh-on impossible for a solicitor to be a generalist. Over the years I have practised in a wide range of areas. However, I am now conscious of the risks in doing so.
The collective skill of the profession is something we all can be proud of. A legal career is a hard road to follow – but very rewarding. It is a huge privilege to be able to act for one of our major political parties, the Labour party, both in and out of government.
Gerald Shamash, partner, Steel & Shamash