Solicitor, Slee Blackwell, Bideford
As a secondary modern schoolboy I was destined to be factory fodder, but I had aspirations above my station. I went to the local technical college where I developed an interest in law. Two generations before me had cleaned the offices of the solicitors where I eventually served my articles – giving me the all-important foot in the door.
A degree at Manchester Polytechnic and the old ‘Part IIs’ provided a sound academic grounding in law. During my articles I did conveyancing, probate and crime, with a side salad of family and litigation. I learned how my academic understanding of the law related to real life – and how to fill in forms.
The hardest set of challenges I’ve faced as a lawyer is adaptation, but this is something all lawyers must do. What you are doing now (and how it is done) is unlikely to be what you will be doing in 10 years. I switched from private practice to local government and back to a very different private practice. Adapting to new technologies is difficult for a dinosaur like me.
There have been many career highlights but one that I always recall with a shudder is being forced (due to a lack of funds at my local authority preventing the instruction of counsel) to make a High Court appearance in full battle dress for an injunction application. This may be an everyday experience for litigators but it scared me!
Self-important bullies are the hardest sort of client. True products of the ‘me’, ‘I want’ society. I try not to dance to their tune.
My present niche, residential conveyancing, has changed out of all recognition. Gone are the days when it provided financial cream; we are now down to skimmed milk. It is far more frenetic than it was in the halcyon days of my youth. Nobody has the time or freedom to think through a problem and take a sensible view. Our job is more and more about collecting often meaningless bits of paper.
On the plus side, technology has taken away much of the drudgery. Transactions complete quicker and the bank telegraphic transfer system works much better (with banks actually sending monies when you tell them to!). From the client’s point of view, the cost of conveyancing has tumbled.
My hope is for the survival of the high street general practice. For generations it has provided good, accessible, legal services to local residents. Now, with the virtual abolition of legal aid, the rise of remote legal factories and the ability of non-lawyers to meddle with their everyday workings, it is under attack like never before.
To survive, the general practitioner will have to balance the need to embrace change and technology with the need to maintain close, personal contact with clients, ensuring that it is qualified and experienced human beings that are in charge of the file at all times – not some callow youth with a computer.