I sat my law degree in Newcastle, though I didn’t fancy being a lawyer at first. Then my sandwich business, ‘The Great North Bun’, flopped so I came to London and found myself in Shelter’s legal department. Once I saw the law being used in real situations I started to enjoy it and applied for a training contract. My degree gave me a good basic grasp of legal principles, but we spent not a minute on advocacy.
Though it was tough going, my training contract was excellent experience. I worked in a legal aid practice in east London seeing several clients a day, and was expected to pick up files and go to all the different types of court at short notice. Some of the cases were extreme and a lot of the work related to violence. Now very little shocks me. Advocacy keeps me on my toes. I once did a TUPE case, the first tribunal hearing on ‘service provision contracts’ as it applied to solicitors, and had a vivid nightmare the night before about the D-Day landings. I woke up in an Ibis hotel in Liverpool with a crushed UHT milk carton in my fist.
Lawyers need an eye for detail, a bit of humility, and an ability to get to the point. The biggest lesson I have learned in 20 years is never to make idle threats. Respect for the law is on a downward trajectory. More people are prepared to misuse it, seemingly with impunity. On the upside, clients are much more empowered by the internet in terms of knowledge and their own choices.
When I started, I was advising clients on pretty much any type of dispute, but it can be very dangerous to dabble. Clients need quick, effective advice, and at lawyers’ rates they shouldn’t expect us to be on a learning curve. Lawyers should be more streamlined and able to weed out nuisance claims proactively. It is grossly unfair that certain individuals are still allowed to use the process as a blunt instrument to attack others. It can ruin lives to be on the receiving end.
While I have more commercial and some higher-profile cases, I still love acting for an individual with a good case – someone who has unfairly been put in a corner by a more powerful group. People underestimate the levelling effect of the law and what it means to stand alone as a witness.
Gordon Turner is principal, Gordon Turner Employment Lawyers