I never wanted to be a commercial or business lawyer, much of whose job it is to make rich people richer. My father was a doctor who worked mostly within mining communities. I felt impelled to follow in his footsteps and give service to people who needed it, but could not afford to pay. A good lawyer needs empathy and the ability to see issues from a client’s point of view. It’s more than a good bedside manner. You need to put yourself in the shoes and mind of your client.
Throughout my more than 50 years of practice, I have been conscious that solicitors have a bad reputation. We are commonly seen as greedy, pedantic and self-seeking. Sadly, I have to agree that many lawyers are like that. My battle has been to try hard not to become like the stereotype.
My guiding interests, since my days at Oxford University, have been civil liberties, human rights and equality. They remain my guiding interests. I am very concerned about the increasing polarisation between City commercial lawyers and those trying to provide a service to ‘ordinary’ people. I would like to see a move towards greater equality within the profession, with those on massive incomes prepared to accept reduced pay cheques to help fund what used to be publicly funded services.
When you see law centres closing and people unable to get legal aid, those £1m packages in the City are unacceptable. My advice to anyone wanting to become a lawyer is that while there are still opportunities in the commercial sphere where you can earn good money, serving the disadvantaged is becoming economically unviable. A solution to the funding problem must be found.
I don’t think my career, which included founding a legal aid practice in London’s Kentish Town in 1963, can be replicated today. There is no longer a source of funding for such a career. I hope there is still room for imaginative ways to approach this problem. My career has never been well paid but it has been immensely satisfying.
Sir Geoffrey Bindman QC, founder of Bindmans