Partner and solicitor-advocate, Pitmans
The law attracted me from an early age. The appeal was getting involved in how society worked and, crucially, fixing the non-functioning parts.
After getting my law degree at Oxford, I studied for the Bar Vocational Course in London. Although the academic part of my training was valuable, my practical experience, first as a pupil barrister and then, after I transferred, working in a solicitors’ firm, were far better preparation for the work I now do.
The most demanding part of my job is the advocacy. Spending a day on my feet in cross-examination is mentally draining, but it is also far more physically tiring than I would have expected. Having said that, advocacy is also what I love doing most. My greatest challenge is taking on management functions since becoming a partner. I have been lucky enough to learn from some exceptional team leaders, but I wish there was more formal training for solicitors making that leap in responsibility.
My chosen fields of practice can also regularly give rise to challenges. The new defamation legislation that came in last year has made it harder for claimants to get cases off the ground, but there have been difficulties for my defendant clients too. There is always uncertainty with any new legislation about how it will be implemented by the courts until the first few test cases have gone through. It makes it harder to give the type of definitive answer that clients need.
Equally challenging is the problem of having to work within the confines of legislation which is outdated when compared with the issues it is addressing. As is well known, in areas such as trolling, cyber-bullying and ‘revenge porn’, the applicable law pre-dates the advent of social media, and in some cases the widespread adoption of the internet. Even modern legislation can struggle to keep pace with the rate of change in technology.
Even in my comparatively short career in the law so far, I have seen a great many changes, many of them brought about by external financial pressures. Access to justice has been impaired by cuts to legal aid funding on the criminal side, and the ever-increasing cost of embarking on proceedings in civil matters.
I was always warned not to specialise too early in my career, to avoid finding myself in a dead end. It was good advice, but there will always be a need for highly qualified specialists, whether they are solicitors or barristers.
I hope lawyers will become much more willing to embrace technology as a part of their practice, rather than something that is supposed to happen, unobserved, in the background. Law is an intellectual pursuit, and the more time that can be freed for lawyers to think, rather than performing mundane tasks that could easily be automated, the better.