Jobs and Homes: stories of the law in lockdown
£20, Legal Action Group
‘Do your best for the client’ was the extent of the instructions the barrister-author of this book received from a solicitor. It has been said several times but the legal system was struggling with low pay and court closures before Covid – and things have not improved. This book is a description of the author’s working life, month by month, from January 2020 to December 2020, as a barrister dealing with housing and employment cases. Each chapter is set against the background of the creeping menace of Covid and how it took over our lives. It is an excellent account of day-to-day work at the sharp end; it is about the most basic rights to a home and a job.
Renton is a good writer who has had a varied career path. He interweaves his views of politics and his personal journey into his book. You can see the historian in him as he writes. I like the detailed touches, such as his description of the different clothes people wear depending on their status and role. There are also nice touches about how to undertake advocacy and get along with lay and professional opponents, and the court.
Covid changed court work completely. Many people were abruptly and unexpectedly facing unemployment and homelessness. One client joined an on-line queue of applications for universal credit with 44,000 people ahead of them; the following day, the number of people in the queue jumped to 138,047.
It is an overused expression but much of the legal profession is at breaking point. This includes advocates and court staff. The book mentions a recorder who had been sat at a screen for ten and a half hours at one stretch. Judges regularly have long lists of housing cases with people frequently not represented. When will governments realise that proper legal services, by preventing homelessness and protecting jobs, actually save society money?
This is an excellent book with a challenging analysis of legal life. It includes an interesting quote from EP Thompson that to stand out as a campaigner and not get compromised you have to join the awkward squad and be ‘all knees and elbows’. That is true, in many ways.
David Pickup is a partner at Pickup & Scott Solicitors, Aylesbury
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