As I wrote in a previous blog (Let’s kill all the lawyers), I remain astonished at the sheer volume of lawyers wanting to come into the profession, and, to put it bluntly, with very little prospect of success. That ‘sheer volume’ is a staggering statistic. When I was first called to the Bar in 1974, there were less than 2000 barristers. Now there are over 18,000 and counting. Much the same can be said about solicitors. In 1974 there were 30,000, and today there are over 120,000. As somebody observed, there is now a lawyer for every 400 people in the country, making it easier to find one than a doctor.
It’s not easy to fathom the popularity of the legal profession as a career. I assume those qualifying are aware of the odds against them, but I suppose these hopefuls believe they will succeed where so many of their colleagues have failed. It’s a little like doing the lottery – somebody has to win, and ‘it could be you’!
In order to succeed, the lawyers best placed to hit the ground running and stay ahead of the competition will be those who set themselves a clear and realistic goal and who stick to it. So many start out with lofty and unrealistic ambitions but become disheartened if those ambitions are not fulfilled.
Perhaps more so than in any other profession, newcomers need all the help they can get, as the profession is changing year on year. Barristers can now accept instructions direct from clients instead of going down the traditional route of instructing a solicitor first. Solicitors now have access to the highest courts of justice where formerly their rights to appear on behalf of their clients were confined to the lower courts. The administration of law firms and chambers has changed to make them more ‘user friendly’, allowing the public and their end users greater choice at more competitive rates.
These changes can be viewed by lawyers either for the best or the worst, depending on the willingness of the profession to adapt, and if Michael Gove, the newly appointed Lord Chancellor, is to have his way, the profession is about to witness seismic changes as never seen before. Whether they like them or not, the professionals need to accept that many of these changes are coming, and they need to be prepared.
Despite efforts by successive governments to make the legal process more user friendly, most litigants know that a good lawyer is indispensable to the success of their claim, and in return, lawyers are acquiring new skills. This is where legal recruitment agencies are coming into their own, with one in particular offering the ultimate guide to areas of law careers. Law firms and chambers are relying more and more on the expertise of these agencies to sort the wheat from the chaff and make positive recommendations.