This post was first published in March 2016.
Last month I was elected chair of London YRes, the junior branch of Resolution. You may therefore start to notice a bit of a YRes theme to my posts over the coming months.
I have just circulated an opening address to members. For those who are interested, it read as follows:
“It is a privilege and honour to have responsibility for serving and representing as large and diverse body of lawyers as London YRes. Changes announced at last year’s national conference mean that our membership now includes all Resolution members up to ten years qualified, as well as our student, trainee and other junior affiliate members. In London that includes over four hundred members, ranging in experience from students to those moving into partnership, and practising the full range of family law from publicly funded care work to high net worth matrimonial finance and everything in between. One of my key priorities as chair will be to ensure that the events that we organise are relevant to all our members across the capital and not just those from well-resourced firms in the City.
Family lawyers are often maligned in public and the media as sharks and legal aid fat cats. This ignores the fact that that a large part of many family lawyers’ work is helping and protecting some of the most vulnerable in society, often on a fraction of what commercial lawyers can expect to earn. It is family lawyers who help ensure that children who are in danger are taken into care and those that aren’t are not; who help anxious parents recover abducted children; who help protect the victims of domestic violence from their abusers and who help those who cannot resolve their domestic disputes on their own to do so in a constructive and non-confrontational way.
Moreover, many of the lawyers dealing with those most vulnerable clients, and some of the most distressing cases of all, are junior solicitors right at the start of their career. While some of us are lucky enough to have access to extensive resources and support, many more will be working at high street practices or underfunded local authorities with limited support, resources and supervision.
Even when legal aid was available, firms had little choice but to pass much of their publicly funded work to the most junior staff available, despite the fact that their limited assets did not mean that their cases were any simpler (and often the reverse). The government’s apparent disregard for the family justice system, with the withdrawal of most family legal aid coinciding with swinging cuts to the court budget, has further exacerbated the problem. Many junior lawyer now find themselves helping vulnerable clients on shoestring budgets while also dealing with a rapid rise in distressed, under informed and often uncompromising self-represented litigants. It is no wonder that young family lawyers are among the most frequent callers to LawCare and similar services.
We heard last week about the many benefits of the family arbitration scheme, but the reality is that this option appears so good because the alternative has become so unappetising. The risk, of course, is that a privately funded justice system for those who can afford it will leave a second-rate public system for those who cannot. For those clients who can afford any representation at all, it will be the YRes members of the future who have responsibility for guiding them through that second-rate alternative.
I am proud of what YRes members do. In this era of government and legal aid cuts and court fee rises junior lawyers from all areas of family law practice need more than ever to be able to meet, talk and share experiences with their peers. I am proud also to have this opportunity to help support junior lawyers through the early stages of a very demanding, but hopefully still worthwhile and satisfying career.
YRes was created to provide a forum for junior family lawyers of all backgrounds to share their experiences, concerns and ideas, ask questions, and develop skills and knowledge in a friendly and supportive environment. Historically we have done this by hosting talks on both legal issues and soft skills, and providing opportunities to network at those talks and at summer and Christmas parties. These events will continue and I encourage all members to take part, but over the next few months you will also hear more from us seeking your thoughts on what else we could offer to better meet your needs. If you cannot wait that long, do feel free to email me with any thoughts you may have.”