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A position of trust

A position of trust


Despite what you read in the Daily Mail , lawyers hold a position of trust in society, says Kerry Underwood

I am in Stavanger in Norway, having just spoken to sixth formers about being a lawyer in England and Wales. It concentrates the mind on the positives, so as the profession is under attack from politicians and the media, here are a few of them.

You can make a real and positive difference to people’s lives. Being a lawyer has been described as guiding clients across the choppy waters of life to safety on the other side. Often those with serious problems will say that they feel so much better for having spoken to someone.

Civilised society depends on law and the rule of law. Without it there is anarchy and chaos. Society collapses. Daily life is based on trust and a large part of that is the ability to enforce a contract or collect a debt.

Lawyers, along with our friends in the press, are a check on the power of government, authority generally, and faceless multi-national corporations. That is why the establishment uses up so much energy attacking us, although as soon as those self-same people have a problem they run straight to a lawyer.

Laws and rights without the ability to enforce them are meaningless. Access to courts and access to affordable lawyers are as essential as the laws themselves. One does not work without the other.

In spite of the rabid ravings of the Daily Mail, lawyers hold a position of trust in society, both nationally and locally. It is no coincidence that almost every society in the world draws its judges from the ranks of lawyers, often giving its most senior judges the power to overturn laws.

Locally, lawyers are school governors, club and society treasurers, secretaries, and trustees. Any TV programme involving courts or lawyers gets large audiences. Parents are more likely to want their children to be lawyers than bankers or estate agents, even though those jobs pay far more.

The variety of work is endless, including criminal and civil advocacy, human rights, employment, personal injury, local authority matters, contract work, licensing, conveyancing, wills, probate, research – indeed advising on just about everything. Dealing with, and helping, people in all sorts of situations is for most of us the most interesting and rewarding part of the job.

Being a lawyer can involve half a dozen careers even if you work in the same office all of your life. Law opens other doors, such as writing and lecturing, which demand the same skills of organisation, analysis, and logical presentation of raw material. Many of the top thriller writers trained as lawyers.

Also, in spite of the moaning, it is a well-paid and fulfilling career. Whenever I lecture, especially to personal injury lawyers, I am struck by the contrast between the tales of economic woe and the cars in the car park. If I had my time over again I would be a high street solicitor.

Kerry Underwood is senior partner at Underwoods Solicitors