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David Pickup

Senior Partner, Head of Mental Health Law, Pickup & Scott

Quotation Marks
Being nice is an obvious one – although it does not last very long into January.

Happy New Year: happy days again?

Happy New Year: happy days again?


David Pickup reflects back, considering whether 2023 will be a better year for lawyers

What New Year resolutions have you come up with this year? Perhaps you have loads for yourself to eat and drink less and exercise more – or even to eat and drink more and become less active! You may have resolutions for professional life for yourself, your firm or the profession as a whole. Standard ones for me include being nicer to people, to plan ahead, use the diary (or even buy a diary), to get other people to do more and for me to say “no” as often as required. That is the thing about resolutions – we will have them if others share the pain…

‘Nice’ in practice

Being nice is an obvious one – although it does not last very long into January. Planning ahead and the use of a diary are increasingly important as deadlines seem to loom up and fly past.

Saying “no” is also vital in our professional lives. I am referring to the cases and files that keep you awake at night, which are usually the ones we should have turned down when the client phoned, emailed or walked in the door. You know the sort of cases I mean, which seem interesting at the time, or you want to help out because you feel sorry for them and you end up with a lot of worry and little fees, if any.

The last one is delegate. There must be a better way of doing this. Perhaps I will ask someone in the office how to do it.

This year I will ditch these resolutions – because they never last anyway. I think of bringing back the good old days! I do not mean the old television variety show – but the good days for us lawyers.

Generational change

When I started out on trying to earn a living in the 1980s, life was very different. There were specialised solicitors – but usually the specialism was either contentious or non-contentious. Non contentious meant conveyancing and wills – and the other person did the rest. The advantage was clients were able to get legal advice whatever their problem. If necessary, the solicitor found an expert barrister who advised, so everyone was covered.

We had things called Green Forms which meant that anyone who could not afford advice could get legal advice on any subject. Lawyers were trusted to fill out the eligibility and no-one checked it. They were simple forms – and you collected them all up each month on another form and entered the total fees and names and then got paid, no questions asked.

Another difference then was banks liked us. They actually thought it good to have solicitors’ firms on their books. It was an honour and so it should be. Nowadays things are different. Solicitors are not the safe bets they used to be. They are demanding and do not always do as they are told.

Cost of living

My campaign to bring back the good old days was prompted by the recent interest crisis. I am not wishing ill on anyone, and my tongue is partly in my cheek, but perhaps high interest rates may be good for us. Interest rates used to be high – and banks were falling over themselves to extend overdrafts because the interest on client accounts paid for the lending.

The 1980s were towards the end of a period of consumer rights lobbying, when solicitors came under the spotlight. Clients wondered why they were paying solicitors to do conveyancing. Books came out telling them how to do it. What happened of course is solicitors carried on doing the work for clients, who realised it was not as easy as they had been encouraged to think – but the fees collapsed. Sadly, the withdrawal of the compulsory scale of fees, the increase of advertising – and the rise of specialist firms all led to decline, driving fees down.

Legal aid in 2023

When I started in 1981 as an articled clerk, I was told crime was as profitable as conveyancing. We were paid about £25 an hour on legal aid for seeing clients – and a bit more for actually standing on your feet and trying to get bail, mitigate etc. I think it was £17 for travel and waiting. Now £25 would be over £100 in today’s money. Think of that hourly rate for legal aid!

Overall, though, perhaps the old days were not all that good. Specialising has its merits – as clients are better protected now.

Happy new year to all the Solicitors Journal readers – and pass another mince pie…

David Pickup is senior partner of Pickup & Scott and head of the mental health department: