Culture

"In this life, one thing counts,
In the bank, large amounts,
I'm afraid these don't grow on trees,
You've got to beast a junior or two"


Young solicitors are being "hauled" before the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal in "disproportionate numbers for small mistakes" and "losing their careers," according to the president of the largest local law society in the country. 

Paul Sharma, president of the Westminster and Holborn Law Society (WHLS), criticised the "rotten" culture in law firms, in a speech to the Junior Lawyers Division of the Law Society. He said "inordinate pressure" was being applied on young solicitors, who were "burdened with mountains of work" they were expected to complete "within impossible deadlines."

The WHLS president slammed City firms for their "outdated" approach, with partners dumping work on junior lawyers, to avoid the "hassle" of doing it themselves. Partners view themselves as too "important and busy" to do the work, as they're attending "expensive client lunches", he added.

Partners also make junior lawyers work long hours, to mirror the 12-hour days they endured when they were that age, claimed Sharma. He equated this to "the old argument for corporal punishment by angry, damaged adults – 'A good thrashing didn’t do me any harm'."

The pressure "to bill high legal costs, forces mistakes and bad judgment," said Sharma. But he was dismayed that when junior lawyers appear before the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal, they are often unable to afford legal counsel. The WHLS president told the audience that he has therefore launched a campaign for the Law Society to pay for solicitors to be legally represented at disciplinary hearings.

Sharma highlighted the case of junior solicitor Claire Matthews, who was struck off after she lied about leaving a briefcase with work documents on a train. Matthews "worked impossible hours under mountainous pressure", said Sharma, and went into a "blind panic" when she lost the files. She represented herself at the SDT hearing, as she could not afford the legal fees. However, the SRA assembled "a battalion of lawyers" and "went hunting for a scalp," claimed Sharma. 

"Surely, equity and equality of arms demanded that Claire Mathews had legal representation," said the WHLS president. "That fundamental principle of justice that all accused deserve to be adequately and properly represented before punishment." And he said that senior partners in City firms would be able to "afford equality of arms" when it came to legal representation, but that "young solicitors more often cannot". 

Matthews will have her case reheard, following a crowdfunded appeal.

“We are aware of members’ concerns about costs in the SDT, particularly their impact on more junior solicitors," a Law Society spokeswoman told RollOnFriday.

"It’s true there is an inequality of arms between the individual solicitor and the prosecution in the tribunal, which is why the Law Society has consistently advocated that the higher (criminal) burden of proof applies at the SDT," the spokeswoman added. "We are looking at ways to offer more support to members appearing in the SDT, within the limits of what we are able to do under the current regulatory regime.” 

The SRA declined to comment. 

A recent survey found that one in five solicitors have experienced bulling, discrimination or harassment in the workplace over the last year, and junior lawyers are at risk of burnout. 

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Comments

Anonymous 08 October 21 09:01

The SRA should be focusing their attention on the culture of bullying among some law firms and not on the victims of it.

Gobblepig 08 October 21 09:34

If you leave a briefcase full of confidential documents on a train, that's a horrible but relatable predicament that can quite easily result from late hours and overwork, and there but for the grace of God goes each of us.

If you lie about leaving a briefcase full of documents on a train, that's deceit and you have no business being in the legal profession, and the SRA is right to come after you.

There are lots of valid points to be made about how the SRA conducts its duties and how law firm culture promotes workaholism and stress, but this fellow is not making them effectively and has based his position on a caricature of the legal profession that went out of date 30 years ago. Almost without exception, the senior associates and partners I know are themselves overworked and are frequently not effective at delegating tasks to juniors. They are certainly not dumping their workloads and spending their lunches at Salt Bae's. 

WHLS Member 08 October 21 09:57

I haven't attended any calls with the Society for a while... but as a trainee, I can attest to the fact that Paul cares. The few times I've met up with him and had a chat, I could tell he was a very down to earth person.

If I could pick anyone to speak out against the actions of the SRA on behalf of juniors, I would pick Paul.

Anon 08 October 21 12:51

Several lawyers in my firm gave reports to SRA evidencing clear and premeditated dishonesty by senior management, designed to end careers of lawyers who were out of favour through falsifying performance reports and where they were caught red handed.  Nothing was ever done about it, not even an investigation. If allegations of much less severity had been made about a paralegal or trainee, I am sure SRA would have sent in helicopters and tanks. But when they are up against well resourced and powerful partners, it is very softly softly. The standards senior partners are supposed to comply with should be so much higher than for juniors. They are supposed to know better. 

@12:51 08 October 21 15:28

I could not agree more wholeheartedly.  At times it feels like the SDT feels like it needs to take action to show it has a purpose but consistently, time and time again it goes after people at the bottom of the tree.  Whilst these people are bright professionals from who more can be expected, it would be far more beneficial to the profession to target those who have been in the profession 20 odd years and still misbehave. 

I mean its amazing how a top Private Equity Partner at a leading London Law Firm can get accused of contempt of court for sending instructions to a clients IT manager to "burn it" and be cleared on the basis that he deleted the important evidence in a "panic" and yet I can't find any record that the SDT has even investigated said individual and whether that panic and covering things up merits being disbarred - because of course, we know that for a junior it would.

It's very hard to think we have an effective system where it appears the probability of being pursued by the SDT seems to have a linear, inverse correlation with your annual income!!

Anonymous Anonymous 08 October 21 16:33

Young solicitors are being "hauled" before the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal but are often unable to afford legal counsel. Ordinary people also can't afford legal fees. This is the real world.

 

SRA is a joke 08 October 21 16:46

SRA and SDT is scared of the large international law firms. Dentons scandal after sandal and nothing is ever done. The SRA and SDT will only go after the weak. 

Jeremy Cohen 08 October 21 17:03

The SRA is downright brutal with its treatment of junior lawyers. Paul Sharma is right to point out that the SRA is ending careers of lawyers for minor mistakes and even due to bullying from firms. It was common at my former firm to complain to the SRA to put pressure on junior lawyers who raised a fuss. In one case, the partners in our overseas office claimed a junior lawyer stole furniture for the purpose of avoiding to pay his severance. The SRA fosters the firm's behaviors for reporting minor incidents to coerce junior lawyers to stay in line.

Scaredy-cats 08 October 21 17:32

SRA are actually scared of taking on senior partners. There would have to be a cast iron case with mounds of evidence and appalling misbehaving to actually be able to embarrass them to take any action. Even then the SRA would have to be hounded by the victims or ROF would have to  report the story to make it impossible for them to ignore.

But if a paralegal panics and backdates a document to hit a filing deadline - but with no real victim or malice - well here come the SRA cavalry, guns blazing seeking a career ending strike off…

anon 08 October 21 19:35

The Regulators never look at the root cause of junior lawyers' dishonesty: the pressure to record hours and bill. Toxic greedy EPs cause this. Will the SRA ever act? Naaaahhhhhh

PK 11 October 21 02:29

Well done for speaking out - junior lawyers appearing before Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunals cannot afford expensive QCs - there is no equality of arms. More fundamentally, junior lawyers are an easy target and we are not allowing them to make mistakes and learn along the way.

Sir Woke XR Remainer FBPE MBE 11 October 21 12:12

Good that someone higher up the chain of the industry is speaking out about this. The Matthews case was an absolute abomination, nothing short of a genuine human rights abuse.

Anonymous 12 October 21 10:39

I don't understand all the moaning by junior lawyers about being persecuted by the SRA.

I work at an American firm and I deal with SRA complaints literally every week. But I'm absolutely fine, I never lose a wink of sleep over it, and will be practicing law for decades to come (if I haven't voluntarily cashed out by then).

Dealing with the fools at the SRA office is easy, all that you have to do when they approach you is you fix them with a steely gaze, and ask them "do you really think this is a good use of the regulator's time?" while slowly, but confidently, taking your enormous schlong out and slapping the first third of it into the palm of your hand to a steady beat. After brief consideration they'll mumble that maybe they've got the wrong guy actually and perhaps it wasn't that big a deal anyway, and they'll back off. End of incident.

Does it have to be the palm of your hand? Could it just be a nearby surface that would produce the desired 'thwack' noise each time you slap it down? Or just back and forth against each side of your pelvis? Look, it's a method, provided that your piece has the necessary heft to it you can pretty much slap it against anything you like and this will work. Why do you keep asking me these pedantic questions?

Anonymous 13 October 21 20:54

Too imasculated by the experience to be able to write the words down on paper and thereby give their humiliation concrete form. Typical SJW betacucks.

Anonymous 15 October 21 07:47

True, and also a lot of male lawyers have been persecuted over their personal lives, although a lot of this stopped after the SRA got their bus smacked over Beckwith.

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