Unless the legal profession acts, an occupation of the Inns of Court could become inevitable, argues OccupyTheInns
During the last few days I have reluctantly come to the conclusion that it is not currently a realistic objective to occupy the Inns of Court. It has become clear to me that it is simply too dangerous for most law graduates without training contracts or pupillages to attempt an occupation. I include myself in this group. As angry and disheartened as I may be, I continue to be hopeful of obtaining pupillage, and indeed have had some positive news on that front.
For that reason I can see that protest is something that all disenfranchised law graduates must approach with caution. Nevertheless, I am proud of this campaign for raising a good deal of awareness on the matter, notwithstanding some disappointing comments in response to the words I have written. Sadly, I expect more to follow these words.
I make the above statement of retreat with a caveat, however. If a year or two passes and a sizeable number of law graduates remain without pupillages and training contracts, and without the hope of securing one, then the situation could be very different. At that point, it may be more dangerous to continue sleep-walking in a basic legal support role than to publicly draw attention to the situation through an occupation of the Inns of Court.
As Harold Macmillan once said when talking about the greatest challenge for a statesman: “Events, my dear boy, events.” It is also events that will decide the fate of law graduates in my position. Will there be an economic recovery? How will the legal aid cuts fall, and what effect will those cuts have on pupils and trainees? Will legal process outsourcing (LPO) companies continue to grow at present rates?
My personal belief is that this will be a slow recovery, that the legal aid cuts will affect young lawyers disproportionately and that LPO will indeed continue to grow. That is why I believe that to avoid an occupation movement in the future, the profession must be pro-active.
Last week I put forward three key proposals to make pupillages more widely available. These included a freeze on all legal aid cuts to fund more pupillages and tenancies. In hindsight I do not think this went far enough. The government seems determined to push ahead with its legal aid cuts so it is my submission that the burden falls on senior solicitors and barristers to ensure the best of this generation of law graduates find a path into the profession.
Senior lawyers often earn easily in excess of £1 million – and this year Linklaters’ top earning partner took home £2.2 million. Would it truly be asking that much for them to sacrifice a small portion of these sums to fund between them pupillages and training contracts for the jobless graduates who have the strongest CVs (in other words, the people with a reasonable expectation of obtaining a graduate position)? I believe it would not, and that it would be for the good of the profession as a whole if lawyers acted in this way. We are not asking for very much; the minimum pupillage award is just £12,000 and I am sure that would be good enough for most of us even though it is an exceedingly low amount. Food for thought I hope.
OccupyTheInns graduated from the BPTC this summer, and was called to the Bar in July.