Nigel's Eyes

20230410 Losing my profession

A decision by The Solicitors' Regulation Authority has provided the impetus for me to decide that I will formally leave the solicitors' profession. But the final catalyst was in a document from The Law Society of England and Wales.

I struggled to become a solicitor. I was from an ordinary family, in an ordinary town (actually, quite a lot of ordinary towns as my parents moved a lot), attending ordinary schools and achieving less than ordinary exam results. I am one of those people who fail exams.

I'm not thick. I just can't pass exams. I cocked up my O'levels. And A levels. I failed the second year of a law degree. I switched track to four-year articles. I had several attempts at passing my Criminal Law paper. I passed my accounting paper by standing outside the hall, memorising a balance sheet and walking to my desk at the last moment and writing down what I'd memorised before it disappeared. I was, I think, the last solicitor admitted without a degree due to some fortunate timing in the transitional rules.

But it was what I knew I was suited to: I'd started work in a solicitors' practice, in my school holidays, when I was 15. Almost immediately, I did Chambers' appearances and was successful from the outset. I did my first open court appearance when I was 16. I won. It looked as if my difficulties with exams would derail my plans but somehow I squeaked through.

I was a bloody good lawyer and an outstanding litigator. What I do so well today, decades later, is so superior to the run of the mill thinking that is so prevalent is because of my grounding in law as a solicitor, starting with the absolute basics, dismantling everything to see how it worked, and putting it back together, often, better than the original.

I left the practice of law in the mid 1990s. Things were changing for the worse. Changes imposed by the Lord Chancellors' department, with barely a murmur from the Society or the Authority's previous incarnation about the inevitable reduction in the quality of justice. We were required to present our cases in kindergarten language; laws were being written in an incomprehensible form; a rash of young judges with ideas of grandeur, wanting to be Denning but without his intellect undermined any realistic assessment of success; we were told to follow "protocols" which negated many of the techniques I used to achieve the right result for my clients as quickly and cheaply as possible. Worse, the protocols were littered with mistakes.

So, for those and other reasons, I left private practice and after some years working in-house in financial services and the telecoms industry, I did not renew my practising certificate. In technical terms I "retired". But I was still "on the Roll" which meant I was still a solicitor, albeit no longer authorised to provide legal advice on matters reserved to solicitors or to appear as an Advocate. But there was pride in being a solicitor. Also, unlike so many others, I don't have a stream of acronyms after my name. As a solicitor, they serve no purpose.

Some years ago, the Solicitors (there should be an apostrophe but there isn't) Regulation Authority in England and Wales decided that Solicitors would no longer be required to actively maintain a registration on the Roll after retirement: we would simply be solicitors until we weren't - and that meant died. Equally, membership of The Law Society would be life-long and would entitle solicitors to be described as such so long as we added "non-practising" or "retired."

When the Authority decided to take that step, it was around the time that it spent a fortune of money that wasn't its to spend on poorly-considered activity. It is, primarily, funded by practising certificate fees which should be carefully husbanded, but it isn't: much is wasted on political activity which does not advance the cause of the Profession. On this occasion, the wasted spending was on a computerised registration system. It wasn't working for renewals so they abandoned them.

I did offer to build, for the Authority, an effective system, using Drupal, in a couple of days at no cost but it did not reply.

Now the Authority, years later, has decided to restore the individual annual registration requirement.

I will not re-register. I don't care about the fee that will be reintroduced: in fact, I don't even know how much it will be. I do care about the direction the Authority, and the Law Society, are taking.

Long ago, they lost all sense of professionalism: for example, admissions do not require a sufficient level of competence in English. Law is all about language, interpretation and the ability to communicate with professional colleagues, relevant authorities, courts and, of course, clients. Poor English inevitably creates poor results.

The quality of solicitors has deteriorated significantly. I have personal experience of solicitors who have acted in a particular field for more than a decade but fail to communicate to their client the most basic points and, worse, failed to advise on a patent conflict of interest.

The demands by the Authority for the collection by solicitors' practices of a wide range of intrusive information as to the personal qualities of staff is unacceptable.

So-called "diversity" is king when the only things that should matter are integrity and competence. It should not be at all relevant who a member of staff in a law firm sleeps with, so long as it's human, of full age and has given full informed consent (or strongly implied it). And that should not be any of the regulators' business in exactly the same way as it should not be the employers' business. Ditto race and religion.

The Authority's job application form is laden with approaches designed to ensure that those holding woke views and who fit their staff profile are identified. This is, it appears, its priority.

Moreover, the compliance burden is forever increasing and favours giant law corporations while making it all-but impossible for high-street firms, which serve the vast majority of the population, and all the "ordinary" people, to cope.

The failure to protect the profession against raids on profitable areas of practice by outsiders has hugely reduced revenue potential and militates against cross-subsidisation of legal aid - and essential work that legal aid is not available for - by work that makes a profit.

The Law Society has become ineffectual and fails to perform its "trade union" function which is supposed to protect the profession and in doing so to protect society at large.

My final straw? The thing that has tipped me over the edge? It's in the Law Society's recent notice about that re-registration. It refers to "the solicitor (sic) profession."

I am proud to have been a solicitor when I was, when professionalism was the priority, surrounded by people who always put their clients first and did the best job possible, even when it came at a cost to them.

I am not proud to be associated with what it has become. I have no faith in either the willingness or the ability of The Law Society or the Solicitors' Regulation Authority to address the reduced circumstances into which they, together, have driven the profession.

That is why I am to leave. If that means I can no longer describe myself as a "retired solicitor," so be it.

I'll be a wazza.

My decision to lose my profession has not been taken lightly but it's been a long time coming. Neither the Law Society or the Authority will care. After all, I'm exactly the type of person they don't want. I'm white, moderately Christian, male, heterosexual, conservative (small C) and - by their reckoning - old.

I am an advocate for change, where change improves the service to the clients for, if the Law Society and the Authority would care to pay attention, that's why lawyers, especially solicitors, exist.

I will be as proud of my decision to allow myself to be removed from the Roll, to stand up for a once great profession and to make this obscure protest at the decline it has been made to endure as I was to become and to be a member of what was, when I joined it, an outstanding profession.