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Junior Lawyers Division Interview with NZLS - Auckland Young Lawyers

20 August 2015

The Junior Lawyers Division ("JLD") is a division of the Law Society of England and Wales, which represents the interests of approximately 75,000 members.

How long does it take to start working as a fully-fledged lawyer in England and Wales?

It typically takes a minimum of 6 to 7 years between completing A-levels and qualifying as a solicitor in England and Wales.

Qualifying as a solicitor in England and Wales if you are not qualified abroad

Individuals must first complete either a Bachelors of Law Degree (LLB) or another undergraduate degree followed by a one year Law Conversion course (the "GDL", or "Graduate Diploma in Law").

Following this, individuals must complete a one year academic course, based largely on legal practice (the "LPC", or "Legal Practice Course").

The LLB is largely academic, and individuals are encouraged to think deeply about what the law should be. The LPC on the other hand focusses more on what the law is and how a solicitor can assist his or her client (e.g. how to officially commence court proceedings, how to respond to court proceedings, how to implement various corporate procedures, etc.).

After completing the LPC, individuals must undertake at least two years worth of structured and supervised training (a "training contract" or "period of recognised training"). Within this two year period, individuals will gain practical experience in at least three areas of law, and will often be exposed to both contentious and non-contentious work.

There are a few further regulatory requirements (such as a character and suitability check, and attendance at a mandatory skills course) before being "admitted to the roll of solicitors" and qualifying as a solicitor in England and Wales.

Qualifying as a solicitor in England and Wales if you are qualified abroad

The path is much quicker for those who have already qualified overseas (including in New Zealand). If an individual has qualified in New Zealand, they can become a solicitor in England and Wales by successfully completing the Qualified Lawyers Transfer Scheme (QLTS). Further information on the QLTS can be found here.

Who does the JLD represent? Is it specific to a geographical area or does it encompass the whole of the United Kingdom?

The UK legal system is split into three jurisdictions: England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. Each has its own court system and legal profession; and in the case of Scotland, a different legal system which is based on Roman or civil law rather than common law.

The JLD is a division of the Law Society of England and Wales which represents LPC students, LPC graduates (including paralegals), trainee solicitors and qualified solicitors for their first five years post-qualification.

We represent members throughout England and Wales. Junior lawyers in Scotland are represented by the Scottish Young Lawyers Association, and junior lawyers in Northern Ireland are represented by the Northern Ireland Young Solicitors Association. We speak to these groups regularly.

What types of activities and/or services does the JLD provide to its members?

The JLD has two main functions: representation and support.

Representation

In our representative function, we engage with a number of stakeholders relating to regulatory or quasi-regulatory matters which will affect junior lawyers, including the Government, the Law Society, the Solicitors Regulation Authority (the regulator for the solicitor's profession), and the Legal Services Board (the independent body which oversees the regulation of lawyers in England and Wales).

We also work closely with other organisations where we share common objectives, such as the Young Legal Aid Lawyers group (who represent young lawyers who work or would like to work in an area that is traditionally public funded), and international organisations such as the American Bar Association's Young Lawyers Division and the European Young Bar Association. We hope that going forward we will continue to work with the New Zealand Law Society and the Auckland Young Lawyer group. There are so many aspects of our legal profession which are global, and the continued engagement of international organisations can only further our opportunities to address these global issues.

Support

Our support function is also of key importance. It is important that, as an organisation there to serve its members, the JLD provides opportunities for junior lawyers to enhance their skills and further their careers. We run several conferences throughout the year to provide this opportunity - some aimed at students, and others aimed at those who are working in firms.

We also ensure that we keep up to date on matters that affect junior lawyers, and provide support where appropriate. For example, we are finding that too many young solicitors are facing high levels of stress at work. To address this issue, we have recently piloted a resilience and wellbeing programme. We also work closely with LawCare (an advisory and support service), who employ specialist staff who are trained to help with mental health.

What are the most topical issues faced by young lawyers in England and Wales at present?

The legal profession in England and Wales faces a number of challenges at the moment. The types of challenges, and the extent of those challenges, can vary depending on where lawyers are located, and their area of practice.

Legal aid funding in England and Wales has been significantly cut.  Areas which are traditionally publicly funded are facing cuts. We are seeing firms and departments closing and we are concerned about the opening up of "advice deserts".. We have also seen some unprecedented protests over the cuts, and a decreasing number of junior lawyers are able to find a career in legally aided practice areas. This is of course not only an issue significant to those lawyers, but the community at large and represents a worrying barrier on access to justice for those who are from less advantaged socio-economic backgrounds.

There are several regulatory issues which have arisen over the past couple of years, due to a significant programme of reform which is underway by our regulator, which is set to change the education and training of lawyers in England and Wales. This has started some interesting discussions over what the future of education and training should include (indeed, the route set out above may dramatically change over the next few years).

This is by no means an exhaustive list of topical issues faced by young lawyers in England and Wales, but it does represent a couple of issues which are presently of key importance to the profession.

What are the best things about working as a junior lawyer in England and Wales?

The legal profession here is overall incredibly blessed, and it is a privilege to be a solicitor in England and Wales. There is no doubt that the English and Welsh jurisdiction remains strong on the international market. Part of that is likely to relate to the great education and training that we have in England and Wales, which is why the JLD and others work so hard to ensure that changes made to the system are carefully considered before implementation. So far, we have been successful in ensuring that changes made are for the better and don't affect our overall global competitiveness.

It is difficult to identify the best things about working as a junior lawyer in England and Wales, simply because of the vastly different experiences of junior lawyers throughout the country. England and Wales continues to be a jurisdiction of choice for many fascinating global transactions. Working in a global company myself, I get to experience really interesting work which almost always has a cross-border element to it. Many of my clients are based outside of the UK, giving me a unique global perspective. We also find that a lot of our members cite the intellectual challenge to be a key benefit of working as a junior lawyer.

How is the New Zealand market and/or New Zealand lawyers viewed in England and Wales?

The New Zealand market is highly respected. As England and Wales and New Zealand are both common law jurisdictions, we see an increasing number of lawyers qualified in New Zealand coming here to practice, and vice versa. We also see many similarities in the education and training systems. As law firms increasingly work across borders, we find more opportunities to collaborate with our New Zealand counterparts, and we look forward to this trend continuing.

Max Harris is the 2015 Chair of the Junior Lawyers Division of the Law Society of England and Wales

Thanks to Niven Prasad and Antonio Cozzolino for facilitating the interview.

Last updated on the 3rd March 2017