Why would any young thing even consider becoming a solicitor nowadays?
I see comments of this ilk quite frequently on websites relating to the legal profession.
Now, obviously, what follows is just my personal perspective, looking at my career so far.
But, for me, well, I’m a solicitor and I’ve got a pretty amazing job.
My work is
At least, I find it fascinating, and that’s what matters, as I’m the one who has to do it.
I get to:
work with interesting people, doing amazing things, typically at the cutting edge of something to do with the Internet, telecoms, or digital technology.
work on things which impact the lives of millions and millions of people. I suspect the vast majority of those people thing (although, let’s face it, that’s not many) have read something I’ve written, or used one or more services on which I’ve advised.
apply the law to things which were only vaguely in the minds of the legislators, to identify risk and work collaboratively to come up with sensible, risk-aware, solutions.
embroil myself in policy debates and law reform activity, trying to shape the law for the better.
work with people with all sorts of different backgrounds and interests.
think about things I wouldn’t otherwise have thought about.
It’s not all roses, as keeping on top of the law and the technology is hard work - I could easily make that a full time job - but one of the bits of my job which makes it so interesting is that constant change.
My clients and their staff are great
I work with a whole range of smart, fun, demanding-in-a-good-way, people, for businesses doing great things.
Yes, I have the luxury of being picky about my clients, and I am picky, whether they are paid clients or pro bono clients.
We vet our clients, with an “are we a good fit for you, and are you a good fit for us” initial conversation. If I don’t think I’m going to enjoy working with someone, I’m not (currently) under pressure to take them on. If I don’t like the idea of the product or service, I’m not going to take on the work.
In the early days of decoded.legal, I made the mistake of taking on work because I was hesitant to turn work down. Even though it was bad fit for me, as I hated the service. Of course, as one would expect, I gave the best possible advice, but I learned my lesson. They paid their bill, but I’d rather not have done that work.
Yes, that is a luxury, and I appreciate not all lawyers, and certainly not all junior lawyers, get to choose their clients. And perhaps I will not always be in the position to choose. But, right now, I am fortunate.
And, frankly, most of the people on the “other side” are pleasant, smart, motivated people too. I’ve built a lot of good relationships, with mutual trust and respect, and that helps me help my clients. No, not everyone is a delight to work with, but that’s life.
I can be me, but I have changed
I’m a geek. No two ways about it.
I like learning how things work, and how they could be done differently.
I don’t want to wear a suit to work, or need to be clean shaven.
I like to make jokes and find fun in my work.
Over the years, I’ve learned how to work with my naturally quite shy, withdrawn personality, and make the best of it, as well as learn how to avoid it hindering me when I need to show something else. What started as “putting on mask” has now become part of me.
So, yes, I’ve had to learn and adapt, and I hope I continue to do so, but, crucially, I get to be me.
It’s well paid
There’s no point dancing around this: I can’t think of many other jobs which I could do and would enjoy, which would give me the same level of income.
Money isn’t everything, sure, but it certainly helps.
It is physically safe, and not strenuous
Since we set up decoded.legal in 2016, I have worked from home. I like working from home. I get just the right degree of interaction with people for me.
I don’t mind the occasional in-person meeting, but I certainly don’t miss trips into London, or international travel.
Yes, I could do with some more exercise - I spend a lot of time standing at my desk, looking at monitors - and, when I cycle to the station or around towns, I am especially careful but, overall, physically, it is a pretty safe job. (I know that is not the case for all solicitors.)
Mentally, it’s a different kettle of fish for many. I know too many solicitors and former solicitors who struggle with their mental health.
Of those, the majority work in, or worked in, large law firms. I’ve not done that and, at the moment, have no intention of doing so.
There are days I find harder than others, and I have the occasional period when I’ve lost the zest or zip I have for my work, but those are, fortunately, pretty rare.
I also worry about getting things wrong. There’s a definite pressure around errors. I do my best, and try to avoid mistakes, and if I spot something I’ve messed up or could do better, I flag it and deal with it as soon as I can. On the whole, I sleep pretty well.
I get to spend a lot of time with my wife
Sandra started her legal career working for a US law firm in London. The hours were brutal and, while it was astonishing well paid, they certainly got their value from it. That was not for me.
Now, I work hard, and sometimes I work reasonably long hours, but I get to spend way more time with my wife than I’d thought I would. It is rare that I do not have time for breakfast together, and for dinner together.
It’s quite amazing that we spend almost 24/7 together, and enjoy it. Perhaps that’s because we’re lucky to have enough space to have time away from each other too…
I’m also far pickier about taking on work which requires me to work across timezones, if it entails very early or late calls - my family life is important (and I like to go to bed pretty early).