It’s said that practising law is a “calling”. But what does that mean, and how do solicitors fulfil it? Collins Dictionary defines a calling as:
a profession or career which someone is strongly attracted to, especially one which involves helping other people.
This is a useful definition because it shows the relationship between the calling’s:
- Attraction to the individual
- Benefit to society.
There are 181,982 solicitors on the roll. Nearly 140,000 are practising. Many more have retired or left the profession. If you asked them why they were called to practise law you would get a different answer from everyone. But the common themes above would come up.
As solicitors, we promise to fearlessly represent our clients and uphold the rule of law. Our regulator, the Solicitors Regulation Authority, includes this in the profession’s Principles:
These are mandatory Principles which apply to all.
- uphold the rule of law and the proper administration of justice;
- act with integrity;
- not allow your independence to be compromised;
- act in the best interests of each client;
- provide a proper standard of service to your clients;
- behave in a way that maintains the trust the public places in you and in the provision of legal services;
- comply with your legal and regulatory obligations and deal with your regulators and ombudsmen in an open, timely and co-operative manner;
- run your business or carry out your role in the business effectively and in accordance with proper governance and sound financial and risk management principles;
- run your business or carry out your role in the business in a way that encourages equality of opportunity and respect for diversity; and
- protect client money and assets.
The SRA says that the Principles:
embody the key ethical requirements on firms and individuals who are involved in the provision of legal services.
Think about the Principles in the context of a “calling”. Do they meet the two-part relationship I mentioned above? The SRA’s emphasis is on the benefit to society. Clients, and the wider public, come first. The attraction to the individual solicitor isn’t mentioned. So, should we define the legal profession as a “calling”?
Calling to practise law
Working in the law is the only job I ever wanted to do. I joined a law firm straight from school. While there I studied, and passed, my CILEx exams, becoming a chartered legal executive. I continued my training and qualified as a solicitor 10 years ago this week. Nearly seven years ago I set up my firm. We have thrived in a competitive market by fighting hard for our clients to get the justice they deserve.
This explains the continuing attraction of the legal profession to me. Practising law isn’t just a job. It’s personal. Looking back on my career in the law, I take immense pride in the progress my team and I have made. More than anything I love helping our clients win their cases. My colleagues at Donoghue Solicitors share this passion. Helping them do their job and meet their career ambitions is hugely rewarding.
This draw, coupled with the benefit to our clients and my team, makes the law a true calling to me.
How can solicitors fulfil their calling?
As well as the direct benefit to our clients, solicitors like me also help society broadly. We do this in three ways:
1. Upholding the rule of law
I help people who have suffered through no fault of their own. Some, like Paul Smith, were victims of police brutality. Others, like Nigel Lang, experienced life-changing consequences after police failures.
What matters to them, and me, is justice. It’s important that my clients
- Hold the police to account
- Are heard
- Win compensation for their losses.
Helping innocent victims achieve justice helps society too. In a civil society, upholding the rule of law is essential. Without it there would be anarchy. Succeeding in claims for civil wrongs, especially against powerful and well-resourced defendants such as the police and insurers, shows that justice through the legal system is accessible and can be achieved.
Another way we help is when clients agree to publicity. This is their way of keeping the social contract. By publicising their cases, clients hope to
- Raise awareness
- Try to make sure that no one else suffers like they did.
I help with this at no cost to my clients. For example:
- James Parry is a solicitor. He won £9,000 compensation from Merseyside Police. He wanted to get the word out that he had been wrongfully arrested. I prepared a press release and contacted his local newspaper, the Liverpool Echo. I also contacted the Law Society Gazette, the trade magazine for solicitors. With my help they reported on the case. The publicity helped restore the reputation of both Mr Parry and the legal profession. It also brought attention to the issue of false arrests at voluntary interviews.
- Nigel Lang won £60,000 compensation for false imprisonment and other losses. He had been wrongfully arrested on suspicion of possessing indecent images of children. I arranged for Buzzfeed News to work on a detailed story with him. The publicity from that story led to a BBC tv appearance which raised awareness of the consequences of the police’s failures. Nigel also got an assurance from the police that they had changed their practices to prevent it happening to anyone else.
I am on the front-lines as a practising solicitor. I see the
- Devastating impact legal aid cuts have had on people seeking justice. (This is one reason why we represent people under “no win no fee” agreements where appropriate. Most people are not eligible for legal aid in civil compensation claims, including actions against the police.)
- Courts service stretched to breaking point, despite innocent claimants paying up to £10,000 in court fees to bring compensation claims.
- Impact of lobbying by special interests, especially police federations which have pushed for the roll-out of (potentially deadly) spit hoods. (This is despite criticism from The Hepatitis C Trust, which said that hepatitis C and HIV cannot be transmitted by spitting. To suggest otherwise is “hugely damaging” and “Such falsehoods also cause unnecessary alarm to police staff,” the Trust said.)
My calling as a solicitor means standing up for the “little guy”. This means devoting time to activism. Among other things, I
- Use my firm’s blog to raise issues that concern me, my clients, and the public.
- Appear on tv and radio to argue for our rights.
- Help journalists write about police misconduct and other issues.
- Meet and write to politicians to influence legislation.
I urge my colleagues in the legal profession to join me in fulfilling our calling in these ways. It’s hard, and takes time and effort. But it’s important and rewarding work.
Kevin Donoghue is the Solicitor Director of Donoghue Solicitors. Contact him here.