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Challenges faced by junior lawyers

Guest blog: Kayleigh Leonie, ex-officio member of the executive committee of the Junior Lawyers Division (JLD)

As a Council Member of The Law Society of England and Wales representing junior lawyers, I am well aware of the pressures on those at the start of their careers.

Many aspiring solicitors struggle with the financial stress of funding their Legal Practice Course (LPC). They are then faced with the next hurdle of successfully securing a training position.

Since the SRA abolished the trainee minimum salary in 2014, the Law Society now recommends a minimum salary for trainee solicitors. This reflects the national living wage and the average monthly repayments of the LPC. However, this guidance is not binding on firms and many still pay less than the recommended rate.

Working in a professional environment for the first time can be very challenging. As legal professionals, we tend to strive for perfection and can often be very hard and self-critical of ourselves. When new to the profession, we are trying to prove ourselves by going above and beyond what is expected of us. This can put a considerable amount of strain on new solicitors. Particularly in circumstances where they are working for firms which are unsupportive.

In the 2019 resilience and wellbeing survey, junior lawyers cited a number of stress factors affecting their wellfare. These include high workloads, client demands/expectations and lack of support. In the month leading up to taking the survey over 93% of the respondents had felt stressed as a result of their work and 48% reported experiencing mental ill-health.

At the beginning of your career, it may be difficult to speak up about feeling immense pressure.

At the beginning of your career, it may be difficult to speak up about feeling immense pressure. This is often due to the stigma of raising concerns at work due to the fear of reprisal or asking for financial help in times of hardship. There are organisations that support aspiring and junior lawyers:

  • The Law Society – Junior Lawyers Division
    The JLD hosts regular events with its local groups throughout England and Wales. It also provides a network to share experiences, seek advice and attend events develop their careers. Members can reach out directly to the JLD Executive Committee or one of its three Law Society Council Members for support.
  • SBA The Solicitors’ Charity
    Financial assistance is available for qualified solicitors, both past and present (and for their dependants). The SBA helps people of all ages who are in serious need as a result of illnesses, accidents, redundancy or other adversities.
  • LawCare
    I am a Trustee of LawCare, a charity which promotes and aids good mental health in the legal community. LawCare provides a confidential 24/7 helpline for anybody in the profession (and their families). View their website for factsheets, personal stories and well-being resources.
  • The Solicitors’ Assistance Scheme (SAS)
    The SAS offers free confidential help and advice for solicitors, trainees, their families and employees on any problem that’s troubling them, whether personal or professional.

I would encourage junior lawyers to reach out before problems become too overwhelming or it’s too late.

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