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Legal Cheek was founded in 2011. It has grown to become the UK’s leading news source for junior lawyers and law students, and has been described by The Sunday Times as “Popbitch for lawyers” and The Telegraph as an “irreverent, must-read tabloid law website”.
In the latest instalment of our Career Conundrums series, one soon-to-be trainee lawyer is torn between starting her career at magic circle law firm in the Middle East and a US outfit in London.
“Hello team! I have a career conundrum and was looking for some advice. I have two training contract offers for magic circle firms in the Middle East – but I also have an offer for a US firm for their London office. Genuinely interested in what people have experienced living and working for law firms in Dubai. Culture? Pay? Hours? And whether or not it is worth it to take the option to get some Middle East experience over a US firm early on in a career in law. I would appreciate some insight from readers!”
Lawyer Stephen Whittle shares insights into the challenges facing transgender people during House of Commons speech
Professor Stephen Whittle
The path to transgender legal rights and social equality in this country hasn’t been easy. It’s one that has been blighted by prejudice, hate crime and phobia rooted deep within the fabric of our society. One man seeking to weed out injustices as such is Professor Stephen Whittle OBE, an academic, lawyer and transactivist, who has spoken candidly about the challenges he faced when transitioning in the early 70s and what more can be done to inspire change.
Individuals from across the legal profession and beyond gathered at the House of Commons on Wednesday for the launch of the InterLaw Diversity Forum’s Purple Reign podcast. The event was hosted by patron Helen Grant MP and Whittle delivered the keynote speech.
The continuing barriers facing the trans community was the essence of Whittle’s talk. The long-serving professor of equalities law at Manchester Metropolitan University told the audience about a time he was asked if he had considered taking up a teaching post at another university. His response?
“I would have loved to work at other universities as well as [MMU] but there’s a concrete ceiling — not just a glass ceiling — for trans people.”
He realised this because he did try. He was shortlisted for two jobs: received an offer for the first which was retracted two weeks later, and for the other, he was told, “we’d love to give you the job but we don’t think senior management would like it”. It’s instances like this which spur the activist and co-founder of pressure group Press for Change, to (quite literally) press for change — “I’ve had a great career — now I want the next generation of kids who come through to fight”, he said.
Whittle, who was assigned female at birth, recounted further experiences. The historical geography graduate retrained as a lawyer in his thirties after two decades working in the building trade because “[he] was sick to death of being sacked”. There was a backlash following his appearance on Channel 4 documentary Make me a Man which resulted in a brick being thrown through his window with the note ‘we don’t want no f*cking pervs here’ attached, and “sh*t posted through the door”.
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When his then partner and now wife (after the Gender Recognition Act 2004 had passed) wanted to start a family, the couple struggled to get access to a fertility clinic. The one that eventually agreed received a letter from the ethics committee which Whittle paraphrased as stating: “you will never be a good enough woman for us to consider you as a potential mother while you live and love someone like that — ‘it’”. The couple now have four children together.
At the same time he has seen positive change in the years since obtaining his law degree. His efforts to be recognised as his children’s legal father culminated in a case before the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR). They lost but that case led the courts to consider what constitutes ‘family life’. While there was criticism to the Channel 4 show in which he appeared there was also praise, with passersby recognising him on the streets and thanking him for raising awareness.
But there’s work to be done — “we’re still on shaky ground” — he said, pointing to single-sex bathrooms and changing rooms as just two examples.
There is generally a lack of statistical data surrounding transgender people in the UK but in 2017, the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) found that 2% of solicitors and 1% of partners confirmed their gender identity was different to that assigned to them at birth. The diversity questionnaire surveyed nearly 180,000 people working in almost 9,000 firms on a total of 12 categories including age, gender and ethnicity. Transgender received the lowest response rate.
The Purple Reign podcast captures the stories of inspirational LGBT+ role models from the fields of law, business and government.
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The cherished uniform of the bar remains an important stamp of legal responsibility, argues Queen Mary law graduate Jagjit Landa
It is a truth nationally acknowledged, that the young aspiring criminal law barrister dreams and drools of the day he or she is called to the bar and declared utter barrister. It is a further truth that although the civil and family courts proudly boast of their march up onto the hill of modernism by emancipating themselves from the shackles that were the wig and gown, it is still common to all barristers that they once wore the wig and gown upon being called to the bar.
The wig and gown are collectively the official stamp of that special legal responsibility that distinguishes the individual as a barrister, regardless of practice area. Regrettably, as the teeth of modernity, financial constriction and cut-throat reform bite ever deeper into the bar, the wigs and gowns may soon be but a cherished memory at the English criminal bar, one of few survivors that have just about held onto the tradition. One merely needs to observe the dwindling occasions where a crown court is formally opened by the usher or clerk to see how much the root of tradition and history has already been snipped by the scissors of change.
Deep within the stone cold forsaken halls of a dusty crown court, barristers flock to the robing room, engaged in legal chatter, armouring their bodies with a jet — black gown stitched with the common thread of commitment to the law, topped off with a horsehair wig with rolled curls donned upon the head — a symbol of anonymity and solemnity, that ultimately delivers some measure of disguise from defendants and witnesses, as well as serving as something of a leveller between those of different ages, perceived experience and contrasting sartorial tastes and budgets.
When the wig and gown come on, the barrister becomes an advocate, adhering to the decorum of the court, practising the law, and indulging in the examination of evidence. When the wig and gown come off, the barrister, judge or court official freely reverts to normal life, as a civilian, enjoying his or liberty.
Some questions must be asked: Can a reverend be a reverend without a collar? Can a king or queen be a king or queen without his or her crown? What use is an inkless pen to the scholar? Such people of society hold chief roles, and their roles are reinforced through the authority their external uniform commands and bequeaths upon them. Without that external attire, they are just ordinary members of society with no physical means of differentiation. The perennial moot point then is why the wigs and gowns are considered “out of touch”, by some at the English criminal bar where they are still worn.
To throw in some appreciation, some exposition is warranted. By hopping into the time machine of history, we learn that the origins of the gowns of the English bar can, roughly speaking, be dated to the reign of King Edward III. Wigs were fashionable in France during the reign of Louis XIII and King Charles I later made wigs mandatory in polite society while King Charles II, emerged as the key figure of legal costume in England. Under the reign of King George IV the wigs and gowns saw piecemeal reform.
Through this historical development, the judiciary and barristers have frequently been able to demarcate and attach to themselves a sense of solemnity and honour on the one hand, and upholders and administrators of the law on the other hand. When one looks at a judge on the bench in a crown court, wearing a wig and robe, alongside the barristers also in wigs and black gowns, the dress represents an inheritance within which is enshrined the preservation of a civilised society throughout centuries, as well as a common, unchanging commitment to achieving justice and a fair trial. Of course, the increasing presence of solicitor advocates has seen brought into the mix those who wear wigs and robes too.
The significance of these historical emblems bestows upon barristers and judges of the English criminal bar and bench more than just tradition, but also as stated, an element of respect, impartiality and anonymity. The wigs and gowns further add an element of seriousness to the criminal hearing, reminding the accused of the respect and decorum that needs to be displayed in a criminal court of law in England. All the points identified are still very much warranted in an age of modernism and political correctness, perhaps even more so in a time when many, including those who are defendants, are not used to appearing in formal situations, and when arguably a willingness to show feelings of antipathy and contempt in everyday situations can lead to adverse assessments by a jury.
As Thomas Woodcock rightly observes in his 2003 book, Legal Habits: A Brief Sartorial History of Wig, Robe and Gown, “the wigs, robes and gowns worn by judges and barristers are a symbol of the continuity of the world’s principal legal system. While the wearing of wigs lends to the administration of justice an impersonal decorum, the gowns and robes emphasise the formal gravity and dignity of justice — as important today as in medieval times.”
The wigs and robes are consequently no mere artefacts of an anachronistic age, rather they are the articles of independence and justice that have survived hundreds of years of change and development. A vote in 2007 encapsulated the positive sentiments expressed towards keeping the traditional wig and gown under former Lord Chief Justice Lord Phillips. One has to just pay a visit to the Royal Courts of Justice to understand the deep history of the dress. Therefore, even if wigs and gowns are outdated, as items of clothing and headdress, does that translate as to their having no practical value? I would argue they continue to serve a valid and unique purpose.
Proponents contesting the use of wigs and gowns have advanced the argument that those who come before the criminal court should not feel “intimidated”, thereby implying that the wigs and gowns ought to be done away with. This would not just defeat the aim of ensuring an understanding of obedience and respect for the law, especially in a criminal proceeding, but if such a road was to be followed, then the criminal court would be deprived of its atmosphere of law and order. A fair trial is the core objective in a criminal court, not making the accused feel less intimidated. Feeling intimidated may well be a naturally triggered sentiment that cannot be suppressed when awaiting trial. Our civilised society, the English criminal bar effectively balances the respect for the court on the one hand, and impartiality and independence on the other. Would the intimidation of defendants and witnesses not better be met by appropriate changes to ensure greater fairness under equality of arms, entitlements to legal aid, and expert opinions, rather than removing formal clothing?
There are also those who advance the argument that court dress is “outdated”. Such remarks are narrow, showing nothing more than ignorance and depreciation of the rich legal history that has shaped a plethora of other global societies. One merely needs to glance at the trendy, ordinary suit-wearing dominated judiciary and lawyers of the world in comparison to the spectacular dress prevalent in the English criminal bar. It is wonderful that we have not succumbed to trends in that respect. The fact that we have kept our court dress demonstrates our undying loyalty to our law and jurisprudence that has inspired and shaped many other jurisdictions. We should be proud that our judiciary and barristers have a distinctive uniform that has been preserved throughout the centuries.
If the temperature gets too warm in court, it is very simple to remove the wigs and robes. Otherwise they are quite beneficial during winter. Ultimately, wigs and gowns remain a cherished uniform and are not archaic relics of an anachronistic era. They represent judicial evolution, independence, a rich history, precedent and the Rule of Law.
As Lord Denning wrote, “we still wear our robes and our wigs. On state occasions our gold robes and full-bottomed wigs. In court our black gowns and small wigs. Some say all this is out of date. Maybe it is. But it gives dignity to the occasions. It conceals the personality and the bald heads. It portrays the judge as the impartial administrator of the law. It is a mark of his authority and source of respect. So, it is good to keep it.”
Jagjit Landa completed an undergraduate degree in law and masters in law at Queen Mary, University of London. He is currently working as a court usher and is an aspiring barrister. He enjoys writing and reading in his spare time.
Secrets to Success — Nottingham with Browne Jacobson, Freeths, Gateley, Shoosmiths and ULaw [iamgoing]
“I have personally paid a tutor to do my tests for various firms including CC, FF, Links, Simmons etc. Not proud of this but these tests are absolute garbage and do not determine if someone will be a good lawyer or not. I ended up getting 2 vacation schemes.” [Legal Cheek comments]
Global law firm Pinsent Masons has posted its latest retention score. Of the 72 trainees due to qualify this September, 57 have put pen to paper on permanent deals and will be taking up newly qualified (NQ) associate roles — or 79%.
Deborah McCormack, head of early talent, said: “At Pinsent Masons our newly qualified trainees will be empowered to think innovatively and champion change to ensure our business is operating at its best for both our clients and our people. I’m pleased to welcome them into an environment where they’ll have the opportunity to thrive.”
Last week Pinsents confirmed a 2.5% uplift in gross profit to £192 million but a 5% downturn in profit per equity partner (PEP) from £653,000 to £620,000. Global turnover hit £482 million for the year ending 30 April, which equates to a rise of 7%.
“The past year has been one of unprecedented change and complexity for our clients,” managing partner John Cleland said. “We’re continuing the transformation of our business from an expertise-based law firm into a modern, international professional services business with law at its core.”
The University of Manchester’s legal advice centre can now handle out-of-hours enquiries from members of the public thanks to a new app designed by a group of its law students.
The handy online tool, created by three second year law students on the university’s ‘Legal Tech and Access to Justice’ module, allows the centre to process, prioritise and, if necessary, redirect clients when it is closed.
“The app reduces the amount of preliminary work for people in the advice clinic,” Professor Claire McGourlay, director of learning and teaching at Manchester Uni Law School, told Legal Futures. “I’m not saying everyone will use it. We deal with disadvantaged people and some of them are not comfortable with using the internet or a smartphone. But it gives clients one way of finding out if we can help with a legal problem, or whether they have one in the first place.”
Continuing, McGourlay said she hoped the app, which was designed by the students in their free time, would be ready to hit online shelves before the start of the new academic year.
The module is part of a wider, more ambitious lawtech project that brings together academics from its schools of law, business and computer science with corporate law firms and chambers. The collaboration has dual research and teaching aims and so far includes Freshfields, DWF, Weightmans, Fletchers, Bott & Co and St John’s Buildings chambers.
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The Government Legal Department in London
The government’s legal arm has moved to reassure aspiring lawyers hoping to secure a place on its training programme that its recruitment processes remain robust and fair after the answers to its situational judgement test (SJT) surfaced online.
The Government Legal Profession (GLP), which recruits around 60 trainee solicitors and pupil barristers each year, issued a short statement last week, saying it had been alerted to the “circulation on social media of a ‘key’ claiming to provide answers to [its] situational judgement test.”
The key, which provides responses to 15 situational questions, has been distributed among students over the past month, mainly via WhatsApp groups, student forums and email. A copy of one such email (with the answers and sensitive information redacted) received by a student and passed on to Legal Cheek can be seen below:
A copy of the email circulated among students
The email features the subject heading, “GLS Trainee SJT KEY SPREAD THE WORD!”, and it even advises applicants to randomly submit two incorrect answers to guarantee a score of 18 to 20 points. This, according to the email, will be “enough to get through with no suspicion”. It remains unclear how the ‘key’ ended up online.
The SJT is a psychological test for candidates containing various realistic scenarios where they have to choose the most appropriate response, and forms part of GLP’s recruitment processes. GLP’s statement added that “action” had been taken by TMP and PeopleScout, the recruitment firms who run the SJT on the GLP’s behalf, to “ensure the integrity of the processes is maintained and the system remains robust.”
But not everyone was happy with the government’s response. “Sadly it was always going to be a case of ‘horses and stable doors'”, one applicant told Legal Cheek. “Hundreds of applications will have been submitted by people using the key.”
A spokesperson for PeopleScout said: “We are investigating the situation and continue to work closely with Government Legal Profession to ensure that the situational judgement test (SJT) process remains robust. As Government Legal Profession shared last week, immediate action was taken to ensure the ongoing integrity of the process.”
Jay Graham admitted two charges of rape and a charge of sexual assault
A law student reported her rapist to police after lectures she attended on criminal law triggered painful memories of the ordeal, a court has heard.
Jay Graham, 25, from Kelso, Scotland, was arrested by police in December after his victim, who cannot be named for legal reasons, confided in her parents about what he had done. The High Court in Edinburgh was told her studies had prompted her to do so.
The unnamed woman was preyed upon by Graham at various locations in the Scottish Borders between July 2006 and July 2011, BBC News reports. She was aged just eight years old when Graham started attacking her.
Prosecutor Angela Gray told the court: “The complainer attained a place at university to study law. Some of the classes that she was enrolled in — about evidence and sexual assault — brought back the memories of what happened to her as a child.”
The victim’s parents subsequently noticed a change in her behaviour and she eventually told them what had happened in November last year.
“The accused was interviewed by the police and accepted the complainer’s account of what had happened,” continued Gray. “The accused’s position was that at the time of the incidents, he was not aware that his actions would be classed as rape.”
The court heard that Graham had been diagnosed with type one diabetes and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).
He admitted two charges of rape and a charge of sexual assault. Judge Lord Armstrong deferred sentence to obtain reports on Graham’s background and character. He will be sentenced next month.
Comments on this article are closed for legal reasons.
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Potential earnings could exceed £100,000 with bonus
Baker McKenzie announced today a whopping 23% increase in its pay packet for newly qualified (NQ) solicitors to £95,000. The package includes a £90,000 base salary and a £5,000 signing-on bonus, a total uplift of almost a quarter from the previous level of £77,000.
There is also the potential to reap further rewards with a performance-related bonus that could, according to the firm: “[bring] their potential earnings to more than £100,000.” A spokesperson at the firm said:
“We are committed to remunerating our people fairly and competitively. Accordingly, we have raised our NQ package in line with the London market.”
The news brings Bakers’ NQ salaries roughly inline with magic circle firms. The total potential payout at Linklaters, for instance, is £100,000 (a combination of base salary and performance-related bonus). Ditto at Clifford Chance. Outside of the magic circle, Herbert Smith Freehills pays at a similar level (£105,000 if you include performance-related pay) to Bakers’ new heights.
This will be good news to many since, according to the most recent Legal Cheek Trainee and Junior Lawyer Survey, one of the main gripes at Bakers has been the NQ pay.
Super-exam also tipped as pro-diversity by entrepreneur
The Solicitors Qualifying Exam (SQE) could lead to four times as many solicitors, Mark Edwards, senior vice-president of Rocket Lawyer, the online legal services provider, said at an innovation conference earlier this month.
Edwards argued before delegates at the conference that: “The vast majority of graduates on the [Legal Practice Course] don’t get training contracts and find themselves left on the shelf. That’s all going to change. They will be able to do paralegal work and supervise paralegal work in-house, in tech companies, in law firms, in retailers — wherever they are.”
Speaking at the Solicitors Regulation Authority’s (SRA) get together, he said: “In a few years’ time we’re going to see probably four times as many solicitors out there… Then suddenly we are going to be able to help all those people currently not able to access justice.”
If Edwards’ prediction is correct, what does that actually mean in numbers? According to SRA figures, 7,000 individuals were admitted to the roll from June 2018 to the same time in 2019. Though not all people on the roll practice as solicitors (practising certificate-holders are usually around two-thirds of those admitted), if Edwards is right, that’s 28,000 solicitors every year, an increase of 20% on current numbers (there are roughly 140,000 solicitors with practising certificates, according to the Law Society).
In the report in Legal Futures, Edwards is cited as arguing that the SQE is responsible for this “transformative” time in legal services but also mentions the impact of new rules that come in later this year which will allow would-be solicitors to be regulated “individually” as freelancers.
Clearly, he’s a big fan of the SRA: “I think it’s astonishing what the SRA are putting in place here — in an amazing way.”
Also speaking at the conference was Mary Bonsor, the legal entrepreneur who helped set up F-LEX, the online platform getting LPC students placements at law firms. She argued that the new SQE would: “really increase diversity”. Bonsor said: “At the moment… you have to put yourself through the LPC and be out of pocket at least £20,000, which frankly half the country wouldn’t be able to afford.”
But the likes of Edwards and Bonsor are at odds with many young lawyers who view the SQE as lowering standards and having a negative impact on social mobility. Just last month, the Law Society’s junior lawyers division (JLD) which represents approximately 70,000 LPC students, trainees and solicitors with up to five years’ post qualification experience, called on a committee of MPs to launch an inquiry into the decision to green-light the SQE.
Current JLD chair, Amy Clowrey, stated in an open letter to the Justice Committee: “[The] changes will lead to a decrease in the standard of assessment and experience necessary to qualify as a solicitor and ultimately a decline in the service provided to consumers (with a consequent deterioration in the reputation of the profession domestically and internationally)”.