The pile of files sitting on my desk at the moment represent to me the cases I have to deal with in the next forty-eight hours, or have dealt with in the past few days. They include three young lads contesting an ASBO, two or three shoplifters who have fallen on hard times, an older man who on a night out tried to stop his friends doing something silly and got dragged into a brawl, a woman whose son was playing up and in trying to calm him down is alleged to have scratched him, a Dad who having been prevented from seeing his young son for seven months is charged with harassment after he repeatedly begged his ex for contact by text.
For the people whose name is on the front of those files they represent a critical point in their lives. For some it will be the one and only time that they ever come before a court, for others it will be another visit in a long list of appearances. How I deal with those files, what work I do and how I present their cases could make a real difference in the outcome for them.
My first senior partner was an old school lawyer in every sense of the word. He was from a fortunate background which meant he didn’t need to work, and probably hadn’t needed to work for the nearly forty years he had been qualified. He didn’t need to turn out at 2am on a Sunday morning but he still regularly did.
I once asked him why he still flogged away at the coal face and he told me that he felt he had a moral imperative to speak up for those who could not themselves. He said clients would come to me to discuss their problems, their issues and put them all in an untidy pile on the desk in front of you. As their lawyer it was my job to try to sort through those problems, those messy issues and as far as I could make sure that the pile of problems and issues they took away were at least a bit tidier and a bit smaller when they went away.
As a legal aid lawyer this is what I have always tried to do; this is what in my experience my colleagues, friends and other legal aid lawyers try to do on a daily basis up and down the country. It may not always be appreciated, it certainly doesn’t pay well and it drives the accountants mad.
We are not angels, we are not crusaders, we are not all morally blind liberals. We all have the bills to pay, the calls on our time from family and friends, the worries, the hopes and the expectations that those we represent have. We just understand that clients should have a choice in who they put their trust in, who they want to make their problems a little more manageable. Quality advice makes a difference to the client, to the victim and to all concerned. We are committed to providing a quality service that we can be proud of.
As lawyers we stand up every day and plead our clients cases, we ask for understanding of what they have done, we argue their case because they can’t.
This is what the Ministry of Justice is seeking to take away, this is what they are trying to dismantle in favour of a supposed cheap, efficient and acceptable service. This is why I and thousands like me continue to fight against these cuts, against the way our profession is being pushed.
If you want the right to choose the lawyer that will care about the name on the front of the file then please do the same. If you want the profession to wither on the vine then don’t do anything at all, sit back and hope someone else does something, and that you are never the name on the front of one of those files.