Snapshot of a profession in turmoil

A survey undertaken by The Lawyer has revealed a disenchanted and demoralised mood among solicitors at the outset of their career, with a high proportion having regrets about their choice of career and a large percentage having seriously considered a career change.

The survey, carried out in February by a self-completion questionnaire sent to readers of The Lawyer, was devised with the help of the young solicitors' sub-committee of the City of London Solicitors' Company.

The majority of responses (55 per cent) were from solicitors in the 25-34 age group, in England (41 per cent in London, 56 per cent in the rest of England) and working for law firms (61 per cent). A high proportion were assistant solicitors (41 per cent) with the majority working in litigation and company commercial practice areas (34 per cent and 25 per cent respectively) and only 23 per cent in property, confirming that the demand for property lawyers has levelled out.

The survey also revealed the readership is split about equally between men and women, most at the beginning of their careers and in steady relationships – over half were married and 41 per cent have children.

Readers were asked 91 questions within 13 different sections, covering areas including: involvement in management and marketing, employment and benefits, professional matters at work, training, partnership and management within the profession.

Key findings include an adverse view of the role of the profession, both in terms of its public image and internal structure – over half the solicitors responding view their firm management as autocratic and 45 per cent see their organisations as badly managed.

In terms of professional structure, the Law Society comes in for particular criticism, as does the present internal regulation and scrutiny of the profession – a significant number think external regulation and scrutiny would be preferable to the existing arrangements.

All this comes in what is seen as an increasingly anti-lawyer climate – 63 per cent of respondents consider lawyers have a negative public image, 85 per cent think the profession is less respected than 20 years ago.

The survey also reveals a high level of restlessness – 81 per cent are keeping an eye open for other job opportunities.

On a more positive note, solicitors who qualified in the 90s appear more accepting of change in the profession's structure. Over 75 per cent show strong support for multi-disciplinary practices, heeding the recent cry for discussion on the topic issued by outgoing Law Society secretary general John Hayes. And 59 per cent of lawyers in private practice agree law firms should incorporate.

The overall message seems to be a call for change in the profession – both in internal structure and management as well as external regulation or the already disillusioned will become increasingly demotivated – bad news for the profession as well as the public it serves.