Election 97: Legal candidates

“Politics is not a bad profession. If you succeed there are many rewards, if you disgrace yourself, you can always write a book.”

As the General Election arrives, more than 150 lawyers have taken former US president Ronald Reagan's advice and are heading for the hustings.

Of the 151 candidates from the legal profession who are standing for Conservative, Labour, Liberal Democrat and Plaid Cymru, 72 are solicitors and 79 are barristers. Given that the main parties are vying with each other to be seen as the party of law and order, it is perhaps no surprise that so many lawyers are keen to add the letters MP to their name. There are also 72 lawyers standing for re-election, who are keen to keep these letters after their name.

But what is the incentive for giving up a successful and lucrative practice at the Bar or in a solicitors firm for the chance to become an MP?

Langley & Co partner Jill Andrew is one of the 42 Conservative solicitor candidates. An employment specialist, she has been a councillor in the London borough of Bromley since 1994, and is standing for the Walthamstow seat (which is currently held by Labour, but previously Conservative).

Andrew explains that her political ambitions go back a long way. “I fought my first General Election in 1966 when I was 10 years old,” she says, adding that she was her primary school Conservative candidate when it held a mock election.

Andrew's choice to study law also raises the question whether it is lawyers who go into politics or politicians who go into law. Andrew says she ended up in law because of politics – her studies had a political bent and a career in law was the obvious choice. And in her area of specialisation, employment law, politics has influenced her legal practice more than vice versa.

If she is elected, Andrew has no intention of giving up legal practice, but wants to combine a “reasonable level of practice with serving the constituents”. If she had the chance of a front bench seat, she would opt for Secretary of State for Trade & Industry. Otherwise, if she had the chance to bring in a private member's bill, she would introduce legislation to ensure that positive rights for victims are embodied in the criminal justice system.

If Andrew does not win this time, she says she will put herself forward again because she “has got the bug for politics”.

Manchester barrister Stephen Hesford is standing against Conservative MP and solicitor David Hunt of Beachcroft Stanleys, for Wirral West. Hesford stood as the Labour candidate for South Suffolk in the last election. He says he has opted for politics because he finds that practising at the Bar has its limitations and “you need a broader canvas on which to paint”.

He believes that maintaining a career in law would not be compatible with being an MP. “Rather than dilute one's energies between two careers, you should commit your time and energies to one,” he says.

The ministerial post Hesford would be interested in would be in the Health Department, because “being the only lawyer to have successfully represented a community health council in a judicial review to prevent a hospital closure”, he considers he would be in a good position to look at the issues affecting the health service. Unsurprisingly, if unsuccessful this time, Hesford will also carry on.

It is not just senior lawyers who are dipping a toe in the political pool. McGrigor Donald trainee solicitor Kerry Hiles is standing for the Liberal Democrats in the Labour seat of Glasgow Shettleston.

Like Andrew and Hesford, Hiles has been involved with her party for some time. She began at Edinburgh University and later was on the finance committee of the Scottish Liberal Democrats. She has also done legwork and leafleting in local elections.

Hiles considers that being from the legal profession is not a hindrance. “Lawyers know what you can and can't do, and how you can change the laws,” she says.

Hiles is due to qualify in October and says that, if elected, she will probably give up law and devote herself full-time to politics. Her particular interests are in education and in ensuring that Liberal Democrat's policies are put in place.

Whether there are too many lawyers in Parliament is a moot point – which will be decided later this week.

If there are only a few lawyers who succeed in winning a seat, expect a flurry of publications from the disappointed prospective parliamentary candidates as they offer a lawyer's eye view of the rough and tumble of political life.