Group’s launch gives junior lawyers a voice

The newly formed Junior Lawyers Division (JLD) is gearing up to take the legal profession by storm, with president and Nortel in-house counsel Kat Gibson preparing to give the younger generation a distinct voice.

Speaking after a series of launch events across England and Wales, Gibson told The Lawyer: “We certainly won’t shy away from challenging the status quo. The JLD will give all young solicitors a voice in the corridors of power. We hope to win respect and engage in serious debates about issues central to the future health of the profession.”

The idea of the JLD was to unite the members of the now disbanded National Trainee Solicitors’ Group and the National Young Solicitors Group (NYSG) under one umbrella as an official sub-group of the Law Society.

Membership is open to all Law Society student members, trainees and solicitors of up to five years’ PQE. This could make up an electorate as large as 70,000 and would include 40 per cent of all solicitors.

“Ideally we want 100 per cent engagement,” says Gibson optimistically.

The overarching idea is to provide support and information to all junior lawyers across England and Wales. “It will be a body that people can use to assist in their careers,” emphasises Gibson.

For example, the JLD is planning to campaign on student debt and the pricing of law school fees. For trainees, it will push initiatives to support trainee supervisors. For young associates, work-life balance and the long-hours culture is an obvious focus, as well as a phenomenon tentatively dubbed ‘the two-year wobble’.

“I know about the two-year wobble because it happened to me,” explains Gibson, who left private practice to work in-house at telecoms company Nortel at around two years’ PQE. Anecdotally, she says, many other junior lawyers appear to leave private practice at a similar point in their careers.

Gibson suspects that a lack of short-term goals often hits young lawyers once they finish their training contracts, with the partnership and senior associate carrots often too far off in the distance to be motivational. Supervision and feedback may also be lacking across the profession.

One of the JLD’s briefs will therefore be to research these and other issues with members and to understand what makes junior lawyers tick – or rather, what sometimes makes them stop ticking.

So far the response to launch parties held in cities including Cardiff and Plymouth has been overwhelming. More than 250 young lawyers turned up to the parties in Birmingham and Manchester alone.

In terms of branding, the JLD is a clear improvement on the individual and splintered local young lawyer groups, each of which now works closely with the JLD to provide effective regional rallying points.

The JLD’s new website, housed within the Law Society’s domain, hosts several blogs from the committee and regular news updates, and the ‘Junior Lawyers Division’ Facebook group currently numbers 140 members.

And although many parties and events are on the agenda, the question will be whether the JLD’s nine-strong committee will be able to keep up the momentum and achieve the goals it has set itself.

Ironically, if it does, the committee’s work-life balance will suffer – but clearly the members know what they have let themselves in for.