Overturning negative stereotypes

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Crusty and old fashioned or agile and enabled?

Can lawyers be agile and get stuck into Scrums and Kanban?

There is a real shift in the way legal teams function and the innovators are taking ideas from some of the largest tech firms that have led the way in devising new working practices. Law Practice Today have written a great article about using agile in the legal workplace.

So what on earth is this and should we all embrace it?

“At its core, it is a philosophy—one that emphasizes collaboration among customers and team members, a focus on solving customer problems over simply fulfilling requests, and responsiveness to change.”

It requires lawyers to put down the pens, move away from the long briefing notes and embrace the idea of visual workflows. Tricky I know…

The aim is to move away from the crusty and old-fashioned stereotypes lawyers are often shackled with and demonstrate that we can keep up with the pace of change! Agile working practices are renowned for driving better outcomes through clear and achievable goals, whilst lowering risk.

This method can work in your legal team however it can also be used to solve difficult social problems. We want to know how your legal team are using agile to drive access to justice, encourage pro bono engagement, or make a change in society.

If so, we would love to hear from you! Please email us at justlawyersnetwork@gmail.com and let us know how it works!

Pale, stale and male or diverse?

How can I influence change?

Lawyers are very often the object of criticism. A common theme among the charges levelled against them is the manifest lack of diversity. Indeed, the well-established stereotype of a lawyer as male, white and wealthy is not necessarily unfair and consequently difficult to dislodge. Much media attention has been focused of late on the need to increase diversity among the senior judiciary in the UK. Similarly, law firms are increasingly working more consciously to recruit and retain staff which creates a diverse and inclusive environment. In-house lawyers, too, can work to redress the imbalance.

But first, it is worthwhile to consider: why is it so concerning that a career in law may be more readily accessible to someone who is male, white and straight instead of a woman, someone from an ethnic minority or an individual who identifies as LGBTQ? Most fundamentally, a lack of diversity is concerning whatever the circumstances because discrimination on the basis of sex, race, sexual orientation or any other characteristic deprives human beings of dignity. In our context, it is also concerning because lawyers will most effectively serve a society where they reflect fully and meaningfully its diversity.

Inequality of opportunities in the context of careers in the law is not an easy matter to resolve. But there are small steps that Just Lawyers can take. As an individual, you can challenge your colleagues to consider the importance of diversity and inclusion more consciously and work incrementally to erode the prejudices which can otherwise solidify stereotypes and perpetuate structural inequalities at work and in wider society. As a group of Just Lawyers you can establish a diversity and inclusion network, either internally or across organisations, to encourage engagement with the most important issues and discussion around how best to redress the imbalance.

You could create a mentoring scheme for female lawyers, ethnic minority lawyers or LGBTQ lawyers and a work experience scheme specifically for candidates outside the usual stereotype. You could visit universities to encourage students from all backgrounds to consider a career in law. You could take advantage of the diversity and inclusion divisions established by the Law Society – the Ethnic Minority Lawyers Division, the Lawyers with Disabilities Division, the LGBT Lawyers Division and the Women Lawyers Division – to meet with other lawyers determined to create the conditions for a more equal and properly representative profession.

In short, there are many things a Just Lawyer can do to use their voice in aid of equality and diversity. If you have any thoughts on something you would like to do with the support of Just Lawyers, contact us via justlawyers@lawyersagainstpoverty.org. Or if you want to share your experience of overcoming stereotype, why not upload a case study for others to gain inspiration.

Fat cats or crusaders for justice?

It is a (half) truth universally acknowledged that lawyers are extremely, and undeservedly, well off. In the courtroom of public perception, we occupy the unenviable seat one away from shamefaced bankers and the taxman. The stereotype dictates that the typical lawyer cares less about the verdict in a case or the fate of a client than the level of their fees.

Although many solicitors and barristers are undoubtedly remunerated very handsomely, the reality is there are many others who make a relatively modest salary. An instructive example is in the field of criminal law. According to The Secret Barrister, a criminal solicitor makes a gross rate of £9.28 hour for litigating in the Crown Court (for comparison, the London living wage is £9.75). A criminal barrister makes a median net annual income of £27,000 (above the national average but considerably short of what the lawyer stereotype may have us imagine).

We can work to negate the stereotype of the avaricious lawyer by making ourselves known in our organisations, our profession, in society and in action as Just Lawyers. The stereotype is true to the extent that we receive, and benefit from, a substantial amount of privilege as lawyers. We should use our power as lawyers (since power inheres naturally in circumstances of privilege) for the benefit of vulnerable and impoverished individuals in our communities and further afield. Explore our website further to find out how.

Finding the loopholes or upholding the rules?

Another stubborn stereotype is that for a handsome fee a lawyer will be happy to find the necessary loopholes in order to outwit a vulnerable opponent, acquit a guilty person of a crime or reduce a business’s tax bill. This may be accurate in some limited cases but must in most circumstances be more myth than truth. Lawyers must act with integrity and honesty at all times and cannot unscrupulously advise a client to exploit, subvert or break the law.

Although the stereotype may be relatively easy to dismiss, circumstances may often arise where you are confronted with an ethical dilemma. Perhaps you are a junior member of the legal team and you are asked to advise on an urgent matter without being able to consult a more senior lawyer. Perhaps in an extreme case your careful research and advice is ignored and you are concerned your colleagues may adopt an unlawful course of action. It is difficult in such circumstances to seek an alternative solution under pressure while remaining level headed.

We at Just Lawyers have discussed our own experiences and created some guidance for you to consider if such circumstances were to arise. The Law Society also has some very useful material on ethics more generally, including videos on “Owning up to mistakes” and “Professional Ethics under Pressure”. The website also offers a series of interactive ethical scenarios on a range of subjects such as confidentiality and speaking up as a junior lawyer, which can give you some valuable guidance on how best to behave when confronted with an ethical issue.

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