In response to my recent blog, Another Step, I received a number of comments along the lines of “how can the solicitors unite?” Now, it is not for me to tell the solicitors how they may go about unifying, but I’ll give it a go anyway!
The Bar always had problems “unifying” before now. The first lesson the Bar had to learn was that unity was not the same as unanimity. We achieved unity by largely acting together but recognised that we would not carry everyone with us. We also learnt that acting together sometimes meant going along with a tactic we did not particularly agree with.
So the solicitors need to forget about having everybody on board. It is not going to happen. They also have to put aside the view that they may have a better idea of how to act. You need one voice announcing the plan. Of course there can and should be debate about the detail but once it is announced all those who wish to effect change need to get behind it. Whether or not they like it. In the words of that great American philosopher Nike, “Just do it.”
The other lesson the solicitors have to learn is to forget the great and the good. Forget the big cheeses. In the world of Bar politics the great and the good are often naturally conservative. They often are seeking some form of career enhancement. For years, therefore, they have been disinclined to rock the boat. In the world of solicitors you have the great and the good in the Law Society who may have lost sight of the need to fight for the High Street solicitor. It may well be that they are in the same place as the Bar Council at the height of ProcureCo – they are trying to adapt to world which they feel they cannot shape instead of trying to change the direction of travel.
The other “great and the good” the solicitors have to leave behind is the boss. The managing or senior partners of the medium to large firms. This is where all attempts at action have floundered thus far. By the time that a lawyer reaches such a position the job is far more about business and a lot less about the law. That is understandable. Such lawyers have the responsibility of the future of the firm and the employment of their staff. Retaining and growing the volume of work is the ultimate goal. If difficult decisions have to be taken to allow the firm to survive then so be it.
So that is where direct action will often fail. The bosses of firms will plan how their firm can survive. They will not want to lose the contract they already have or the prospect of future contracts. They will not want to leave their clients unrepresented and at risk of being wooed by a rival. Hence they take the understandable decision that they cannot risk direct action. As soon as the senior partner in a firm in the locality announces they will not be taking part all other firms have little choice but to follow suit. Action collapses.
Of course there are some exceptions. Some leaders in the profession who are prepared to lead for the greater good. However I am afraid business people are not radicals or rebels in their market place.
So what is the answer? The momentum for action has to come from the bottom. I believe that the momentum for the fight came from the rank and file of the Bar and was then splendidly taken up by the CBA. The Manchester meeting, the first real example of direct action, came from the ground up. It was not a Circuit initiative, it was the initiative of Circuiteers. The great and the good counselled against it. It went ahead. It was a success. It crossed a Rubicon. We have not looked back.
“Barristers and solicitors are different!” I hear you all cry. If you are called Sherlock may I point out that I get that and you do not have any excrement. Which is less pithy than the well known phrase or saying. But I do get it. And it is why solicitors would have to do something different.
I get why your boss cannot take action. That does not stop you. If legal aid solicitors, caseworkers, fee earners, legal executives and support staff could join together to protest against Government cuts, then that would be a wonderful thing. “But how?” you cry. It is all about unity. And all about unions.
Form or join a Union. Unison would be a good bet. Today public service workers went on strike. You could join them. And bring the CJS to a grinding halt. And if you did, then that would get your shop stewards, the likes of Bill Waddington and Nicola Hill, in the room with Grayling.
Lawyers are brilliant at standing up for others but less good at standing up for themselves. Lawyers are brilliant at being fearless but are paralysed by fear of the competition. Take that out of the equation. Your boss does not have to risk losing their contract. It could be legitimate collective action. It would be the rank and file standing together.
Why should you? You should do it because you believe that the Government’s changes are detrimental to justice. You should do it because you believe in the principles that lie behind our criminal justice system. But you should also do it because you or your colleague or your typist or your mate from university is about to be made redundant. You should do it because you are an individual who knows what is happening is wrong.