Think about your journey

cyclists sunsetAlmost exactly 20 years ago, I was in my early teens and going through an experience familiar to many of you reading this…work experience (what else?!).

Having settled on a career in law at the tender age of 11 (if, indeed, my dreams of playing football for West Ham or being a rock star were to fail), I was incredibly lucky to have been offered a two week placement in a chambers in Middle Temple.

Although my time was largely filled with making tea and coffee and running various files and boxes to and from the courts (and, once, fetching pitta bread and taramasalata for some hungry clerks), it made an indelible impression on me.  I remember fondly buying my lunch and then catching the number 15 bus down Fleet Street to sit on the steps of St Paul’s and wonder whether this would be my life.

By “this” I meant working in the law – at least, that’s what I tell myself now, because if “this” had been eating lunch on the steps of St Paul’s every day, I have failed dramatically!

Sure enough, fate and the variances of kindly exam marking did eventually lead me to my career in the law and, one day recently, to have chance to correspond with the Chief Executive of the very same chambers on a minor work matter.  This just happens to be the lady who, in a previous role, had arranged my placement for me.

She was kind enough to invite me in to chambers and show me around their newly extended offices.  I could still point to where my desk had been and recall the original layout of the offices, and the warmth of welcome was just as great now as it was then.  However, much has changed since that fortnight 20 years ago.

And for me, I suppose.  I have been reflecting on it this week as I spoke recently at an event at Lancaster House, run by the Franco-British Council, about LexisNexis’s involvement in the fantastic Business for the Rule of Law initiative.  These things always sound more glamorous than they are (and this is no exception), but with an audience of ambassadors, politicians and senior judges, it is certainly something that my teenage-self, sitting on the steps and looking to the future, would have been rather excited about.

I don’t put this out there as a self-serving, back-slapping “haven’t I done well?” ego massage – not in the slightest.  If I want to do that, I’ll close the bathroom door and address the mirror.  There is a serious point at the heart of this nostalgia.

In the modern practice of law, and as we go through our careers, it is all too easy to become cynical or to lose focus on why we do what we are doing.  Or indeed, how far we have come from our respective callow youths.  Maybe that journey was further or trickier for some than others, but we’ve all been on it.

Perhaps this is more important now than it has ever been.  A recent study by Slater & Gordon found that 52% of lawyer report under-performing due to stress (against a UK average of 37%) and 54% have called in sick because of stress (against a UK average of 39%).  But worse still, 82% believe that there is a stigma to admitting that stress is having an adverse effect on their health, 11% up on the national average.  Meanwhile, a Law Society report found that 45% of solicitors turn up for work when sick and, worst of all, almost ever respondent (95%) said they were stressed (16% describing it as “severe” or “extreme”). The biggest causes were workload and client expectation.

You can accept or reject statistics – I certainly tend to treat them with a little skepticism – but the trends from these studies seems to clearly point to lawyers existing in a world where any small solace could be a welcome oasis from the storm.  Perhaps, therefore, looking and reflecting on your journey and grabbing a moment of pride at your achievements might work as a great fillip before you dive back into the maelstrom of meetings and mail.

Or just take a lunch break (you know what that is, right?) and go and sit on some steps somewhere, gaze into the future, and think about where we all might be in 20 years’ time...

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