Thursday, 30 April 2009

Pride comes before a Fall

I cancelled the piano tuner. It may not sound like much, but it was almost traumatic. He comes every six months to tune our ancient piano, and he charges £40 for doing so. But with the recession even reaching his usual workplaces of Russia and Azerbaijan, my self-employed auditor husband hadn’t had any work since November, so we are having to tighten our belts. That means luxuries like piano tuning have to go.

Actually I’m tone deaf and wouldn’t know whether or not the piano is in tune. In fact, for all I know, the piano tuner could have been scamming me for years and laughing quietly to himself when I declared, “That sounds so much better!” and handed over the cash equivalent of half our weekly food budget. But even so, it was very difficult for me to phone him up and ask him not to come next month, as scheduled, because we couldn’t afford to pay for it. Whilst it’s easier to admit to the necessity of such cutbacks when everyone is in the same boat, it is never easy to tell others that things are difficult. Especially when those people also need to come up with cash for the weekly food budget. I was quite pleased to have to deliver the message to the answering machine rather than the man in person. And if he has been scamming me for years, it serves him right.

C.S. Lewis once said: “Pride gets no pleasure out of having something, only out of having more of it than the next man. … It is the comparison that makes you proud: the pleasure of being above the rest. Once the element of competition has gone, pride has gone.” In other words, the only reason it was difficult for me to tell the piano tuner’s answering machine that I couldn’t afford to pay him his fee was because I somehow considered it important to be seen by him as someone who had plenty of money to splash around on luxuries like a tuneful piano. And actually, that is about the crux of it.

We are faced daily with similar problems on the LawCare helpline. We recently had a case where a solicitor had run his own conveyancing and probate practice for over twenty years. For most of that time it had been extremely successful and profitable, but now, despite all the economies he had made – moving the firm into his home and making his assistant redundant – it was clear to him that he could not continue. He was faced with having to go, cap in hand, to some of the larger firms in the area and seek employment with them in order to pay his mortgage and run-off insurance. In difficult times we have to do difficult things. The fa├žade of the high-flying wealthy lawyer may have to come down, and some of us may have to swallow our pride and admit that we are struggling. LawCare is here to support you as you make those difficult decisions and to remind you that, even though you may have to let go of your pride, you don’t need to let go of your self-respect, or of hope for the future.

LawCare’s free and confidential helpline is available 9-7.30 Monday-Friday, 10-4 weekends, on:
0800 279 6888 (Solicitors, Law Students and Legal Executives in England and Wales)
0800 279 6869 (Solicitors, Advocates and Law Students in Scotland, Northern Ireland and the Isle of Man)
0800 018 4299 (Barristers, Clerks and Judges in England and Wales)
1800 991801 (Solicitors in the Republic of Ireland)

Friday, 3 April 2009

The Bright Side of the Recession

I’m really fed up with hearing about this recession. If it’s not doom and gloom on the radio, or knowing that there’s no point in trying to sell my house, it’s seeing some of my favourite shops close down. I had a very nice MFI kitchen installed a couple of homes ago, Whittards did the most wonderful hot chocolate varieties, and one of my earliest memories is my mother getting Wedgwood for her collection each Christmas.

There is evidence of worrying effects of the credit crunch on the LawCare helpline too. In the first six months of 2008 – before the credit crunch started to bite – only 7% of calls were about matters such as redundancy, firms struggling, or fully qualified solicitors unable to find work. The current figure is 24%. For a charity which helps primarily with stress, depression and addiction, it’s quite something when one in every four calls is from a lawyer facing problems because of the economic downturn. How many more didn’t call the helpline because they imagined that their employment related issue was outside our remit? (Let me state here, if it’s causing you stress, then we’re here to help!)

Anyway, I think it’s high time we looked at the brighter side of the current financial situation. Yes, we are all facing problems, but there are upsides to it all.
  • Things are getting cheaper. Shops and supermarkets are having to cut prices, and there are some excellent bargains to be had. Even petrol is getting cheaper, and electricity and gas are predicted to follow.
  • Your mortgage is also much cheaper than it was this time last year. I know ours is, and I apparently one lucky couple have seen their repayments drop from £1,500 per month to 1p.
  • Many of us are learning the lesson our grandparents tried to teach us – that you can’t always have what you want. If you don’t have the cash for it, you can’t have it. The credit bubble has burst and we are learning to be grateful and satisfied with what we have. After all, what’s the point of trying to keep up with the Joneses, if the Joneses are only one late-payment away from the bailiffs arriving?
  • First time buyers can finally afford to buy a home of their own. I live in the South East, and recently saw a habitable flat advertised in my local paper for £50,000. OK, so it was in a grotty part of town, but it could be the first rung on the property ladder for some young couple.
  • Businesses are having to be more creative, competitive and consumer-driven in order to survive. More niche markets are being catered for, and both small firms and large corporations are learning not to take their clients and customers for granted.
  • Lots of people had an extra-long Christmas and New Year break, so extra time to spend with their friends and loved ones. In the car industry, some were away from work (on full pay) for over a month.
  • With the poor value of the pound, more of us will be holidaying the UK, giving a boost to our tourist industry and helping us to better appreciate this beautiful land of ours and all that it has to offer.
  • Banks are no longer throwing money at all and sundry without regard to whether they can, or will, pay it back. And we’re no longer being bombarded by junk mail urging us to take out loans or credit cards.

If your job is relatively secure, and you don’t desperately need to sell your house for any reason, then the recession needn't affect you too badly. Sit tight, keep paying the mortgage, and ride it out. And if this doesn’t apply to you, remember that LawCare is always available to provide support and advice.

LawCare’s free and confidential helpline is available 9-7.30 Monday-Friday, 10-4 weekends, on:
0800 279 6888 (Solicitors, Law Students and Legal Executives in England and Wales)
0800 279 6869 (Solicitors, Advocates and Law Students in Scotland, Northern Ireland and the Isle of Man)
0800 018 4299 (Barristers, Clerks and Judges in England and Wales)
1800 991801 (Solicitors in the Republic of Ireland)

Thursday, 2 April 2009

Safety in Numbers

Democracy works! I know, I was surprised too, and quite thrilled to have made that discovery last year. Here’s how it happened:

Recycling services in our area were really quite poor. The council collected paper, cardboard, glass and green waste, but most of us could never remember what was being collected which week, and what colour box or bag it was supposed to be in. And they didn’t collect cans and plastic bottles. Being a responsible sort of soul, each time I visited friends in the next borough (where they do have collection facilities for such items) I took along my empties. I was extremely popular, as you might imagine, arriving with three noisy children and four bin bags full of mouldy tins and festering milk bottles, then eating all the cheesecake and going home leaving the smelly rubbish, and occasionally a child or two, behind.

But last May I actually took the time to read through the “Vote for Me” leaflets which came through my door from potential local counsellors. You know the type – community minded individuals who have served on every local PTA, planted 50 trees, scrubbed graffiti off the village hall and raised £500,000 for the local hospital before lunch. One of them was promising that, if elected, she would improve recycling collections. So I voted for her. So did everyone else, it seems, because she won. And so now I can proudly put out my pink sack containing paper, cardboard, glass, cans and plastics, all mixed up together, safe in the knowledge that a gleaming yellow truck will come and take it all away to be recycled.

What this has taught me (and I know you knew this already) is that if enough people want something, and are capable of saying so, then it has a very good chance of happening. If you are fed up with your firm expecting all staff to stay at work beyond their contracted hours, or a particular partner is making everyone’s life miserable, or you just want a “dress down Friday”, then speak to colleagues and see whether you can’t, all together, make a difference. I did.

LawCare’s free and confidential helpline is available 9-7.30 Monday-Friday, 10-4 weekends, on:
0800 279 6888 (Solicitors, Law Students and Legal Executives in England and Wales)
0800 279 6869 (Solicitors, Advocates and Law Students in Scotland, Northern Ireland and the Isle of Man)
0800 018 4299 (Barristers, Clerks and Judges in England and Wales)
1800 991801 (Solicitors in the Republic of Ireland)

Wednesday, 1 April 2009

I'm not a Lawyer

I could never be a lawyer. Whilst, like many people, I love watching a good courtroom drama (“You can’t handle the truth!”) I am well aware that the life of a solicitor, and even that of a barrister, contains very few of these dramatic moments, and quite a lot of hard work and small print. I am happiest when creating, from eye-catching advertisements to articles, and I also have a bizarre penchant for stationery catalogues, so there is actually no career on the planet more suitable for me than that of LawCare’s administrator. Which, by happy coincidence, happens to be what I am.

According to several studies, those who choose a career in law are most often Type A personalities. They are driven, competitive, highly motivated, love a challenge, and read newspapers to keep up with the news, rather than for the cartoons and gossip columns which are my Type B pages of choice.

Once qualified, they strive to make partner, or bill more hours than anyone else in the firm, or make more money than their friends. They get a real buzz from the work they do, and the more complex, convoluted and critical it is, the better. I find it particularly tragic, then, that the LawCare helpline has recently been inundated with lawyers fearing that they may be made redundant, or who have already lost the career they cherished, or who have been searching for a job for several months with no success. At present these account for one in every four calls received at LawCare.

I could never be a lawyer, but I do feel for those who badly want to be lawyers but can’t any longer.