A barrister friend of mine phoned me after the Government announced that child benefit would be stopped for those earning over £40,000. She has five children and was, naturally, a little upset by this policy decision. I have three children, so looking for solidarity she asked me how I would manage without child benefit. “The change won’t affect me,” I told her, “Since I don’t earn anything like £40,000. Not even half that, in fact.” She was astonished. “But you work in the legal sector!”
I reminded her that I actually work in the charity sector, but it did get me thinking that many people seem to assume that lawyers and all those around them are well off – children at private school, a new car every other year and a second home in the Cotswolds. If there’s one thing the calls to the LawCare helpline over the last few years have demonstrated, it’s that that is no longer true, if it ever was.
We hear regularly from lawyers who are struggling financially or whose firms are facing failure. In 2009, one in four calls to the LawCare helpline was from a lawyer facing financial difficulty, often due to redundancy. SBA The Solicitors Charity (formerly the Solicitors Benevolent Association), which provides financial support to solicitors, reported that the number of calls from solicitors seeking their assistance in 2009 was 77% higher than in 2007, before the recession had taken effect. The Barristers’ Benevolent Association also reported a large increase in the numbers approaching them for help in 2009, especially in cases of bankruptcy, IVAs and serious illness.
In some cases, of course, there is an element of choice involved. One of the things I value most about my job is the flexibility, and the fact that I can work from home. If I wanted, I daresay I could get a higher-paid job elsewhere, but I like what I do. Studies have shown that employees value the working environment – from the company of colleagues to the standard of the canteen – more than they do the salary. A good firm that respects and supports its staff is rewarded with loyalty, high morale and a higher standard of work, even when the salary may not be as high as that available elsewhere. Conversely, a bad firm that overloads its staff, does not keep them informed of decisions or allows a long-hours or a bullying culture to flourish will find it has to pay higher and higher salaries in order to get and / or keep employees.
So it may well be that there are many working within the legal profession today who are earning well below that £40,000 rate and keeping their child benefit, but are happy in what they do, and with what they have. We can no longer assume that all lawyers are rich or even comfortably off, not only because of the difficult financial climate at present, but because for many in the legal profession, money isn’t everything.
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)
1800 3030145 (Barristers in the Republic of Ireland)