It is an extraordinary privilege to be President of the Law Society of England and Wales. One of the many parts of the job which I enjoy particularly is spending time with my fellow solicitors, the legal backbone of society.
We cover an extraordinary range of clients and problems, from the Welsh farmer to the City multinational, from individuals threatened with eviction to SMEs coping with increasingly complex laws and regulations. When I was asked a little while ago on live television what a partner at a global firm like Clifford Chance had in common with a firm in the high street, I answered unhesitatingly: service.
Indeed, I find that solicitors in all kinds of practice have many features in common. We are perfectionists, tough on ourselves, with a fear of failure, deeply empathetic and almost regard it as a success when a client’s problems pass from its shoulders onto ours.
It is perhaps unsurprising that our kind of personality type will experience, will work too hard, will sacrifice friends and family in favour of the client and will risk damaging our own mental and physical health.
More than thirty years ago I found myself in difficulties. During the course of a few weeks I started to feel as if two hands were twisting and squeezing my insides. I felt tense and, experienced feeling of doom and found solace in part by taking warm baths in the evening to try to calm myself down.
I had no idea what had triggered these dark feelings. I was not working particularly long hours; I was working in a firm which made me very happy and I liked the people and clients I worked with. If anything, that made me feel even worse. With the benefit of hindsight, I realised that I was worrying (unnecessarily it has turned out) that I was lacking the talents needed to progress in my career, in short that I was pretty rubbish at my job.
I spoke to no one because I did not know what to say. I found myself scribbling during the day little notes of gloom to self. Things could have deteriorated quite seriously. But one day, about three months after it started, I woke up and extraordinarily the dark feelings had gone, vanished entirely. I have never experienced them again. I was lucky.
If I had known then that there was someone from an organisation likewho I could have spoken to on a confidential basis, where I could have spoken to someone who might have reassured me that I was not alone, it would have been a great comfort. They could have given me concrete suggestions on how to cope and most importantly of all reassured me that I was not rubbish. I may have found something much more helpful and rewarding than my tepid bath.
I am not alone in my experience and am sure that my own story will resonate with many readers. Senior leaders have a responsibility to create ain their law firms, where those who feel they cannot cope, or feel inadequate and worried, can share their thoughts with others without embarrassment or fear of any consequences.
Our profession is most fortunate to haveat our disposal twenty-four hours a day. If in doubt do not just get your head down and work even harder. Do not feel any shame. Give them a call.