The High Street Heroes

It seems not so long ago that I was that eager first year student. Like a fresh sponge, I was ready to soak up every bit of knowledge about how I could bring justice around the world.

This is what being a lawyer was about, and my intentions were firmly embedded. But a few weeks in, there was a new buzz word in town. All the cool students were using it. Was I missing something? I soon came to know, ‘commercial’ was the way forward (the “the real practical application to your degree” in quoting a professor). Alas, it was not my fellow classmates drilling the dreaded C word (please take your pick of: City, Corporate, Commercial) into my head, it was the university. Suddenly helping people became helping big businesses and any worthy law student soon set their eyes to the magic circle firms.

As a result of this focus, high street law often falls in the backdrop. All too many times I have heard it described as the ‘fall back’ option by many fellow students. It’s a strange sensation, the moment one starts thinking that their noble ambition to help the common person, to serve their community, to rescue innocent victims from the abuse of big, bad villains (be a superwo/man in short) is menial; for the truly ambitious lawyer-to-be is the one applying to the top commercial firms, in the place where dreams come true, The City of course! With students being almost brainwashed into the belief that within commercial law is the only place where a good law degree is put to use, one quickly feels inadequate amongst ones’ peers, unless one too holds this ‘real ambition’.

So it seems, universities play a major role in influencing students’ viewpoint on the world of law. Many universities are quick to boast their great connections to City law firms, while any references to high street are hard found. Obviously there are much fewer City firms, and to be associated with the top firms is what sets universities apart. I do not contend this. However, in being so corporate-central and painting the City Firms in the glistening Hollywood fashion as they do, they fail to do justice to the bigger world of law. In doing so, they replace a long held passion for the subject with sudden ambition for a very tainted representation of success.

Evidence of this is shown in law fairs, where it is the international and City firms that are represented. Students get told to make a good impression, for “this is where you will meet your future employer”. Apart from the CPS and a novelty pro pono stall, the others are all firms with spookishly similar qualities. They boast to be the best corporate employer, the firm with the greatest international influence, essentially, the firm who pays your whole LPC fee.

You read right. They pay for your LPC!!!

Now this is where dreams begin (to change).

Those whose aims went only as far as saving the citizens of the world, are now pulled into the vortex of ‘The corporate dream’, more aptly described as Kryptonite to Super-Law-Student. I know, I’ve been there.  I’d like to say I got myself out before it was too late. Another fellow student told me of her eye opening experience, notably the moment it dawned that she had been chasing dreams that weren’t hers during the course of a workshop at an open day with a top City firm of course! She professed her disappointment at the way high street law is shunned, while students are hypnotised into believing that you must aim for the City, and if you don’t make it, there is always the high street. Firstly, I would implore my fellow students to renew their intentions, be true to themselves and their aims. But I would also contend with any others who believe that high street law makes one less of a success.

It need not be explained that high street firms do not pay your LPC fees. Compared to such a lucrative deal, the closest thing some high street firms could offer is a loan, if that. However, where it lacks in funding, high street Law makes up in a whole array of different ways.

Experiences in high street firms are invaluable and I believe more helpful in giving a law student a rounded view of the world of law, than running to various open days in the City. Students are quick to do anything and everything to get themselves noticed by big firms. In reality, they are but one of thousands of students they see each year. Meanwhile, real opportunities with high street firms are missed out on. The ability to be linked to day-to-day runnings of law within a community is underestimated. Helping real people and changing real lives is a job only few can concertedly say they hold a place in.

There are so many fields of practice one could go into. Often lawyers in high street law practice in various fields, thus being experts in a number of areas. Their accessibility to the ‘lay man’ is after all the essence of law. Helping people know their rights and their limits in living in a land is of utmost importance. This is what has long governed the land before us and will continue to do so. Civilisations were created in this way. It was needed well before globalisation, commercial entities and international litigation. So be not fast to jump on the corporate bandwagon, and be not deceived. There is as much prestige in practising the law at the High Street level as anywhere else.

Last summer I was fortunate to gain some work experience at a high street firm and I would encourage my fellow law students to take hold of such opportunities too. The atmosphere wasn’t intimidating, but welcoming. The passion with which the solicitors worked was self-evident. The clients came with a genuine need and left with sincere gratefulness. For sure they were restoring justice, one case at a time. My dreams came before me; I’d finally found where the superheroes hang…