Much of the general public might expect the legal profession to be sleeping in late and soundly on the weekend, lying on mattresses stuffed and plumped with fee notes. No early Saturday rising for this country’s lawyers, unless of course they happen to have an early tee-off time at the golf club. Yet despite this misconception (I find myself writing about that a lot lately), many solicitors and barristers were up bright and early for a very different reason last weekend.

On 18-19 October there were three major gatherings of legal eagles across London: the Junior Lawyers Division’s bi-annual event on how to secure a training contract; the Young Bar Conference, the focal point of the junior Bar calendar, and Amicus-ALJ’s US death penalty autumn training course. All were important summits that will help shape the future of many of this country’s next generation of advocates and practitioners.

The JLD event included a series of presentations on various topics designed to assist junior lawyers obtain a training contract along with individual 30-minute CV clinics. Speakers at the event included representatives from Bevan Brittan, Winckworth Sherwood, Vodafone, LawWorks, Gordons, Withy King, Kirkland & Ellis, Co-op Legal Services and from SJ‘s sister publication, Young Lawyer.

SJ‘s new managing editor, and long-time YL editor, Laura Clenshaw, spoke at the JLD event. She gave, in her own words, a somewhat “harrowing account” of what young wannabe solicitors have in store for them as they try to squeeze their way into an already over-saturated profession. You can read her full take on the experience in the next issue of Solicitors Journal out next Tuesday.

The Young Bar Conference, held simultaneously across town, is one of the most prestigious and popular events of the Bar’s year, providing delegates with the opportunity to discuss the future direction of the profession and the key issues that they face as practitioners.

Lord Judge was in attendance to give the weekend’s first keynote speech, in which he quite surprisingly admitted to being a “chambers’ reject”. The former lord chief justice gave a rousing address where he commented that “good quality advocacy is more valuable than bad quality advocacy. No credit is given to good, confident, energetic advocates.”

He continued: “[The Bar] is an extraordinary profession. People are delighted at the success of their colleagues. The profession is elitist only in that if you’re good, you’ll succeed.”

And in his final remarks, Lord Judge said: “For those in the publicly funded bar, hang on. Things change, wheels turn.”

The Bar Council also chose this event to launch the Bar Wellbeing project, the first time the mental health and wellbeing of barristers will be gauged.

Meanwhile, Amicus-ALJ continued its fine work of educating law students on capital punishment in the United States. Amicus’s regular speakers included Mark George QC, from Garden Court North Chambers in Manchester, and Professor Julian Killingley, director of the Centre for American Legal Studies at Birmingham City University who gave enthralled delegates a summary of the US Constitution and analysis of how the US Supreme Court works.

But perhaps the most inspiring portion of the training weekend at Amicus was not delivered by the legal practitioners or academics, but in the keynote speeches given by Sunny Jacobs and Peter Pringle, two former death row inmates who survived the gallows. Together they provided a fascinating, albeit traumatic, insight into their time spent incarcerated in Florida and Dublin and how they made legal history with their respective freedom from death row.

It never ceases to amaze me how much of their precious free time lawyers from all sides of the profession are willing to give up to help the development of both their colleagues and the next generation of legal champions. Long may it continue.

This article was first published in the Solicitors Journal on 22 October 2014 and is reproduced with kind permission.

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