The law is an ass

This post was originally featured on North of the Stupid Line.

RAD Deaf Law Centre’s stint the Solicitors Group Law 2012 was a real eye opener for me this week. An event that took place over 3 days, I was there with RAD colleagues for 2.

The conclusion I came to after my second day (Day 3) was that I am ashamed to be a part of the legal profession. Yes, you read right. Ashamed.

For such a well-educated profession, solicitors and barristers can be really stupid when it comes to Deaf people.

One solicitor asked me “how did you pass your exams?” after staring at me in shock for a few seconds when I told her I was a solicitor myself.

Another solicitor said to his colleague: “can you sign?!” when approached by us to discuss our services, suggesting that he thought we were naive enough to try and attend an event and use “sign” without any interpretation and try to communicate with delegates that way.

We had a lot of brush offs and “not interested, thank you”. Granted. we weren’t the only exhibitors to get that sort of response, but you’d have thought solicitors and barristers would have been polite, open-minded and friendly, all good skills for a professional who deals with clients every day. One even said: “I don’t want THAT”.

Needless to say, the attitudes of most made Jeff, Laura, Daniel and myself (and the interpreters) feel uncomfortable, at least initially, but as we were selling our services, couldn’t very well tell them what we thought. Words bandied around by the team included “snobbish”, “ignorant”, “unprofessional”.

It wasn’t all doom and gloom though. Many’s attitude changed when they realised after listening to our sales pitch that there may be money in Deaf people after all, all in the name of making the law work for Deaf people (!).

So. I’m part of this profession. It was certainly an experience.

Deaf Solicitor

This post was originally featured on North of the Stupid Line, and has been amended to suit Deaf Blawg.

I qualified as a solicitor today, the culmination of nine years of hard work.

At the tender age of 14, I made the decision that I wanted to become a lawyer. A careers adviser at the time said that I couldn’t become a lawyer because it would be too difficult as I was Deaf. That was probably the best thing he could have ever said to me, as it just made me more determined to succeed.

During A Levels, I applied to the customary six universities, but the A Level European History teacher put me off applying to do a Law degree, as her son was a Cambridge University graduate and he couldn’t get a training contract. If that was true, then what chance did I have? This led me to apply to read History instead of Law.

After the first term at University of Wales Swansea during the 1998/1999 academic year, I began to have second thoughts about the History degree (although I was enjoying it), and made enquiries as to whether I could switch courses. The answer was affirmative, but there was a catch; I’d have to start the first year of the Law degree in the academic year 1999/2000, pushing me behind. The parents weren’t too thrilled with the idea, and I didn’t like the idea of having to work from January to August in the meantime. I decided to stick with my History degree, having obtained advice from the university’s Careers Centre, who informed me that I could do a conversion course after my degree, known as the Common Professional Examination or Postgraduate Diploma in Law, for a year. This course is specifically for non-law graduates.

So, having completed my History degree, I applied for a place on the CPE at the University of the West of England, Bristol, which was accepted. The CPE was the hardest thing I’ve ever done – it was non-stop studying for a full academic year, bearing in mind that it’s the equivalent of a three-year Law degree crammed into one year. I managed to pass it, and enrolled on the Legal Practice Course or Diploma in Legal Practice at Cardiff University.

Then came the difficult part, securing a training contract. I applied for over 150 training contracts since 2001, and despite having about 11 interviews, wasn’t offered one. I started work at the Royal Association for Deaf People in June 2003, the week after I completed the LPC, as an Advice Worker, and eventually was able to arrange a secondment to South West London Law Centres to do an 18-month training contract, beginning on 28 November 2005. Wanting to specialise in Employment Law, I arranged an additional secondment to Hugh James Solicitors for the last five months of the training contract, which ended this week.

So, I’ve now reached my goal – I’m a qualified solicitor, due to be admitted to the roll on 1 June 2007.

So, what’s next? After having worked in the public sector for four years, the aim is to obtain a position as an Employment Solicitor in private practice, in the South Wales or South West area. I’d like to get a few years’ experience under my belt, and perhaps get promoted to Associate or Partner level, and then set up my own law firm with some mates.

Personal update

This post was originally featured on North of the Stupid Line, and has been amended to suit Deaf Blawg.

You will be interested to know that I am just under 4 weeks away from qualifying as a solicitor. For the past 4 months, I have been on secondment from the Royal Association for Deaf People to Hugh James Solicitors in Cardiff, completing an Employment seat. I am due to qualify on 27 May 2007, with the aim of becoming an Employment Solicitor.

Thus, I am looking for a Newly Qualified position as an Employment Solicitor/Lawyer in the Cardiff and Bristol area, and would be prepared to commute as far as Swansea, Gloucester, Cheltenham and Bath.

I don’t like the way they recruit solicitors. Most law firms recruit using recruitment agencies, and there are literally hundreds of them specialising in legal recruitment. Advertisements are usually anonymous, so you don’t know which firms you’re applying to. If a law firm is advertising through multiple agencies, you don’t know whether you’re applying for the same position in the same firm.

When a seemingly new position that I’m interested in pops up in my searches, I apply, and then I hear nothing. Communication is non-existent. If I apply for a job through a recruitment agency that I haven’t had contact with before, they usually ring me up the next day enthusiastic about my potential, get a few details and send me a letter in the post asking for a copy of my passport for ID purposes. I do as requested, and then hear nothing from them.

There are a number of positions I am particularly keen on, but I don’t hear anything, and as I don’t know the name of the firm, I can’t contact them to check whether they’ve received my application. How do we really know that the recruiters are actually submitting our CVs? It scares me to think that I could be missing out on opportunities.

To be honest, I’m quite disappointed with how the job search is going. I was confident that it would be easier to get a job as a Newly Qualified than it was to get a training contract, but it seems I may have been wrong. I put down my lack of success to the following:

  • The market for Newly Qualified Employment Solicitors is quite quiet in the South West and Wales region at the moment;
  • My CV is too eclectic, as I’m employed by RAD but seconded to South West London Law Centres, and sub-seconded to Hugh James Solicitors;
  • Lack of experience in private practice – however, I will have had five months’ experience when I qualify;
  • I’m Deaf – is this same old adage still a barrier?

I really don’t know how to handle this. I guess I’ve just got to plow ahead and hope that my luck will come in one day soon.