In 2002 the view from my office window was of DJ’s Caribbean Takeaway on London’s Harrow Road. I have had nicer offices since, but none that smelled so good.
I say office but it was more a bedroom being used as an office, and along with six other bedrooms it operated as Paddington Law Centre. I was their employment and housing lawyer.
My first room-mate was Diana Johnson. This was long before she took up residence in Westminster as Labour’s MP for Hull North. She was a very accommodating room-mate. If she objected to the plants, postcards, life-size photographs of my cats and my obsession with white sticky labels, she never said.
Modest wages, funding crisis after crisis, freezing in the winter and sweltering in the summer, a single unisex toilet with a gap so big between the frosted window and the frame that you would frequently shock the people on the narrow boats that passed up and down the Grand Union canal running behind the centre. What has been seen cannot be unseen, they say.
Even so, I was happy as Larry.
The reason for my happiness was simple. I was being a lawyer. The mere fact of being a lawyer felt great.
This is not the experience of many, I know that. Lawyers are consistently found to be the unhappiest profession. Reports of low level job satisfaction abound. Various reasons are cited – little autonomy, long-hours and the curse of billable hours to name a few. None of which bears any resemblance to the job you dreamed of as a law student.
My response to that is short. If you work for a law firm that does not value you – leave and find a firm that does. If you work for a firm where your worth is measured solely by how much you bill – leave and find a firm that has a broader yard stick. If you work for a firm that requires you work all the hours under the sun and would likely not notice if you passed away at your desk– what are you still doing there?
Because here is the thing. Being a lawyer is an extraordinary job. A brilliant life-enriching job. A privilege. And those firms that suck the joy out of the job will not change my view on that. Those firms suck. Being a lawyer does not.
Recently I witnessed Gina Miller’s lawyers take on the Government and win. I watched the lawyers for the American Civil Liberties Union stop the Trump machine dead in its tracks. I saw lawyers for trade union, Unison, run rings around the Ministry of Justice in the ongoing battle to defeat ET fees. If proof were needed that law and lawyering are a beautiful thing, there it was, with bells on.
These are examples on a grand scale. Most lawyers do not get to change history, but we do get to change lives for the better. Even lawyers who spend their days advising on derivatives (and no, I have no idea what those are, either) get the opportunity to help someone who needs their help. It feels good to be that person.
I no longer work at Paddington Law Centre. I left to train as a barrister and the years that have followed have seen an assortment of legal offices, roles and room-mates. In my current role as Head of Employment at Pattinson & Brewer, I am pleased to report that the toilet windows are fit for purpose and no one has objected to my cat photographs
In the intervening years, there has been little to celebrate for claimant employment lawyers: a steady erosion of hard won employment rights and increasing obstacles to justice.
But some things are constant: Paddington Law Centre survives; lawyers are still battling (and thwarting) rogue employers, and I am still happy at the mere fact of being a lawyer.
Maybe Larry was a lawyer.