Kayleigh Leonie challenges junior solicitors to get involved in the law society and play a direct role in shaping the future of their profession.

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In July 2019, I stepped down from the Law Society Council having been a member representing solicitors with up to five years’ post qualification experience. By virtue of representing junior solicitors on the Council, I was also an ex-officio member of the Society’s Junior Lawyers Division’s (JLD) Executive Committee which I had already sat on for the previous two years.

The Junior Lawyers Division

While a trainee solicitor, I was part of the founding committee of the Sussex branch of the JLD. As a trainee and then as a newly-qualified solicitor, the JLD gave me an incredible support network to meet and share experiences with other junior lawyers – ranging from social events and organising charity fundraisers to running training events for other junior lawyers.

Through my JLD involvement, I’ve had the opportunity to cross paths with many wonderful people who have provided me with invaluable support during these early stages of my career.

Being a Law Society council member

So, what is the Law Society Council? The Council is made up of nearly 100 members who represent different constituencies. The majority are geographical seats with others representing particular demographics or organisations, for example, women lawyers, junior lawyers and sole practitioners.

It may surprise you to learn that when I was a council member, only one of the 61 geographical Council seats was occupied by a junior lawyer – even though junior lawyers make up more than 40 per cent of the legal profession.

The Council meets six to seven times a year to guide the senior leadership team on the key issues facing the Society. There is also an annual strategy weekend giving council members the opportunity to discuss key policy priorities for the Society and to work together in smaller groups to feed back their views to the Society.

Mental health and wellbeing

A key success of mine as a JLD executive committee member and council member was spearheading a campaign to put mental health at the top of the agenda for organisations employing junior lawyers.

Negative stress is a real problem in the legal profession. When starting out in their legal career, most potential solicitors and newly qualified solicitors think they have the skills required to work successfully in a high-pressured environment. Unfortunately, these skills are not usually taught at university and don’t usually form part of formal legal training, so junior lawyers can struggle to adapt and remain resilient when they begin their workplace training.

There is a long way to go to alleviate the stigma surrounding mental ill-health in the legal profession. Many junior lawyers feel unable to speak openly to their employers regarding their mental health through fear of negative consequences in the workplace.

My proudest achievement at the Society is the impact made by the research I have undertaken into the high levels of stress and mental ill-health experienced by junior lawyers.

Respondents were clear year-on-year that their employers could be doing more to provide help, support and guidance in relation to these issues. On Time to Talk Day 2018, the JLD released best practice guidance for employers on supporting resilience and wellbeing in the workplace. It will be updated later this year and focuses on three core pillars:

  • support
  • culture
  • education and training

If you’re interested in this research and the results of the 2017 to 2019 resilience and wellbeing surveys, they are on the Society’s website.

Get involved

Being a council member gave me a vital platform on which to question the status quo and challenge whether the legal profession is doing enough to support its junior lawyers at the most important point of their legal careers.

It also provided chances to boost my confidence as a solicitor and as a public speaker and legal commentator; and I would encourage anyone thinking about applying for a role in the JLD or the Law Society to get involved.

Kayleigh Leonie is a senior solicitor at Macfarlances LLP and was a member of the Law Society Council until July 2019 representing the Junior Lawyers Division

This article was first published in the Solicitors Journal in August 2019 and is reproduced by kind permission