Could the 800 + lawyer signatories now sign letters regarding other endangerments?

Last week more than 800 former judges and senior legal figures signed a letter sent to the Guardian saying that the UK Prime Minister and Home Secretary are endangering the personal safety of lawyers through their abusive attacks on the profession and should apologise.

The Guardian report noted that “the letter is the largest coordinated response so far to increasingly vehement rhetorical attacks on the legal profession by the two Conservative politicians.”

And attacking lawyers for doing their jobs is bad enough coming from any random quarter. But when the Prime Minister and Home Secretary are name calling “lefty lawyers and do-gooders”, the profession rightly came together and decided something must be done.

And they did something special: they demonstrated to each other and to society, which mandates their practice, that they are capable of speaking with one voice in the service of a shared purpose: protecting the core of the profession which is to be allowed to practice and uphold the rule of law without fear or favour.

Broadly speaking, the public got behind their letter. Their website had to remain open a further day for signatures. The letter was a success in terms of the line it drew in the sand even if the government’s response was dismissive. A line had been crossed. Lawyers and judges were not having it. They had each other’s backs. Full stop.

But the problem with this story is that the profession appears to be saying that only when the Barbarians are at the gate will they act in unison. Atrocities committed or permitted within the gates somehow don’t generate the same level of empathy or outrage.

It’s as if their training in an adversarial system prevents them from having each other’s back’s save only when the system itself is attacked. Or so it appears.

What atrocities?

– bullying by lawyers of lawyers in law firms

– unacceptable stress levels in law firms

– #metoo behaviour in law firms

– diversity issues in law firms

– “elevated ethical pressure’’ on in-house lawyers (@UCLLaws 2016)

– failure to change regulations (@IRLSR 2020)

Is the the word atrocity an overstatement?

If you think so, read the research on the above matters. You may change your mind.

If not then ask yourself this question: what’s the difference between the PM and the Home Secretary endangering a lawyer’s life by encouraging hatred of them and a thuggish partner or CEO creating a culture of terror for their lawyers?

If you feel the latter is the less endangering than the former you are part of the problem.

If you feel it’s time for lawyers to have each others backs and stamp out the terrorism of their number then you are part of the solution.


Ciarán Fenton

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