Why more young lawyers should get involved in politics
I am a lawyer with an interest in politics. And why not – most politicians have at least a passing interest in law, given that they write it. But what is it actually like for a junior lawyer to go into politics?
I’ve been intrigued by politics most of my life and an active campaigner since 2010. But now I’ve been selected to stand in a London Assembly seat everything has moved up a gear. My employer, Winckworth Sherwood, has been very supportive.
Lawyers populate not just the judiciary but the legislature and executive as well, merrily straddling the separation of powers. But the number of lawyers in politics is declining: 17 per cent of current MPs have a background in law compared to 25 per cent in politics and 22 per cent in business.
But there are lots of political opportunities for young lawyers, whether it’s pushing leaflets through letter boxes, attending public meetings or indeed standing for election, lawyers can bring something useful to the table.
It also works the other way around. Winckworth Sherwood advises on FCA and HCA regulatory matters, large infrastructure projects and procurement, not to mention academy conversions. In these sensitive areas, knowing the way the political wind is blowing is really useful for clients because we can better assess – and therefore mitigate – the legal risk. And of course knowing the direction of the wind is different to sailing with it: lawyers have to remain impartial to a fault.
You should be under no illusions. Lawyers have long hours, often working into the night.
The process known as “canvassing” (traipsing around knocking on doors asking people about their voting intentions) also involves long hours… though residents are none too happy if you work into the night.
And as the only thing less welcome than a legal bill is a canvasser knocking on the door just as you’ve put the kids to bed, you have to be fairly thick skinned.
You also have to be responsive to the needs of your clients or voters. In both lines of work, the customer is king.
But the number one principle in the solicitors’ Code of Conduct is not “thou shalt do whatever your client tells you to do” (not that the clients realise that) but rather to “uphold the rule of law and the proper administration of justice”.
Likewise, for politicians the interests of one voter may not be the same as another. You have to balance voters’ interests and your own judgment and uphold the interests of the community as a whole.
Being a canvasser can be stressful. While campaigning in the mayoral election in 2012, I had my bag stolen. The thief would have been disappointed to find that it contained only a copy of Thatcher’s autobiography and a couple of stale sandwiches. It also goes without saying that the legal profession is a demanding one. Though I have no thefts to report so far.
Both lines of work are of course rewarding and can be fun too. Campaigning in a tight election and completing a deal are adrenaline fuelled and often very entertaining.
What makes the difference is the team you’re working with and not taking yourself too seriously.
As a lawyer you are part of the fabric of our constitution: why not become part of the fabric of your community as well?
Rob Flint is a solicitor in the real estate team at Winckworth Sherwood and is a London Assembly candidate for the Conservative Party. He lives in a rented flat in Hammersmith.