Legally United: The Proposed Unionisation of the Legal Profession

May 16, 2019

2 min read

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What's going on here?

Barristers, solicitors and others within the legal profession, are being advised to join a single trade union.

What does this mean?

The advice has come after a string of events that have increasingly led to changes within the legal profession. The rise of solicitor-advocates and the poor pay for paralegals are examples of such changes that introduce uncertainty into the industry. This has prompted many senior lawyers, including Michael Mansfield QC, to propose a union for the legal profession. Many even claim that the initiative is “long overdue”.

One such union that professionals may join would be the Legal Sector Workers United (LSWU). The LSWU has united various legal professionals, including receptionists, cleaners and security personnel from law firms. It aims to take action against ‘poverty pay’ and wants to restore legal aid. The issue is pressing for the LSWU, as it states that often paralegals do not even earn the London living wage (£10.55/hour). It is hoped that unionisation would increase employees’ bargaining power to secure such basic rights.

Whilst unionisation may seem alien to the profession, there have been prior attempts to bring about a legal union in the 1970s. The failure of previous actions could suggest that a new attempt is similarly likely to fail. However, the LSWU may succeed in its lofty ambition as they’re targetting a “far wider constituency of workers”.

What's the big picture effect?

Such a major change in the legal profession is likely to have far-reaching effects. Unionisation could potentially see the beginning of a united front amongst the legal profession and a stronger force to fight for change. Jonathan Black (the former president of the London Criminal Courts Solicitors Association) hails the power of the “common purpose” that can fix the law.

One problem in the current system was highlighted by Franck Magennis (a barrister at Garden Court Chambers) who noted that the Ministry of Justice would often play solicitors off against barristers in the past. Bringing together the professions in this manner could strengthen negotiations and retire the archaic rivalry between the legal professions.

So will we see solicitors and barristers unite? The benefits seem clear.

Report written by Harina C

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