John Brannigan explains why, after only four years in post, he's only too aware of how rewarding a career as a solicitor can be

This month marks my fourth year of being a qualified solicitor, yet it seems like only yesterday I was preparing to become a newly qualified member of the profession. What have I learned in the past four years? Where do I start? I have learned so much about the law and practice, yet there is still so much more to learn.

If I were to take some time to reflect on my chosen career I would certainly say that it is a worthwhile vocation. One of the most rewarding aspects of the job is the ability to be able to help people and this help can be given in a number of ways.

Of course, our primary duty is to give clients independent and sound legal advice but, additionally, you have to remember that a lot people seek lawyers when they are at their lowest ebb and often just spending time with clients listening to their problems and talking it through with them can provide that person with some relief from their burden.

Since I became interested in litigation during the early part of my studies in university, I have always valued the idea of being able to represent those who, due to a variety of reasons, are unable to represent themselves. I am fortunate enough to be able to work in a number of practice areas wherein this type of representation is brought into sharp focus.

For example, I specialise in criminal defence litigation. Most of our clients have various difficulties in their lives; some unfortunately have addiction issues and/or mental health issues which can impede their ability to participate effectively in the legal process. Yet these people are being pursued in a legal action by the State, whose scale and resources vastly outweigh that of the individual. By engaging the services of a solicitor, the accused’s ability to participate in the legal process and, crucially, defend themselves against the State, is put onto an even playing field.

Similarly, on the topic of mental health issues, I recently applied to the Mental Health Tribunal for Scotland to become a Curator ad litem in mental health proceedings. My application was successful and I have already been instructed in my first appointment. The role of a Curator is to safeguard the patient’s interests in the legal proceedings. Sadly these cases involve persons who have been detained in hospital under the Mental Health legislation and I require to visit them in hospital to assess them, reporting to the Tribunal on my findings at the hearings. Being responsible for ensuring the interests of people who cannot do so for themselves by reasons of mental disorders is something which I finding highly rewarding.

My colleagues and I also provide representation to persons at children’s panel proceedings. These are similarly sensitive as, usually, the child or children have been removed from their parents in difficult circumstances. Our clients are usually one of the parents who will normally instruct us to advocate their position at the panel hearing, for example to have contact with their child/children at a time when contact is being opposed by the Social Work Department who oversee that child’s care.

All of this makes for a career which involves a wide variety of work, dealing with a wide variety of people in a wide variety of difficult circumstances who seek us out to provide them with help through expert legal advice. The old saying ‘you get out what you put in’ has never been more true; if you work hard in your career and work hard on each case you are able to give these people the help they deserve and I don’t think there is anything more satisfying or rewarding than that. 

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