This anti-lawyer rhetoric threatens us all

Family Law|October 12th 2016

We live in dangerous times. With a government free to do as it wishes due to the lack of an effective opposition, and with elements of the media so powerful and unrestrained that they have the ability to influence millions, we are all the potential victims of ideologues pursuing their own agendas, with little understanding of the common good.

We have seen this phenomenon manifest itself in many ways recently: in intolerance for those in need, in xenophobia, in attacks on our very freedoms enshrined in human rights. Now lawyers are increasingly becoming the targets of such attacks.

In the last week there have been at least two examples: the claim by Theresa May that ‘left-wing’ lawyers are making vexatious claims against our armed forces, and the claim in a populist national newspaper that ‘vulture lawyers’ ‘bled’ the NHS of £418 million in one year. Notice the hysterical tone of the rhetoric: this is designed not just to make a point, but to stir up hatred against the lawyers.

Now, the fact that neither of these attacks stand up to even the most basic scrutiny is neither here nor there – the point has been made, and those wanting to hear it are not willing to listen to any sort of rebuttal. Notwithstanding this, I will say a couple of things about these attacks.

As to the attack against ‘left-wing’ lawyers pursuing claims against the armed forces, there is the obvious point that such claims are decided by courts not lawyers, and the politics of the lawyers will have no bearing upon the decision of the court: if the claimant has a good case, the claim will succeed, if they don’t have a good case, it will fail. On a higher level, isn’t it important that our armed forces act in accordance with the law? After all, isn’t that what makes us better than our enemies?

Moving on to the claims against the NHS attack, the response to this is obvious, and the clue to it is contained in one of the sub-headings of the newspaper report, which referred to law firms suing the NHS for “medical blunders”. Now, the last thing I want to do is criticise the NHS, but if it didn’t make so many blunders then obviously it would not have so many successful claims against it. Look at it from the point of view of the victim of one of those blunders, who may have suffered some life-changing injury: if that were you, you would want compensation, wouldn’t you?

Now, I know that lawyers are not the most popular group in society, and are never going to be (I remember years ago seeing a ‘league table’ of professions and occupations, ranked in order of how well they were regarded by the public – it didn’t make very pretty reading for lawyers). However, contrary to what some would have you believe, lawyers perform an essential function in our society: protecting the innocent, the vulnerable, the victims of wrongdoing and all those whose rights have been breached, often by bodies far more powerful than they are.

We see this every day in the field of family law. Consider, for example, the parents threatened with having their children removed from them by the state. Or what about the incapacitated, who need someone to speak for them? Consider also the countless victims of domestic violence who need protection. Or how about the parent who has been denied a relationship with their child? Or simply the confused litigant going through a divorce, who needs a helping hand sorting out their financial settlement?

If you are tempted by these attacks to see lawyers as the enemy, looking to protect their ‘fat-cat’ incomes, remember one thing: one day you may need one. If this anti-lawyer rhetoric results in fewer lawyers or fewer remedies for those seeking legal redress, then we are all potential victims of it.

OK, I realise that nothing I have said here is original. In recent days I have seen a number of other lawyers far more exulted than I am saying similar things in defence of their profession, and no doubt there will be more to follow. However, this is such an important issue I felt I should add my small voice to the debate.

Image by Howard Lake via Flickr under a Creative Commons licence

The blog team at Stowe is a group of writers who share their advice on the wellbeing and emotional aspects of divorce or separation from personal experience. Guest contributors also regularly contribute to share their knowledge.

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  1. Paul Apreda says:

    Hi John – you are funny
    I particularly enjoyed your comment ‘such claims are decided by courts not lawyers’. Now who do you think are running the Courts? – hospital consultants or retired generals perhaps?
    I have noticed that Marilyn’s blog has been notieceable in the very low volume of comments to articles recently. I cant think why that might be.
    Let me provide you with some re-assurance about the future of the legal profession. Have a look at Professor Richard Susskind’s work – ‘The future of the professions’ Fascinating reading!! I heard his evidence to the Bach Commission. He said valuable things such as ‘Public sector provision is over-engineered…with too little emphasis on the needs of the user’ as well as ‘the legal system was designed by lawyers for lawyers’. My favourite one is ‘the justice system is not meeting needs if its just dispute resolution – it needs to be about dispute avoidance’. Interestingly he’s the keynote speaker at the FJC conference in Birmingham on 24th October. I cant think why……….
    PS good luck
    best wishes

    • Marilyn Stowe says:

      Dear Paul
      Rubbish. All of it. You’re dealing with a Yorkshirewoman here who also happens to be a family lawyer who funnily enough does care about people and how to sort out their very legal problems. As for the blog we had more readers in September than ever before. So don’t lose heart and try to stay positive. I do.

      • spinner says:

        “Rubbish. All of it.” – It’s already happening, AI systems are being trained by lawyers themselves, initially as aide’s but to anyone who know’s anything about AI those systems once trained with enough real world data and interaction with real lawyers will be more than able to act as lawyers or in fact judges. Law is not as complex as you may like to think it is. The one part an AI can’t replace is the human to human contact but frankly a more general therapist role would be better for this anyway.

      • Paul Apreda says:

        Marilyn – I’m flattered that you respond, and glad to hear that more people are reading your excellent blog. I promise you I’ll stay positive, and apologise unreservedly if I’ve given you the impression that I doubt that you care passionately about the issues and helping people resolve their problems.
        I’m not sure I agree that the direction of Government policy in this area is necessarily ‘rubbish’ although we are engaging with the MoJ to ensure a much greater focus on the needs of service users – or as I prefer to call them when dealing with Government, ‘Voters’. We estimate that somewhere between 500,000 and 3/4 million ‘Voters’ will have experienced the Family Justice system over the past 10 years. The outgoing CEO of Cafcass Cymru recently quipped to me that 50% wont be happy! I questioned that – suggesting that the figure would be far higher!! Interestingly only around 6,000 of these ‘Voters’ are practicing lawyers – the rest are ‘Litigants’. In that context I’m pretty certain the Government may be more disposed to see it from the position of the former rather than latter group.
        I must drop you a separate proposal as I mentioned last month. I’ve had a very productive meeting with Law Works and believe there is a huge opportunity that we can jointly develop.
        warmest regards

    • John Bolch says:

      Hi Paul,
      Glad you found my post amusing – did that include the part about parents having their children removed by the state?
      As to who runs the courts, you seem to be subscribing to the theory that all lawyers are in some sort of conspiracy together. Sorry to disappoint, but they are not.
      I am well aware of Professor Susskind’s predictions, and the fact that many people doubt that they will transpire. For the moment, however, we are left with the system as it is.
      Thank you for your expression of good luck, although I should point out that I am no longer practising, so I have no vested interest in protecting the profession.
      Best wishes,

      • Paul Apreda says:

        Wow – John Bolch responding to a comment!!! I’m flattered.
        To tackle the points you’ve made – I was referring to your comments as funny rather than the tragic disaster that is our Family Justice system at present. We are actively supporting women who are facing the removal of their children by the state in Wales – where the ‘Crisis of Care’ that the President recently referred to is worse than England (may I refer you to my post on Marilyn’s blog about this). We are pressing Welsh Government to act and have a piece about this coming soon on ITV here in Wales. We help mums obtain legal advice at our network of 11 support meetings – each of which is registered as a Legal Advice clinic with Law Works, and we help them complete the paperwork to make referrals to the Bar Pro-Bono Unit. Apart from that of course we do nothing.
        As to the conspiracy theory (that you keep bringing up) I completely reject such a view. I do underdstand that many people subscribe to conspiracy theories, but in my experience people are neither clever enough nor sufficiently well organised to pull off a conspiracy. I fear lawyers are no different; for me its ‘cock-up’ over conspiracy 99% of the time.
        I’m confident that the legal profession may not be Professor Susskind’s greatest cheerleaders. In his submission to the bach Commission he spoke of a conversation with a colleague in the health service who said ‘We’ll carry on doing what we do until the money runs out’. We live in interesting times! best wishes, Paul

        • John Bolch says:

          Thanks, Paul. You make an excellent case for the continuing need for family lawyers in Wales. Let us hope that, despite the attacks on lawyers, they will still be available for the parents that will need them in the future.

  2. spinner says:

    “that ‘left-wing’ lawyers are making vexatious claims against our armed forces” – It’s fair enough to complain about things but when they happen to be true it doesn’t really help you case. If lawyers want a better reputation, stop behaving in the ways that you do, it’s not that complicated 🙂

  3. J . Alla says:

    What about judges when they make binders ? Who is prepared to sue them? Every other professionals are succestible to sued for blunder but judges barristers.

  4. JamesB says:

    Please can we cut down on the accusations of xenaphobia racism narcissism messanderism nationalism classism chauvinism and bolchism. The clichés are tiring and not well thought out original or worth reading.

    The biggest dangers here aren’t the opposition but John and his false flag operations.

    Lack of effective representation lies with the likes of John and lawyers like him and the destruction of the family making government head of household instead of Dad. I’m off for a lie down
    Take care all. No I didn’t read this article but I do like Xylophones and Sir Patrick Moore.

  5. JamesB says:

    Xenamorphic xavier x men x words are good and there aren’t many of them.

  6. John Bolch says:

    I am being reminded why I don’t usually spend much time on comments… 🙂

    • spinner says:

      Don’t see to spend that much longer on the blog post’s either the speed at which various *themes* get recycled.

      • JamesB says:

        I agree, you hit the nail on the head there Spinner. It would be good to see him come up with a different argument or a different subject or come at it from a different point of view or actually respond to the arguments put to him. I tend to not read his re-posts now. My time would be better spent looking up x words in the (humungous) dictionary I have. I don’t have much more to say than that other than getting really insulting and derogatory towards him and I don’t like being like that. Bit like shouting at shock Jocks, as , there comes a point where you realise to do so is to play into their hands. So, to prove I am educated, ‘This is the way the world ends. Not with a bang but a whimper’ “The Hollow Men” (1925) poem by T. S. Eliot. I would respond to his point, but he doesn’t have one and when I do he ignores any comeback.

        Rather than shout at this chap better write to your MP instead, so perhaps he is helping the cause he is trying to undermine.

        • JamesB says:

          I’m not sure if its bad luck to leave this on comment 13 so will not.

          • JamesB says:

            Vexatious is a big X sounding word also. As is Xhydias.

            I did win on an Xhydias agreement point against a QC in court once, perhaps my finest day as a lawyer and LIP.

            The other one was taking child maintenance from jurisdiction of this horrible court to the slightly less horrible CSA with a change in circumstance, against a dodgy badly worded top up order defeating solicitors dodgy AR order and well dodgy ‘contract for child maintenance’, rather than going for a variation which he (ex wife’s solicitor) said was the way it should be changed.

            Perhaps I should list some of my minor victories and experiences in court one day or write a book, then again I don’t really like the job (of defeating people as a lawyer) as I am not naturally nasty and don’t like defeating people or making their lives worse or lying and wouldn’t feel ok doing the job, perhaps I am not strong enough in that way, not sure if that is a floor or a (empathetic caring) strength I like to think the latter.

  7. JamesB says:

    Lawyers tend to like X words. Perhaps because it is in Greek, Roman and chi and is Christian as in for Xmas.

  8. JamesB says:

    On the subject of lawyers, there are jokes about them, such as the one with the punch line a good start etc.

    Ok, like traffic lights, they may be necessary, but that isn’t the issue. The issue is that I found myself in court with my ex and her father F’ing with my mental health over 50 times for no good reason and it was cheaper to turn up and lose than employer a lawyer to burn money arguing.

    Do I think Lawyers are as useful as Traffic lights? When was first traffic light? I probably see traffic lights as more useful. Do I think they are useful? Well, I don’t think they helped my children very much, quite the contrary indeed with their dodgy family law in this country.

    Helpful lawyers?

    Perhaps the one who keeps us in the single market without freedom of movement.


    The one who worked for Microsoft defeating the US government trying to split them up for being anti competitive.


    The one who helped me get some money for a personal injury which wasn’t my fault but caused by a woman driving on the wrong side of the road resulting in me taking evasive action into a lamp post and me and wife being hurt (now recovered thank you). More thankful for the witness who stopped and gave evidence.

  9. JamesB says:

    I thought they (the lawyers) did a good job with re to Iraq, as there was no evidence to invade, but then the Americans and Blair (nutter, including allowing all Eastern Europe to live next door to me) invaded anyway.

  10. JamesB says:

    Not just eastern Europe, NWSE, all points of the compass really and the declining birth rate for 2 people coming from being born here. Think is less than 2 thirds now and less than a 1/4 in London where both parents are UK born.

  11. JamesB says:

    Xenaphobic? No , I don’t think so, neither of my wives were born in the UK. Neither were Nigel Farage, Jeremy Corbyn, or Boris Johnson’s, plus many more. If you want to sort something out John sort out the low number of children being born world wide from developed educated women and the appalling bias against men in the English and Welsh family courts and that they need to be the same as the Scottish ones..

  12. JamesB says:

    Perhaps a traffic light is a lawyer in that it advises based upon law or something like that.

    Apparently temporary traffic lights aren’t lawful though I have been told although I am not sure.

  13. JamesB says:

    Perhaps because it looks like a stop sign and lawyers are power junkies is why they like the letter X and lying. Oxford University entrance exam question, is a good lawyer a good liar? Correct answer is yes. Then again we all have our faults, just that they are more powerful and likely to do the most harm. Treaty of Versailles wasn’t a great day for lawyers. The European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) was good and a lot better and a good day for lawyers and the best I can think of, that and second place behind it Wilberforce repealing slavery and repeal of corn laws need lot needs doing still yet though.

  14. JamesB says:

    Oxbridge exam question that was, not sure where from someone told me was Oxford or Cambridge not sure. I talk this precisely after my words being dragged through court and accused for wanting to see my children in a good way. Dragged through inappropriately and unfairly.

  15. JamesB says:

    On balance slavery is wrong as is a woman being owned by a man, that said the pendulum has swung too far the other way in favour of everyone doing what they like and lawyers are culpable in that and guilty of pushing it too far.

  16. Andy says:

    Blimey…matches, petrol,ignight
    So many twists and turns…that brought the oldies out for a comment…

    Trouble is,corrupt courts,corrupt solicitors and of course the jolly boys solicitor club…
    All create a frightening outcome for any normal hard working person wishing legal cost…

  17. John Bolch says:

    Did somebody say something about the lack of comments on this blog?

    • Stitchedup says:

      Who could resist bait like that John??

      • paul apreda says:

        Certainly not me Touche Mr.Bolch !!

        • JamesB says:

          I think investing in or writing a pre-nups or writing to your MP or other politicians or other people is probably a better thing to do with your time then responding to Monsieur Bolsh. Shouting at someone who is not listening is like arguing with a mad person, it makes 2 people mad instead of one. I realised this mid way through an argument with my ex once (after reading it on a board like this one).

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