If you have ever travelled to the USA, you will probably be familiar with signs such as this.
These are warnings to salesmen, hawkers or peddlers – anyone who might approach unannounced and try to sell something – to stay away. This is a constant source of amusement to anyone visiting from the UK because, over here, a Solicitor is an Attorney-at-Law. And when it comes to the legal profession, even the most illiterate Brit can quote Dick the Butcher from Shakespeare’s Henry VI, and his revolutionary injunction that “The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers!”. In AOL UK’s Top 10 Most Hated Professions survey of 2016, Lawyers were right up there at number 4, plonked between the Politicians at 3 and the Dentists at 5.
And yet it has always been an attractive proposition for youngsters
deciding on a profession, and competition has always been fierce to
secure the two-year apprenticeship which any Law graduate must serve with a Solicitors’ practice before qualifying themselves. In fact, as
recently as the 1960s it was common for a premium to be paid by the
apprentice just for the privilege of such an opportunity! This notion of
paying one’s boss to be allowed to work, or at least working for little
reward, seems almost comical when viewed from the modern-day sunlit
uplands of employment rights and minimum wage legislation, but it was
going on within living memory. My memory.
This instructional period wasn’t (and still isn’t) actually called an apprenticeship, as it would have been (and still is) if the training
had been for a trade such as electrical engineering, carpentry or
plumbing. What in modern parlance is called a ‘Training Contract’ bore,
until 1989, the almost Dickensian name of ‘Articles of Clerkship’, and
‘Trainee Solicitors’ were known as ‘Articled Clerks’. Although I didn’t pay a premium, my starting pay in 1979 was a derisory £1250 per annum – equivalent to £6500 in today’s money – and I worked for one of the more generous firms!
It would be another 34 years before my quill pen was deposited in its
ink-well for the final time, and stories of my career will feature in
future blogs. In the meantime I am working on my début novel. The storyline is as yet a little woolly, but you can be damn sure that it will feature a character called Dick the Solicitor declaring “The first thing we do, let’s kill all the Butchers!”.
Rory Mulvihill, LOS Consultant