Clive was a late entrant, admitted in 1983 after working his way up from legal executive roles. He was in private practice before setting up a highly successful conveyancing partnership in Wiltshire. This was a spell when, as Clive recalls, everything had been magical. “Every exam I took, I passed. Every time I went for a promotion, I got it. I just thought I was untouchable. Then things fell to pieces.”
I just thought I was untouchable. Then things fell to pieces.
The recession hit soon after the partnership borrowed heavily to expand into new premises. Clive had no choice but to buy out his partners and become a sole practitioner. With ever-escalating costs, Clive found himself working seven days a week and driving taxis at night. “I had to try, so that’s what I did. I used to think that you could achieve anything through hard work. But sometimes you can’t, no matter how hard you work.” Another firm took over the practice for free, initially employing Clive before making him redundant. The resulting pressure proved too much for Clive’s marriage, which broke down irretrievably. His children were then aged 6 and 10.
The first thing I probably said when I contacted The Solicitors’ Charity was that I don’t think I’m the sort of person you can help. I thought it was only if you’d got cancer or something disastrous had happened, like if your solicitor husband had been killed in a car crash.
The Solicitors’ Charity supported Clive and his family during this difficult period. “It was disastrous to go through. Solicitors I’d been friendly with before used to cross the road rather than speak to me. One day you’re a pillar of the community, but the next you’re walking around under the burden of some massive debt and too ashamed to ask for help.”
When a job in the not-for-profit sector came up in Sunderland, Clive was living in bed-and-breakfast accommodation and working as a bought ledger clerk for WH Smith. That job was eventually to be the glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel; Clive has been in advice and law centre roles ever since. He has been an in-house solicitor for Shelter for eight years.
“It worked out for me. The support from The Solicitors’ Charity made it easier for me to go to Sunderland without the constant worry of what was happening with my wife and kids. After a while I got into it and really started to enjoy it, because I started thinking about other people really for the first time. Back then, I don’t think I was a very nice person. I was just interested in making money and didn’t really give a damn about anyone else. Perhaps sometimes these things happen for a reason. I get a huge amount of job satisfaction and, over the years, I’ve helped an awful lot of people. If my life hadn’t changed, I would never have known any different.”
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