Reflections on 2021

7 years ago this month, I resigned from a small firm in which I was a Director. Next month, I will have consulted with my current firm for 5 years. Reflecting on where I am now, I am definitely much happier in being self employed, but it was not easy starting again from scratch. With zero clients and zero income, I started with a small advert and minimal expectations. It took me a while to find the right firm and I had a couple of false starts with others. For a long time I took every single case, no matter where it was in the country in an effort to build a client base. I thought, if I did a good job, they might recommend me to someone else, and it would be a tiny snowball that would gradually roll and get bigger. Client by client.

People would say to me, “I don’t know how you can drive around the country like this you need to be local”. But the truth was, every time I drove to a new prison, to meet new clients, I knew they truly were my clients. Also, I didn’t want to limit myself just to my local area, I actively wanted to expand my practice and grow my client base beyond Liverpool. I’d never have been to HMP Northumberland, HMP Bure or the Isle of Sheppey if I hadn’t! It has been a much more stimulating experience to get out and see other parts of England, and not have to visit the same prisons over and over again which gets to feel a little groundhog day. Even though HMP Northumberland won’t do video links to facilitate legal visits, it is still my favourite place!

But over time and with experience, I have learned which cases to take on and which to say no to. I understand now what will be cost effective and what will be a waste of my time. Some clients are easily identifiable as energy vampires who move around from firm to firm, every review. I really try not to take on those clients because they can be very draining. Instead, I prefer to cultivate clients who stick with me and appreciate the way that I work.

There are challenging aspects to self employment certainly, but also wonderful trade offs such as flexibility and freedom in the way that you choose to work. It can be very stressful though when you are solely responsible for generating all of your own cases. But every single day I feel genuinely grateful not having to walk into that firm, which still has my surname initial in its title, despite my being long gone.

I’m ready to mix it up a bit in 2022 and I hope to start a Masters degree in a different area of law. One which I hope will lead to new work and new opportunities which will compliment my prison law practice. I’ll be doing it part time and still working.

This year has been undoubtedly challenging for all of us, and I hope you all managed to navigate it in the best way possible. I was able to get some travelling in this summer, which was a welcome relief, and my eldest son started his second year at University. One of the best parts of this year for me has been getting on to the motorway on the occasional Saturday morning and spending the weekend with him. I’ve loved being out of the City and enjoying time with students who are full of joy and excitement for their future. It has definitely influenced my decision to continue my education and it has been very uplifting.

This prison law blog has increased in viewings year after year so thank you for the interest. I’m now averaging 400 visitors a month which is incredible, mainly from the UK but some from all over the world. I don’t know what 2022 will bring our way in these uncertain times but I wish you all a happy, prosperous and especially ‘healthy’ New Year. Merry Christmas!

Janine

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