From the Law to the Lens - A Court Lawyer's Journey to Award-Winning Photography

September 18, 2023  •  4 Comments

In the Dock - A Court Lawyer's Journey from the Law to the Lens

On the 15th anniversary of going into business I thought I would write a blog on the reasons I moved from the profession of Solicitor to Photographer.

It is a question I am always asked. It triggers almost confusion - why would someone who had worked so hard for a prestigious career, throw that away and embark on a path so risky?

Now the 15th anniversary has arrived this seems like a good time to explore that very question.

It has not been an easy blog to write - few blogs are. But it was a challenge to set out the reasons, briefly, whilst giving them room to make sense. I also wanted to steer away from a relentless moanathon: so I've just set out a couple of circumstances (among many) which gave rise to the decision to hang up my court robes.

The Background

From the age of about 20 I knew I wanted to be a Lawyer.

Whilst at University my mind focussed further and I aimed to become a Court specialist known in Scotland as an Advocate (or a Barrister in other countries).

I qualified as a Solicitor in 2000 and by 2008 had "chucked it".

What went wrong? Or what went right....?"

This is therefore a story of my journey to leaving a profession which had taken 7 years to train for.  And an inquiry what (if anything!) I have learned along the way: from life to business lessons. 

In summary it was a litany of small and big factors which combined to simply put me off spending more time in the profession - the prospect of getting embedded in a Partnership was terrifying as I'd be locked in and those seniors at Partnership level looked less than happy; and certainly weren't awash with cash. I'd sit in the Agents' Room in Court and watch these blokes (and blokes they typically were at that stage) swearing and moaning about how the Legal Aid Board didn't pay enough (which was true) and that was a groundhog day conversation - amongst other moans too. Not the future I had aspired to. 

Hope you enjoy it - leave comments please and share any thoughts you may have. I'd love to hear them.

Bringing Focus to a Law Career 

I was always into photography.

As a teenager I got the use of a Single Lens Reflex camera. In other words a "big" camera. A film camera of course so I learned how to develop my own black and white film (which I did at home) and would print these off in school in the darkroom.  I could afford about one black and white film a month (24 to 36 pictures) so I had to be slow and deliberate to make these shots count.

My interest continued through my teens. I did a photo shoot with a ski instructor, whilst on a school trip abroad, to capture some aerial tricks. Fab pics indeed there were but I forgot to put a roll of film in...

I did a few hum-drum jobs post school which, when asked how they were, I'd reply "they pay the rent".

I quickly realised, though, that was just about all they did. It was time for a re-think. 

I went to college to get some qualifications and had in mind, Law.

I passed what was needed to get into University, was interviewed by the Law Department, and thereafter granted a place studying Scots Law at the University of Strathclyde.

I was so chuffed. This was a well-respected University, doing a tough course (which had academic kudos) and could therefore put to bed the suspicion I had in my mind that I had under-achieved academically.

I was the first in my family to reach University too.

Law - a profession on trial

Law as an academic subject was a great choice and Court Law was my preferred area to aim for; specialising in high level court cases at the Faculty of Advocates. 

I thrived in University graduating with an Upper Second Class Honours Degree in Scots Law followed by a Post Graduate Diploma in Legal Practice in 1998.

BLOG DEGREEBLOG DEGREE

The first in my family to go to University: I saw it as a major achievement. 


I was on the Committee of the University Law Society. This was unpaid of course but you did get free booze for an hour at the Law Society Ball....and I can assure you, that's plenty of time to do some damage. 

I also picked up a prize for Jurisprudence which is Legal Theory. This subject was needed to enter the Faculty of Advocates. It was rather grandly titled "The Royal Faculty of Procurators of Glasgow Prize for Jurisprudence". I was delighted: it was a prize-winning achievement in a tough subject, within a tough course. 

Now before I go any further I need to make it clear that getting a job as a Solicitor is a privilege. You earn the grades etc. but having that title is hard won. And it never escaped my attention that folk in trouble, whether divorcing, facing jail or having the kids removed entrusted their hardest circumstances to my care - I always gave it 100%. Never left a stone unturned. And never gave in for a client. The gripes to follow are aimed not at the job, or the clients, but largely at the environment; whether Legal Aid rules or bosses too tight-fisted to keep offices properly run and staff up-to-date in law. 

Caveat over! 

I secured my first Law job as a Trainee Solicitor in a firm in Greenock in 1998. 

David Lyons was my "mentor" as a Trainee Solicitor and high up in the Law Society of Scotland. Well respected. 

The seeds of doubt were however sown on day three of my traineeship when Mr Lyons threw me under the metaphorical bus. He assured me (flamboyantly) he would accompany me to consult with a bunch of highly frustrated and angry clients (he kept that quiet) who had for months been neglected. They had employed no legally qualified staff in that office for months. I expected to learn from him how to deal with clients (I'd never had a client in front of me in my life) and I'd hear all about Separation Agreements and Civil Procedure. But, unsurprisingly I would later learn, he was nowhere to be seen. I faced the angry mob myself! Three days in. First taste of client contact - LOL. All the "Client Counselling" stuff I'd learned at Uni - straight out the window! The tutors hadn't foreseen this.... Traineeship by survival. 

So that effectively became my office - with my level of expertise being measured at nil I'd take care of the (hitherto neglected) Court side of things. My mate, Dave, also unqualified, was in charge of Conveyancing...! What a carry on. 

Its a baptism of fire. I had the control of a wide range of shocking cases from Serial Sexual Abuse by a Social worker to long term medical issues caused by Negligence. I had no issue with the baptism in principle. Its a good way to learn. But that level of "being on your own, mate" became a recurring theme and usually driven by penny-pinching and disinterestedness at senior partnership level. 

My first foray into oral advocacy was for a Bus Driver who had lost his licence to carry passengers due to a small theft from his employer. The Council took the view that he was not a fit and proper person to be dealing with the public. I was instructed by him at the Appeal which was at the Glasgow City Chambers. I presented my client's Appeal - and won. The hairs stood up on the back of my neck and the client and his wife were in tears - he could earn a living again. I had made a difference. I was convinced this was the right career for me. 

I handled the Court side at the Paisley office and for the next two years I did a pretty good job at keeping that office afloat. Not a bad return for the firm paying £8000 a year to a Trainee Solicitor.

My two year traineeship was not continued to a Qualified role. They were at least candid. It would be cheaper to get another £8k trainee in. And so thats what they did.

I wasn't that bothered. The firm was a shambles in my view. For reasons only known to the partners, I was paid by cheque and of the 24 cheques issued over my two year stint, my salary bounced three times......"I don't understand that" said once the overly coiffeured staff partner. "I do" I replied......"there's no cash in the bank...".

So the firm in my view was on a shaky financial nail. 

To bring you up-to-date on Mr Lyons' current whereabouts, follow this link to a BBC News page....here...

The next role I had was as a Qualified Solicitor and that was again a Court role.

I was in a large firm with multiple offices and plenty of colleagues of a similar age and experience. So far so good. They kept moving you about though: you just got the handle on your case load in office A and a few months later they would move you to office B and so on. You never therefore managed to feel on top of your case load. It was stressful constantly meeting new clients and going over old ground with them. I'm sure they didn't like it much either. Constant catch-up. But not a good way of building a relationship with a client to take thing forward. Lots of time wasting. Just seemed fruitless. And it, quite understandably, annoyed the clients. And who took the flack?

I rarely got involved in criminal cases although I was interested in that side of Law.  There were Criminal Law specialist in most firms who jealously guarded their patch - because on the whole they were relatively easy cases compared to say, negligence but when it came to Trials I would receive a phonecall from the Managing Partner in the morning telling me to meet him at Hamilton Sheriff Court "not later than 940". Drop everything and go. 

On arrival I'd be presented with half a dozen or so trials (from numerous offices) and told to run them if needed. I'd never met these clients before. Nothing in the files apart from a Complaint (the legal charge sheet) and a Legal Aid Certificate. Pre-trial reparation was, shall we say, "efficient". Not how I expected to have to work. No preparation and running trials? Stressful and unpleasant. "You're no' ma lawyer" was a justified remark 10mins before a case might be called..... Law by survival. 

When I asked the Partner at that firm how many days annual leave I had (I was wanting to book time off, unsurprisingly) his response was "Fu&k knows, I don't even know what I'm entitled to...". 

You might say "why didn't you just look at your employment contract?".

To date I have never had one from a law firm. 

I could go on - but it would be (more) boring and a lot of it is death by a thousand cuts.

It's a hint of the profession as it certainly then was: and perhaps still is.

I never try to dissuade someone from gong into Law but I do encourage them to get some work experience (for say a couple of months) not just a week: if you did that the firm will pap you off with the Court Assistant and it will all seem coffee, chats and no work. I also suggest Corporate - definitely not Legal Aid. Back in the day, certainly, Legal Aid rules were written, as one of my bosses said, "to make sure you don't get paid". And I think he was right. 

Time for a change.

So I sold my flat. Chucked my job. And left the country.

Travel - An Escaped Lawyer's Journey towards Photography

The decision to sell the flat and go travelling was taken over a pint in the South Side of Glasgow. 

It was an easy decision. The flat was placed on the market and within about 6 weeks was handed over to the buyer.

We had a few quid in the bank (some stashed in "investments' which in the post 9/11 world made, eh..... nothing)  and we set off for the USA in February 2002.

That's when I bought a decent film camera. 

And so my journey to professional photography began, albeit, rather shakily. 

America was great - we (when I say we I mean my partner Debs and I) skydived, and skydived some more. We visited New Orleans, travelled to the Grand Canyon and watched a thunder storm come in and ended up in California enjoying the sunset festival at Huntington beach among others. 

Me coming into land at Skydive Zephyrhills, Florida with my new kit. 

Photographically it was all there - the Grand Canyon; vast open Arizona Landscapes; stunning Californian Sunsets. But I made the mistake of not really knowing what I was doing. I shot in the midday sun (not good but sometimes, though, you have to). I also failed to take control of exposure: sometimes you need to over, or under expose. I hadn't sorted that out. So there were a lot of missed opportunities. But thats how you learn. 

GRAND CANYONGRAND CANYON The Grand Canyon - I had an idea about using folk for scale here - you can see a few figures standing on the top/edge of the cliff. 

We then flew to New Zealand.

We arrived with very little cash. We had not worked in the USA (they're quite tight on that sort of thing, you know, without the right paperwork). We made a few phonecalls on arrival and managed to secure a job working in an orchard near Christchurch, picking apples. That was hard graft. That lasted about two months and meantime we had secured a job at a Ski Field west of Christchurch near to where the Lord Of The Rings Films were shot. In fact, some of the crew stayed in the hotel we rented a room at, the year before. 

ORCHARDORCHARD Apple Picking in Lincoln, South Island of New Zealand about May 2002. We would get from about 19-22 NZ dollars per bin - which you can see almost filled here - and at 2.7 dollars to the pound, that was hard graft. 

The ski field  job was great. I was a lift operator at Porter Heights Ski Field. Debs, rather disappointingly, worked in the Cafe but managed to ski at lunchtime.

Expect the Unexpected 

I then received a phonecall during the night and we all know thats never good.

My mum had suffered a brain haemorrhage and was "touch and go".

So we made the decision to quit the ski field and get back to the UK.

RAKIAI GIORGERAKIAI GIORGE South Island of New Zealand, near Christchurch - stunning 

We returned to Scotland and mum was thankfully stable. Job-wise, I took up a position in a firm of Lawyers in East Kilbride which was a 6 month "Locum" position. 

I had to tidy up a lot of loose ends in that role....a lot of balls had been dropped by the previous solicitor but I managed to get things into great shape in the period I was there. My colleagues were brilliant. My immediate boss was a lunatic in the nicest way possible and I was allowed (by him on the fly) lots of freedom.

That was OK that job. There was a lot of kindness displayed by my immediate boss - if he saw I was getting a bit "cranky" with clients he'd suggest I put a fake court hearing in the diary and take the day off. So I did. Glasgow Sheriff Court seemed to have a need for me on Fridays....

During this six month period my mum got back on her feet, and back to work, so we resumed our travels and headed back to New Zealand, this time with a little more experience.

Travel Part 2 - Back Down Under 

We arrived in Christchurch, New Zealand and I bought a book on Camera Technique: that's where my photography really improved.

Each month I would concentrate on one chapter. That could be composition, exposure, genres (such as macro) and such like. I recorded all my exposures (I still have the book) and compared what I had done to the transparencies (slides) I had shot. I then reflected on the results and improved.

 

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 The Moeraki Boulders - New Zealand - these are more or less complete balls of rock in the sand - I waited til the tide came in so I could get the sea in the pic. Mounted the camera on a tripod, for steadiness.  Set the shutter speed to maybe about an 1/8 of a second. Put on a graduated filter to calm down the sky a bit and all of that achieved the softness in the waves


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Familiar to those who have seen the Lord of the Rings movies - this is the Coromandel Peninsula in New Zealand. 

We headed over the Australia and succeeded in getting jobs in a Cattle Station in Queensland, which is probably the best job I have ever had. Simple work. Wide open spaces. Dealing with cattle. Uncomplicated. One TV channel and two radio channels if you're lucky. And home brew to take the edge off the outback temperature. What more do you need?

The Cattle Station was the highlight. We worked the cattle and enjoyed the simple lifestyle. 

TRAVELAUSTRALIA_0189_1HINKS_AUSTRLAI CATTLE STATION NEBO SALE YARDS HORSETRAVELAUSTRALIA_0189_1HINKS_AUSTRLAI CATTLE STATION NEBO SALE YARDS HORSECyberViewX v5.18.08
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The Cattle Sale at Nebo, Queensland - Debbie worked the yard with the Ringers and Jillaroos and I concentrated on photography. 

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Trying out a local delicacy - a freshly cooked bull-calf testicle - these were a traditional Scooby Snack for Ringers and Cattle Handlers whilst working the cattle - no time for breaks for lunch so you cooked these on the branding iron oven as you worked and grabbed one as you went  - I wasn't that impressed. Our immediate boss, Terry, was confused by my reaction. Until he took a bit of mine and said "oh, mate, she's not cooked yet...."

 

We also worked up in Darwin in the Northern Territory where we witnessed magnificent storms and exotic flora and fauna. There's a certain disregard for rules up in Darwin (even by Australian standards) with typical Aussie humour chucked in. In Darwin we were Gardeners and learned about Nightcliff Gardeners Disease which could cause you to lose your limbs - even the soil in Australia wants to have a go at you. It was a tough 4 months but the weather was exciting, the storms angry and the people we met, pals for life. 

Barkly Highway, AustraliaberkleyBarkly Highway, AustraliaberkleyEPSON scanner image

Barkly Tablelands on the way inland towards the red centre of Australia, then north, heading up to Darwin. 

 

Thailand was next on our list followed by 7 weeks in the Nepal Himalaya where we reached Gokyo Lakes at about 18000ft, 14 kms I think from Everest. 

As one door closes, another one opens.

Our travels came to an end in May 2004 and on return I had my sights set on a career in photography, although, once again, I had to return to Law.

I went back to the firm I had been a Locum in, after a short period heading up a Debt Collection Department in South Lanarkshire Council's Law Team. For two months I think I did....eh, nothing. There was nothing to do. I had to leave. 

In 2004 I received advice from a Glasgow-based Commercial and Fine Art Photographer, Steven Gillies, who encouraged me to chuck my law job and "be happy but poor"...LOL. But the time was not right. I had to balance the books and had no idea how to earn money from Photography. 

He also passed me a "Call to Artists" by the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall for artistic work to be submitted for selection to accompany its International Classical Season of Concerts.  So I owe him a debt of gratitude. 

CONCERT HALL LETTER SAFE TO USECONCERT HALL LETTER SAFE TO USE

The letter from the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall confirming two of my images had been selected to support the Internationalism Season. 

I was delighted to receive a letter saying two of my five pieces were selected and one was to be used to help Market the event.

That was the first, independent, recognition that my work could stand up to scrutiny. On the opening night I was delighted to see my image of Cho You (a mountain on the Tibet/Nepal Border above 8000 metres tall) hanging from the side of the Concert Hall. 

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Cho Oyu on the Nepal/Tibet border - this piece was exhibited in the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall as part of the 2004 Internationalism Season. 

And below you can see how it was used to market and promote the event. 

INTERNATIONALISM INVITATIONINTERNATIONALISM INVITATION

 

The other piece to be exhibited was "Rickshaw Driver" again from Nepal. 

EPSON scanner image

Fast Track four more years and in August 2008 I chucked my law job on the Friday and made my first outbound sales call on the following Monday.

Since then I have enjoyed Access All Areas to a lot of things - I have photographed King Charles, Billy Connelly and been flown to Brussels to shoot the Interior of Scotland House. NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde had me on the Royal Rota when the late Queen, Elizabeth opened the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital in Glasgow. I shot the Cook Book for the Cook School Scotland and enjoyed shooting top dishes at the Michelin Starred Honours Restaurant in Edinburgh for Quality Meat Scotland. 

PR PHOTOGRAPHYPR PHOTOGRAPHYPR Photography in Scotland and the UK.

Billy Connelly, photographed with his daughter before receiving an Honorary Graduation - I was the only photographer in the room for these photos. 

 

PR PHOTOGRAPHYPR PHOTOGRAPHYPR Photography in Scotland and the UK.

Photographed whilst working for the press on the "Royal Rota". Then, Prince, now King, Charles. 

I  have been delighted that my work has been printed in the Herald, Scotsman, Telegraph and various red-tops and magazines. It has become part of marketing strategies and assisted charities in getting great PR. 

The travel pics, too,  were also put to good use after the devastating Earthquake in Nepal during April 2015.

I had a decent body of travel pics, some of which had been exhibited, and I wondered if I could use these to raise some cash for charity. I chose UNICEF and corresponded with the Nepalese Ambassador here who was happy to support my campaign; so I sold images, prints, all profit from which went to the UNICEF Appeal for Children as I knew the children there had already a disadvantaged start in life compared to what we enjoy in the West. 

NEPAL APPEAL KILMARNOCK STANDARD FEATURENEPAL APPEAL KILMARNOCK STANDARD FEATUREImage by Guy Hinks. The Kilmarnock Standard gave me loads of support for the fund-raining effort for the Nepalese Children of Nepal, a lot of whom were orphaned by the earthquake. 

I raised over £500 in selling prints at no profit and charging a modest amount (£10 a print from memory) so they could be accessed by all.

And now I specialise in Headshots and People Photography which takes lessons learned from my other jobs, particularly in Law. As a Court solicitor you are rarely dealing with folk when things are going well. You have to deal with folk in stressed situations, as far as to say, whilst they are in the dock facing prison. So you need to be able to get folk onside quickly, concentrate on the issues at hand, despite the pressure, and communicate effectively with all types of folk from a Sheriff making the decision in Court, to your client who may be living on the streets.

CAM2045022.5.23_CIGNA_LARGE copyCAM2045022.5.23_CIGNA_LARGE copy22.5.23 CIGNA GLASGOW A Headshot taken of senior management in Glasgow. 

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A Portrait used for Editorial Purposes - an academic in Glasgow 

These types of people skills do not come quickly, cannot be bought or fast-tracked and are simply things which you pick up, depending on your job which for me, was special. 

So I can reflect, and despite all the moans about the Profession, that I was privileged to be part of it. To have been entrusted by so many clients to help them navigate complex parts of their lives. To be accepted into a Profession which is tough to enter. To have the ear of the Sheriffs and stand up on your feet and use oratory skills to persuade a Sheriff to a course of action. 

And to have learned the various lessons from it over the years. 

Lessons Learned

If you are considering being self-employed I'd suggest the following one lesson may be useful to keep in mind:-

Discard The Negatives

You will have the doubters and naysayers who, in my experience, are probably a bit jealous of your strength of ambition and willingness to take a risk.

Have positivity surround you. Keep the positive folk close. 

If you do that, most other things will follow. Positive folk will offer advice. They will support you. Pass you business. Encourage you. They will respect your decisions whether that be to keep going or change path.

Final Frame

I have always taken the view that "life is not the rehearsal, it's the real thing".

So I changed what was wrong and took a risk on what I hoped would be better. It has worked (so far) and I have no doubt it will continue to do so.

If your life is not going to plan, make a change. And if you want to reach out to chat it over, you know where I am. 

My final thoughts are to simply say "thank you" to my best pal and partner who accompanied me on this long journey from being a disgruntled lawyer to traveller to photographer and father - Debs - she's someone who goes through life not knowing when to say "no" and just lets things go with, or without, a plan. There were character-building times when the photography (which started during the 2008 economic crash) was, well, challenging. She never waivered and always had faith and unconditional support - so a big thanks, Debs. 

 

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Terry, Bob, Debs and Me - taken on our final day at the Cattle Station, 2003. 



If you enjoyed this blog feel free to have a look at my last blog titled Why a Professional Headshots Should be your Next Business Move

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Thanks for taking the time to read and of course please leave a comment below.

Guy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Comments

Bill Christie FCBI(non-registered)
A remarkable journey and so delighted that you found your vocation. Your time in the legal profession would also have enabled you to assess people and business and this has been successfully carried forward
Steven McCaffary(non-registered)
What a great read Guy. Have you ever thought about a writing a book. It’s been my pleasure to have known you for about 30 years mainly through skydiving. I often looked forward to hearing about the clients that you represented in court. It always made me chuckle.
Personally I thought that you’d completely lost the plot when you said that you were chucking law to travel around the world with Debs.
Although it’s came as no surprise to me that working on a ranch was your favourite job. I’ve always thought us skydivers had a bit of a cowboy on us.
I’m so pleased to see you enjoying success as a professional photographer. You’re down to earth common sense approach to life and your grit and determination I think has been one of you’re greatest assets. Having Debs beside you has also been the other most important asset.
I have no doubt that you will enjoy more success in the years to come.
Blue Skies Guy.
Cheers.
Stevie.
Jonathan Mitchell(non-registered)
I see why you said on a previous post that it would take a while. It's a great read and should be added to the reading list of any law students. When I initially saw the Moeraki Boulders pic I thought you'd snapped Nessie and kept quiet about it.
Gavin Elden(non-registered)
Well done Guy. A great open and honest read. I glad things are still going well. There’s nothing worse than being stuck. I know only to well. I often wonder how the hell I ended up being in hospitality for this long. Been looking for a way out for years.
Anyway I take some inspiration from your tale. I feel the leap is coming. I don’t quite know what it looks like yet. I just know I’m tired of treading water.
Catch up at some point. All the best to you all.
Cheers Gavin
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