Mind and Mood

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In January this year, Lawyer 2B reported that calls to LawCare advice helpline, a service which offers support for lawyers, had risen by 12% last year. Half of those calls were related to stress and depression. But actually, I was really disappointed in what little I could find out on the internet about mental illness in the legal profession, and some of what I did find suggested that mental well-being is still very much a ‘taboo subject’.

 

“If you suffer from mental health problems, there’s not enough help to hand.”

Prime Minister, Theresa May

A noteworthy omission from the recent Queen’s Speech were the provisions for furthering support for the country’s mental health services, as the Prime Minister had failed to renew her pledge given in the election campaign. I am critical of the Prime Minister who, last year, pledged to “deal with Britain’s longstanding productivity problem”, even though there are credible reports going back over fourteen years which have indicated, time and time again, that mental health is detrimental to productivity in the workplace. 

My underlying intention in this article is to highlight to my readers that mental well-being is a very important cornerstone of our lives, and it can hinder our ability to succeed. Coming from my own personal experiences, I put it to all of my readers that opening up and sharing our experiences can be hugely beneficial to our mental well-being – so here is my story.

My story

 I was feeling very nourished coming back from my experience in China, and that made me feel very confident about my third year and as a result I was setting myself a number of very ambitious goals: I was involved in a Mentoring Scheme with Aspiring Solicitors; I was making a start on my training contract applications; I had a roster of opportunities with the University and London law firms to look forward to; I took on an extra two hours of Chinese language lessons a week; whilst working at Greggs one day a week – I was taking on a lot! My ‘old life’, which I now call it, was described by my counsellor as a “bucket full of water just waiting to overflow”.

It was around November last year that it all started to crumble. I was stood at the train station and had just been informed that my train to London had been cancelled. Bear in mind that the week before hand I was ’stung’ by Virgin Trains when I had to travel on materially the same train from Preston instead of Lancaster.

I had become increasingly worried about what impression this would give to the people who had offered me those opportunities. I started to become very anxious and constantly on edge: I was struggling to sleep because I was worrying that I was losing traction, and I felt that my attitudes were hindering my ability to build healthy connections with the people around me. Eventually I reached a point where I had enough of pleasing people when I couldn’t even please myself.

Keeping life balanced

I thought that “taking water out of the bucket” would help me to eradicate the problem completely, and whilst it did help, it actually opened up a whole load of doubts that I had about the direction of my life. I was saying to people “What am I going to do – I am this ‘Solicitor To Be’ that doesn’t want to be a solicitor anymore!” and I felt like I was disappointing all of the people around me that were rooting for me.

I realised that it was time to take care of me first, but being unaware of what the next nine months would bring, I became very isolated and started sitting by myself in lectures. I hated having to interact with other students, and being isolated allowed those negative thoughts to snowball over time. Toxic thinking made me very ill and I was becoming even more withdrawn from the course. The only gratification I had was the money I was earning in my new job with the University’s Student Recruitment team – and I enjoyed spending that on ways to distract myself from my problems.

Getting help

My course leader, Stephanie Jones, invited me to go over a personality test similar to those which many commercial firms have incorporated within their recruitment processes. This was one of the additional opportunities that I had signed up for about a month before my issues had begun, and I was in a much clearer mind-set when I had completed it. As I said, I did not actually want help at first, but my course leader had chased me up on the appointment to go over the results so that I could get a picture of what kind of profile potential employers might see. I think Stephanie could tell that there were significant changes to my attitudes since I last saw her – I believed that she understood me and what I was going through, and this had given me an opportunity to reflect on the ups and downs.

We spent almost all of the lunch period going through each area of my personality, and afterwards, reconciling this with my friends and family was helping me to make sense of the negative behaviours I had adopted. When I started sharing my problems with the people who knew and understood me, it translated to healthy positive thoughts. My thoughts were clearer and I was becoming less passive and more active. I do still really regret becoming socially withdrawn from studies, and I am still struggling to reintegrate with the cohort.

Take back control

Now that I am thinking more clearly, I have had to make some tough decisions, but they are the right decisions for me. My ambitions meanwhile are to return to China to start a one year teaching post after graduation – this a similar route that trainees I have met in London firms have also pursued.

Since then things have been falling in to place. I have been invited by the British Council to be the University’s Campus Ambassador, which I am told will increase my success in an application for the teaching post. In the other hand, I have my Immigration Law and Practice module coming up this year.

Although it is not the most conventional career aspiration, I am hoping that with all of these opportunities under the belt, I can find a career which will satisfy both my love for the law and my love for China.

Helpful Links:

Young Minds

NHS – A guide to mental health services in England

Special thanks 

My family, including my mother and sister who are outstanding contributors to the Mental Health profession.

University academics, including Stephanie Jones and Fiona Bledge, for their compassion during difficult times.

University of Central Lancashire Counselling Service.

 

 

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Resilience, skills and employability through the ‘China experience’

A fantastic blog from Monira Ahmed, an international careers enthusiast within the University of Central Lancashire Careers Service. Thank you for the opportunity to collaborate!

Everything Careers

For anyone looking to enrich their university education and gain a unique set of skills and experiences, China is definitely a place to visit.

China’s global education and economic influence is still continuing; it dominates the list of leading universities in the developing world, and it’s strategic importance for UK companies is well illustrated with the ‘One Belt, One Road’ initiative; launched by the Chinese president in 2013, it sets out to improve and create new trade routes, links and business opportunities between China and over 60 countries across Europe, Asia, Middle East and Africa. As the report highlights, the ‘potential exists for powerful partnerships between British and Chinese companies.’

With a wide range of study and work experience programmes, China has become more accessible for today’s students and graduates. And the good news is that steps have been taken to provide opportunities for students who may not ordinarily consider going to the country.

One initiative has been the…

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‘Preparing students for entry to the solicitors’ profession’ with The Law Society

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Earlier this year, The Law Society of England and Wales invited all aspiring solicitors to attend their free October event ‘Preparing students for entry into the solicitors’ profession’ in their London office, a short walk from Chancery Lane. This was an extremely insightful event – to all of those who missed it, you have the convenience of being able to read all about it here on my blog!

The opening talk was delivered by president of The Law Society, Robert Bourns. Faced with the future generation of the solicitors’ profession, Mr Bourns encouraged us to embrace rather than fear changes in the legal landscape. Advances in social media and artificial intelligence are certainly going to shape the way Britain does business, and solicitors will need to develop new ways of providing legal services. Challenging times are certainly ahead, but Mr Bourns’ advice is for aspiring solicitors to ‘get stuck in’ and become part of the change in the legal landscape.

It was then over to Paul Gascoyne, graduate recruitment manager at Shearman & Sterling, who gave his tips on successful training contract and vacation scheme applications. Ben Campbell and Diane Goodier of the University of Law were on hand to provide information about professional training including the Legal Practice Course (LPC), and TARGETjobs Law editor Julia Sadler shared her thoughts on what law firms are looking for in today’s job market. Their introductory remarks were following by a morning Q&A panel on the application process.

When asked what makes a candidate interview memorable, Paul Gascoyne was of the opinion that thoughtful answers which displayed a deep understanding of the firm were key. An interviewee who gave thoughtful answers and asked thoughtful questions were most memorable as they really get the interviewer engaged. One thing to avoid; do not walk into an interview with a copy of the Financial Times under arm to look commercially aware unless you are prepared to explain its contents.

I asked the panel ‘How could an applicant demonstrate an interest within particular practice areas other than reading newspapers or studying related electives?’. Husnara pointed the question to University of Law’s own Dianne Goodier. Whilst it is useful to graduate recruiters to show that you are interested in their areas of strength, in reality “…nobody knows what it’s like until they are actually doing it”. Whether a trainee enjoys a particular practice area is mostly down to “the people within that department”. The best way seems to be: attend open days where you can actually speak with trainees about their seats*; do some research; follow some relevant transactions in the media; and where possible, gain some hands on experience in that particular industry.

When delegates asked about the implications that BREXIT might have on trainee numbers, Julia Sadler pointed out that around the time of the Black Wednesday crisis, intake figures were slashed in some law firms. Firms suffered as a result of this, as she explains that in the following decade there was little talent left for firms to utilise. Julia came to the conclusion that it is ‘business as usual’ for now; reflecting on the past, it would not make sense for recruiters to suddenly start slashing trainee intake numbers once again. That said, she reaffirmed that nobody really knows what BREXIT is going to bring to the profession over the coming years.

My second question ‘Psychometric Testing: Some recruiters say preparation is unnecessary, careers services say otherwise. What are your attitudes towards this style of recruitment and what approach should students take?’. Former Head of Graduate Recruitment at Nabarro, Jane Drew’s perspective was that these tests “are old news, and something we all have to get used to”. However, both Jane and Paul agreed that they had both seen little or no correlation between test and talent, and subsequently a number of firms have started to either withdraw or develop psychometric testing in their own recruitment processes. Jane further added that the focus for the solicitors’ profession is on the situational judgement and verbal reasoning tests – these you can practice!

The Law Society had kindly put together a networking lunch, where delegates had the opportunity to find out what life as a trainee is really like. For students considering their target firms for submitting vacation scheme and training contract applications, this is a great opportunity to look behind the glossy brochures and get the real impression of a law firm’s culture and strategy.

The afternoon session was opened by Martin Jordison, a solicitor for the Government Legal Service (GLS). There are around two thousand lawyers within the GLS, and the majority of those lawyers provide ‘advisory and litigation services to all of the main Whitehall departments’. A career with GLS certainly sounds like an appetising alternative for those not considering the commercial routes into law.

It was then over to Ian Powell of Tuckers Solicitors, who shared his compelling story of how he landed himself a career in the law. I will admit that Mr Powell was quite an unnerving character at first glance, as he asked members of the audience to come forward with their reasons for choosing to study law. Mr Powell kindly shared his personal experience of how he came into the legal profession as a once young ‘trouble maker’ now the business development manager at Tuckers.

Followed by a refreshment break, Jessica Booker gave a short introduction to the topic of ‘commercial awareness’. Having attended many of these events aimed at highlighting the importance of commercial awareness, Jessica’s model was by far the best explanation offered. Jessica had set out three interlocking circles: an interest in the commercial world; knowledge of commercial matters; and analytical skills. Whilst the target is the overlap in all three, rather law firms are looking at least for a interest in the commercial world. The best approach is to pick a few deals that interest you the most, follow them closely as they progress and be prepared to give an opinion on them in an interview. So is BREXIT a matter that you could follow as part of your commercial awareness? Of course it is important to keep a following, but the panel felt that it would form a cliche that would be best avoided for applicants who ought to be trying to stand out.

On the topic of firm culture, something which I expressed my views on in an earlier post, students wanted to know about ways they could develop their understanding of the culture of a law firm. It can be quite difficult to find out what is behind the glossy brochures, and in my opinion its always best heard from the horse’s mouth. Hogan Lovells’ trainee, Michael Hornsey pointed out that although trainees will have encountered many different cultures during their seats, trainees are generally ‘very chirpy’ individuals that come and go. When presented with the opportunity, observe the attitudes of the NQs (newly qualified) and associates closely. Too many leaving parties in one week could be a warning sign to look out for, added Oscar Hayward, trainee at international US firm Sullivan & Cromwell.

Acknowledgements

A thank you to the events team at The Law Society of England & Wales – It is great to see the Society engaging with aspiring solicitors and providing second-to-none guidance. You can visit their website here.

I also owe a massive thanks to the University of Central Lancashire’s Lancashire Law School for offering to contribute towards students’ travel costs for the day. If you want to find out more about the UCLan experience, visit the Lancashire Law School website here.

* Seats refer to a six month period of training within a particular department of a law firm. There are usually four seats within the two year training contract period.

Generation UK meets with Sir Martin Donnelly

Photograph courtesy of the British Council
Courtesy of the British Council

Four successful applicants were selected from a pool of Generation UK funding recipients to attend the British Council’s Meeting with Sir Martin Donnelly in Chengdu this week. I was fortunate enough to be one of those lucky applicants. I would like to share the insights that I gained from the opportunity to meet Sir Martin Donnelly through the Generation UK-China programme in Chengdu with my fellow network members.

Generation UK is a global outward mobility campaign which was established by the British Council in 2013. The British Council’s work is inspiring younger generations to become more culturally agile so that they can compete in an increasingly borderless marketplace. Without Generation UK I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to experience life in China.

Sir Martin Donnelly KCB CMG (Joint Permanent Secretary for the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, Acting Permanent Secretary at the Department for International Trade) wanted to hear our thoughts on the internships supported by the British Council and asked for our opinion on how Generation UK could promoted outward mobility for young British nationals in China (particularly in the South West).

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Courtesy of the British Council

I am personally a massive enthusiast for funded opportunities like these for many reasons. The British Council’s programmes are reflective of the Government’s view that global-minded graduates are needed more than ever. In today’s modern world where continents are reachable at the tips of your fingers, international cultural awareness is more important than ever. The government recognises that if UK businesses are to remain competitive, graduates entering the professions must have a competitive skills set which they can bring to the role.

I also expressed how grateful interns are for the Generation UK scheme, which enables talented students from disadvantaged backgrounds to experience life in China. I highlighted to Sir Martin that leading law firms are recently becoming more conscientious in their recruitment process and are looking for a more diverse pool of trainees. There are a number of organisations such as Aspiring Solicitors who are helping to tackle these barriers, and I also believe that the Generation UK funding schemes are also playing a part in this movement.

Photograph courtesy of the British Council
Courtesy of the British Council

Sir Martin wanted to know what else we could do to promote outward mobility to China. I thought to myself that the answer to this question is sitting around this very table. The British Council, if it is to successfully achieve its target of 80,000 internships by 2020, needs to work closely with the alumni members to promote the Generation UK program. Promoting a country which often receives bad press in the UK can be a mundane task, which is why Alumni members are needed to challenge the negative perceptions of China. It would be great to see the British Council at more events, along with recipients of Generation UK funding, to show prospective applicants what China has to offer.

My final thoughts on the importance of engaging with Chinese companies through internships are clear. As the only member state to decide to unilaterally withdraw from the European Union, our Government now has a blank canvas to play around with. The next generation of graduates are crucially the paint that will form the canvas of our Country in the long term.

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Courtesy of the British Council

That burden of withdrawal from the Union will require the UK government to guard its competitive edge by encouraging talented graduates to grow their international awareness. Given that both China and the UK have both revealed their optimism of a free trade deal, a relationship with China in the near future looks promising and this may demand graduates to bring their experiences of China to the working world.

REPOST: InternChina introduces some of their Interns

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REPOST: I want to share with you a post by InternChina Chengdu. These interns are pretty awesome people who have been a pleasure to experience China with. If you are interested in an internship in China, visit www.InternChina.com and tell them I sent you!

Last time we’ve introduced our IC team to you… Now it’s time to learn more about you guys!

Thanks to Suzy, Brett, Peter, Steph and Ross for their time, now let’s discover what they have to say about themselves and their life in China!


Where are you from?

Brighton, England (actually I’m from Worthing but no one has heard of that)

What do/did you study?

Physics

Where are you interning at? What is your job there?

I am working as a marketing assistant at IObit.

What is your favourite Chinese dish?

I think one of the nicest meals I have had was grilled fish. Think normal barbecued fish but so much better.

What is your favourite place in China?

My favourite place I visited whilst in Chengdu was probably QingChengShan. The rewarding feeling of reaching the temple at the top is just an amazing bonus to the incredible scenery you find on the climb.

What is your top tip for Chengdu?

As cliché as it is, never say no. Put yourself out there and make friends with Chinese people because I guarantee that a lot of them will jump at the chance to treat you to dinner or a trip etc. The best food I had whilst in Chengdu was definitely the food bought for me from my Chinese friends.

How is life in China?

If I had to describe it in one word; unpredictable. You never know in the morning what crazy things might happen to you, what amazing food you might find, but most of all what the weather is going to be (I carried sun cream and an umbrella with me every day).But I think it is the element of uncertainty that gives it its charm.


Where are you from?

England , Brighton

What do/did you study?

Law

Where are you interning at? What is your job there?

Tahota Law Firm – Reviewing contracts and making suggestions, comparing the English and Chinese legal system, attending events and meetings to grasp how law works in China and researching investment opportunities in and outside of China.

What is your favourite Chinese dish?

Gongbaojiding – I once ate it three times in oneday YUM

What is your favourite place in China?

Jiu Zhai Gou – it’s absolutely stunning and I have never seen water so blue!

What is your top tip for Chengdu?

Eat everything even if you have no idea what it is.

How is life in China?

I love China – there’s always something to do and everyone is super welcoming and happy to help! I’m really sad to be leaving this weekend.


Where are you from?

I am from South Tyrol, a German minority in the north of Italy. North of us is

Austria and in the West Switzerland. My home is in the middle of the alps.

What do/did you study?

I study European Ethnology in Munich, Germany. The internship is part of my subject for learning more about other cultures. The subject means, that I learn how other cultures are changing my own. Like Chinese customs are getting famous in Germany and why they are.

Where are you interning at?  What is your job there?

I am doing my Internship at Comeplus. My job is at the moment to do market research. I am here with other interns and they showed me things, they did before the actual research program, so I am looking forward to have also other different projects to experience.

What is your favourite Chinese dish?

I am since some weeks in China, so I am far away from trying out all. I would for now favorites the dumplings in their different variations.

What is your favourite place in China?

I don’t have yet a favorite place, I have seen so less from that place. But it´s what I would suggest everybody: to not stay in one city or daily way to work, but to spend every free minute by travelling around.

What is your top tip for Chengdu?

You can´t visit Chengdu without trying out the Hotpot here.

How is life in China?

Different of course, but it is safe and interesting. To see different culture and different way of living. I enjoy the difference and challenge already, that the end of my time here is coming to quick.


Where are you from?

Newcastle, UK

What do/did you study?

I studied Ancient History and Archaeology

Where are you interning at? What is your job there?

I’m interning at British Chambers of Commerce as a Marketing Assistant, where I update the website with events and members news, send newsletters and make various WeChat posts.

What is your favourite Chinese dish?

This is hard as the food here is amazing! I think I’d have to go for dumplings though-any kind

What is your favourite place in China?

Kangding- it’s so beautiful and really chilled out, but still has some of that city vibe.

What is your top tip for Chengdu?

Be open to new experiences- nothing here is predictable, and it’s important to try everything that the city has to offer.

How is life in China?

Surprising! Every day is different here, and every day I see something that interests me or makes me smile. It is a very exciting city to be in, and something is always happening here.


Where are you from?

Lancaster in the North West of England.

What do/did you study?

I study Law.

Where are you interning at? What is your job there?

I’m interning at Jin Kai Law Firm as a research assistant.

What is your favourite Chinese dish?

My favourite Chinese dish is Sichuan Dry-Fried Green Beans (Gan bian si ji dou 干煸四季豆)

What is your favourite place in China?

My favourite place is Chengdu of course.

What is your top tip for Chengdu?

My top tip for Chengdu is to get to know the locals as much as possible, Chengdu is an amazing place and it’s the people here that make it come to life.

How is life in China?

Life in China is convenient, you can find pretty much anything you want (except clotted cream for Afternoon Teas)

Anything you want to add?

Thanks so much for an amazing 8 weeks out here. Interning in China will change your life so be prepared to postpone your short term ambitions

BREXIT dooms whilst China looms

Image shows the Union and Chinese Flags together.The legal profession in China has rapidly grown since the establishment of the current Chinese legal system in the early 1980s, when the Ministry of Economy and Trade publicised regulations (see below) permitting consulting firms to bridge foreign trade into China. As a result, many foreign law firms, including a number of British firms, had established subsidiaries to provide legal services in China.

International professionals are permitted to join firms in the UK to interpret both English law and international law; these professionals are prohibited from referring to themselves as solicitors or barristers. The same applies in China. To trade under the title of ‘律师’ or lawyer in China, you have to actually be Chinese.

However, according to the Regulation on the Administration of Foreign Law Firms’ Representatives Offices in China, a foreign law firm in China (established with permission of the Judicial Administration Department) may only be engaged in some activities that do not involve the affairs on Chinese Law.

So what can these representative offices actually do? Under Article 15A of the aforementioned regulation, representative offices are permitted to provide clients with the ‘consultancy’ on jurisdictions other than Chinese law and may ‘provide information on the impact of the Chinese legal environment’.

But when it comes to Chinese law, representative offices are instead required to entrust Chinese law firms to deal with affairs concerning Chinese Law on their client’s behalf. Chinese domestic law therefore has the added layer of protection whereby domestic firms have to act proxy to deals concerned under Chinese law.

On the other hand, English law is becoming a popular jurisdiction for many international commercial contracts, and the Law On The Application Of Relevant Laws To Civil Relationships With Foreign Parties allows contracting parties to explicitly * select a law applicable to regulating foreign-related civil relationships.

In fact, in 2010 the Solicitors Journal reported * that Bar Council chairman Nicholas Green QC had urged barristers to distance themselves from legal aid work and forge markets in areas such as China and the Middle East. The report claimed that England and Wales already has a 40 per cent market share of international commercial contracts.

Many critics have suggested for decades that the legal profession is doom and gloom, and I am sure many would agree now that Britain has decided to leave the European Union. Lawyers will surely be required in the medium term * to untangle the legal mess that the BREXIT will leave behind.

China has an open attitude toward signing a free trade agreement with Britain

Chinese Commerce Ministry

In the long term, it is certainly clear that Britain and China, who have both expressed their intention of having a free trade deal * in future, will become ever closer in the decades to follow. I would therefore suggest that the law students wishing to broaden their horizons should gain an international dimension to their CV.