‘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.
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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.

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.

 

VIDEOS: EU Trip

Luxembourg

My first video captures some of the sights we saw during our guided tour of the city. Whilst it was a brisk morning, the sun was out and we got some brilliant shots of the small city!

The EU Legislature

Our second sunny day was spent in Brussels, on our visit to the European Parliament and European Commission. We were fortunate to see the Parliament in session, which you will see in the video. Just note the sheer scale of the place.

Chasing the Council

I am sure all those euro-sceptic individuals out there had noticed that just last week the European Council had met in Brussels to discuss Britain’s position in the European Union. We were fortunate enough to be in Brussels, just around the corner from the Council building in the hours before the arrival of François Hollande, Angela Merkel, David Cameron and many more.

This video presents exciting footage which was taken 15 minutes before their arrival. There were many blacked out vehicles with police escorts and helicopters. Perhaps one of the vehicles which passed us was Cameron himself?!

Brugge

This very quaint little location was our last stop before the long journey back to Preston. Though there were no European Union origins to see, this was a joyous end to a busy week. There were an array of Belgian Chocolate shops to visit, the smell of waffles around every street corner, and an array of big high street names.

City of Brussels

Brussels is, albeit not everyone’s cup of tea, one of my favourite locations on this trip. Whilst there were parts which brought memories of a night at Canary Wharf, there was much heritage and culture to this city. There were plenty of things to do!

I hope you enjoyed these videos as much as I enjoyed producing them.

NationalLawLive 2015

In early December last year, I was given the opportunity to attend the NationalLawLive conference. There were 138 delegates selected to attend this prestigious event. But unfortunately, that meant that many were unable to benefit from this opportunity. I am hoping that by writing this article you will gain an understanding of what the event had to offer, and that it encourages you to put yourself forward for future NationalLawLive and CityLawLive events.

A video from the day – can you spot me?

Who attended?

We were conveniently provided with a list of all 138 delegates attending. I have used this information to produce some interesting statistics for you all.

  • 10 MLaw Students attended (whoopy!)
  • 21 Non-Law Students attended
  • 21 Graduates

To my surprise, there was a very diverse pool of students contrary to what I had originally envisaged when I applied. As you can see, this event is not just for undergraduates, or law students in particular, so please do not be deterred from applying!

Conference

The morning session was with the keynote speaker Andrew Davies, a partner in DLA Piper’s finance and projects group. Andrew gave some useful advice on vacation schemes – what are they and how to secure them. He spoke of the training programme at DLA in Manchester. He felt that the training was of better quality as opposed to training in London where the all too familiar situation of being “tied to a photocopier” might occur. Andrew also reminded us all to “try and stay open minded” as there are “low lights” of commercial work. He commented on the disastrous situation of spending “38 hours in the same pair of shoes”. Andrew describes the firm as very client focused – growing relationships with clients and introducing them to other practice areas and other jurisdictions that DLA has to offer. He describes the firm’s culture as dynamic, enthusiastic, driven and fun. People at DLA are fun, there is a good quality of work even in the northern territory. You can find out more about Andrew Davies on the LawCareers.net website here.

Following our keynote speaker, we had a panel discussion with partners and firm managers from Addleshaw Goddard, Squire Patton Boggs, Irwin Mitchell and Osborne Clarke. This was a brilliant opportunity for the delegates to put forward their questions in relation to the future issues which the firms will have to tackle. Alternative Business Structures and BREXIT were some of the hot topics for discussion.

Firm-Led Workshops

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Each delegate was given the opportunity to select firms for morning and afternoon sessions. Every delegate was allocated to at least one of their first choices. These were:

Morning Sessions

  • DLA Piper – Corporate
  • Nabarro – Real Estate
  • Osborne Clarke – Litigation
  • Squire Patton Boggs – International M&A

Afternoon Sessions

  • Addleshaw Goddard – Banking
  • Eversheds LLP – Commercial Awareness
  • Irwin Mitchell – Personal Injury
  • Shoosmiths – IP and Creative Industries

Most delegates received pre-reading for the workshop via email. This was a brilliant opportunity to prepare for the workshop, and allowed us to move swiftly through each of the activities.

Nabarro on Real Estate

The Nabarro workshop was led by Maria Scott, a real estate partner who joined as a trainee in the late 90s. The workshop evolved around a practical due diligence task which required delegates to work in groups on a hypothetical transaction. As a second year law student with no expertise in land law, I was lucky to be allocated to a group of fabulous LPC students who really knew their stuff. We were tasked to look through a title register, heads of terms, memos and correspondence with the client and consultancy firms, to identify the issues the client might face as a result of acquiring the land. With the guidance of Maria and one of the firm’s trainees, we were able to identify the issues which the client might want to discuss with the vendor before purchasing.


Addleshaw Goddard on Banking

The AG workshop was delivered in groups by NQs with experience in Banking. This was essentially another due diligence activity which, in particular, demanded a high level of intellectual rigour. To break it down, a company sought to acquire another company, but it needed the funding to back the transaction. Finally the years of A-Level accounting were paying dividends! There was lots of lingo to grasp, from revolving credit facilities through to bullet loans. But, I assure, it all fell into place when put into practice. We considered the sources of lending, debenture agreements, the financial institutions and the implications which these elements of the transaction might have on the client.

Reflection on Skills

Throughout the day I had the opportunity to speak with partners and trainees about the culture, ethos and strategies of the firms. I had jotted down a list of qualities which the firms believed were valued in prospective trainees.

  • Show your personality – everyone will be trying the same tricks in their application, they want to know what makes you who you are.
  • Show a commitment – you need to be prepared to demonstrate your commitment to law, be it staying behind at the office, or turning out the grades.
  • Get to know the firm – law firms are similar in nature, but they all have their own USP, their own culture and their own strategy.
  • Do not exaggerate yourself – of course if you work part time, mention it and draw out the skills you have gained. But be careful not to exaggerate these examples, you need to back it all up with real situations.
  • Have stability and longevity – ultimately these are the qualities that will carry you through your training contract, so get organised and get a feel for the different practice areas.

Conclusion

NationalLawLive is a fantastic opportunity for students with ambitions vested in commercial work, but it has also opened eyes to commercial work in the north, a territory which is thriving and expanding. The important point is that not every aspiring commercial solicitor has to migrate south for exciting and stimulating work!

Unfortunately there are not enough hours in the day to talk in detail about every last detail. Nevertheless, I hope you found this article useful when you come to consider your career trajectory and I hope it encourages to you put yourself forward for future opportunities such as NationalLawLive!

Find out more about NationalLawLive here

A special thanks to LawCareers.net for making this opportunity available

And if you did not spot me in the video, here I am!

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Allen & Overy Insight Day

I am delighted to inform you all that I had the pleasure of attending the Allen & Overy Commercial Awareness event in London a couple of weeks ago. Thank you to The Student Lawyer who made it possible! This was an exciting and insightful event, and here is what I made of it.

About the day

The day kicked off with the usual networking in A&O’s conference suite. We were welcomed by Claire Wright, the firms’ Graduate Recruitment Partner who advises clients such as Amazon. Claire gave an

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Outside the A&O London HQ

insightful talk about who A&O are, what sets the firm aside from other magic circle firms, what types of clients they advise and the types of trainees they are looking for.

 

After a short break, we were introduced to Talent & Development Specialist, Madeleine Spence, who gave an enlightening networking skills session focusing on issues such as: the right handshake; use of body language; growing and nurturing your professional network. This was particularly useful as a second year law student with the view of attending future networking events.

Shortly after the skills session, we were introduced to trainees from Banking, Corporate, Tax and International Capital Markets (ICM) to name. I had the opportunity to speak to A&O trainees about their experiences as an aspiring commercial lawyer. From what I had gathered, the trainees really enjoy their work, the people they work with, and the quality of training they receive.

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Program for the day

Although, if one thing can be improved; the firm needs to be more ‘open’ about the way in which partners make decisions. Whilst leaving no stone unturned, generally A&O is an exciting place to work, hard work follows and the trainees are duly rewarded.

 

After lunch, the trainees stayed at our tables to help us with the A&O ‘Business Game’, which looked at the anatomy of a deal. We had the opportunity to apply our commerciality and knowledge of the law to a hypothetical scenario whereby company A sought to take over company B. There were news bulletins, reports and various other artefacts which had to be considered in advising the company. Essentially, this was a due diligence operation which required a level-headed common sense

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More freebies!

approach. Despite this, it was a very intellectually stimulating and enjoyable experience for all of us in the team. I might also add, it was a brilliant opportunity to practice our skills for future assessment centres.

 

The day was closed by Hannah Salton, the Graduate Recruitment Manager at A&O. Hannah was very helpful in explaining issues surrounding the application process including, inter alia, vacation schemes, training contracts, LPC and GDL funding.

BULLETIN for MLaw students. Yes – you are OK to apply to A&O – but it must be noted that the firm likes candidates to attend BPP to complete the MA (LPC with Business) course. I spoke to the course leader at BPP who advised that MLaw students would simply be exempt from having to retake particular LPC modules.

A thought for diversity

As a student who describes themselves as ‘northern and proud’, you can understand that this being my third time travelling to London this year (and in my life) is quite a significant thing for me. Including other factors such as my; accent, state educated background, sexual orientation, and low income 12274379_537418159767781_3946422286969550423_nbackground; making it to a magic circle law firm in the city is my proudest achievement to date.

Although there is still great progress to be made in the industry, and whilst organisations such as Aspiring Solicitors and Rare Recruitment are helping to open doors to individuals from all walks of life, you should never let who you are bring you down! We are always drawing closer to a society which lets individuals pick their own hand of cards. Celebrate your skills, focus on your weaknesses and you will get there. With a little support from your university careers service and other external organisations such as above, that one small drop in the ocean can create waves of opportunities.

Reflections on the day

I am still as excited and passionate about pursuing a career in commercial law. I have had this fantastic eye opening opportunity which has allowed me to ask my questions and get the answers I need to proceed onto applications for further open days and vacation schemes in 2016. Over the short term, I will now need to consider ‘how big’ I am willing to take my career. Can I imagine myself clocking 36 hours of straight working on high profile cases, in potentially what will be the next stage of my career?

Well, next month, I will be attending the NationalLawLive conference at the MOSI in Manchester to have a look at the smaller UK commercial firms based in and around Manchester. I am hoping that I can answer the aforementioned question and ‘sniff out’ the pros and cons of working for the more national firms such as Shoosmiths, Nabarro and Irwin Mitchell.

** Post was written 21st November 2015 – apologise for delay in publication.