Fundraising for Mind.org.uk

On Sunday the 26th of August, I will be raising money for the mental health charity Mind. With an elevation of over 3,000 ft, the ascent will take three hours.

Outdoor physical exercise is proven to promote self-esteem and reduce stress and anxiety. Through the practice of mindfulness, that is, paying attention to natural surroundings, we can hush the busy mind.

Please sponsor my climb of Scafell Pike to show your support for promoting mental wellbeing.

Visit my Just Giving page here

 

Advertisements

Embarking on the LPC

2040912_09bd8b9d

If you are an LPC student, then well done for getting this far already. You are a proud and astute graduate with a good degree, but do not let that be any excuse to be complaisant at this stage. The Legal Practice Course (LPC) is far from a walk in the park, therefore it is vital that any prospective or new student on the LPC should be prepared to adopt a new mindset towards this exam-intensive program of study. Here are six tips which I hope will fill you with confidence prior to you embarking on the LPC.

1. Reading

I know it sounds like the obvious answer but, trust me, there is a reason why this at the top of my agenda. On the LPC your seminars are run on the basis that the student has done all the prior reading and preparation. Preparation is not too difficult to adjust to since the LLB is delivered in a similar way, but a lot of students do not grasp the importance of reading the textbooks. Once I started reading my chapters in advance, my brain was prepared to absorb the insights shared by the lecturing solicitors in the workshops.

2. Organised notes

Try to spend less time on the meaty and substantive content. You should be confident in yourself that you will be able to gloss over the detail when you’re approaching the exams. Don’t forget that you and your peers are holders of a law degree or equivalent at this stage, so your priorities during teaching weeks are to ensure that you have understood the content, by reading the chapters in advance of seminars, and most importantly, by giving yourself the time to recap over your materials before you store them away in a way that is logical to you. You want to be able to pick them back up with ease in a couple of month’s time.

Paper notes or digital form – totally your choice. Call me a tree-hugger but I see absolutely no reason why we shouldn’t be prepared to use software such as OneNote or Teams (just remember to keep a backup). Your institution may already be offering you a license to Office 365, and some even offer digital skills training, so this is a fantastic opportunity to impress law firms with your tech-savvyness – IT literate individuals are always desirable in the professions as they are having to adapt their systems to stay competitive.

3. Submerse yourself

Many students do feel that the LPC is not very academically stimulating, that it is just a matter of memorisation, but this should not deter you. The law in theory is very interesting, but you are one of the many lucky few who will have the opportunity to see the law in practice. Many LLB graduates go off into the world with sound legal education, but they cannot profess to be skilled in navigating the law with the best interests of a client borne in mind.

“Keep interested in your own career, however humble; it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.”

Max Ehrmann – The Desiderata

Make the most of your opportunity by submersing yourself in the subject, this will give you context to whatever it is you are learning. Write your own will, have a look at stocks and shares, ready yourself for the working world! I’m not necessarily advising you to sue a high street retailer or throw your first £1,000 into a FTSE 250 tracker, take caution in your business affairs, but also be prepared to follow your curiosity – wherever it may lead you!

Another handy tip – follow an interesting news story, discuss it with your subject tutor. The world is constantly changing around us, and trust me on this one, keeping up with it in the dawning of the technological age is a real struggle!

 

4. Be kind to yourself

One thing I have found very difficult over the past four years is maintaining a balanced lifestyle when you want to be seen as standing out from the crowd. Those committed students want to be everywhere at once, engaging in all of the opportunities that law schools throw at us, and often bearing the burden of supporting ourselves, and sometimes even our family members, but there does come a point where you can lose that balance.

Be gentle with yourself and avoid spreading yourself too thin. Your physical and mental health are top priority, and if you aren’t looking after yourself, how are you possibly going to look after your clients?

Don’t forget the basics – plenty of sleep, plenty of exercise, plenty of nutritious food, plenty of water, and make the time for some therapeutic or mindful activities. The brain performs better under these conditions – you don’t need to be a doctor to know this. You might tell yourself “I need to pull an all-nighter for this essay” or “I’ll just have some packet noodles because I need to get back to the library”. Take it in moderation, a balanced lifestyle is key to being able to successfully self-manage. You need to be fit and strong so that clients are prepared to place their trust and faith in you.

5. Work with people

The hardest lesson that University brings is the lesson of working with people. This was a lesson I struggled to take on board, having experienced first hand the trickery that some people would play on one another in order to put themselves ahead. Many students have this “It’s a race” mindset which really made me close up like a book and become the independent and self-reliant learner that I am today.

I often tell myself that you must stand alone in order to observe the crowd, but at some point you will have to take that plunge. University brings together minds from across the country and across the globe, it is the perfect environment to start building confidence, network with peers, and grow your personality. Here is a good article which gives you some practical steps you can take towards building on the personal qualities valued by innovative law firms such as Shoosmiths.

 

6. Enjoy it

I am certain that many lawyers look back at their time at University and think of many things they wish they did differently. I absolutely love University life – it is a great place to have fun and connect with people by engaging in all of the sports, clubs and societies there are on offer, and I am really going to miss it! There are various work experience opportunities, fairs to fill your boots with freebies and plenty of discounts online and on the high street. So enjoy it and have fun, because it won’t be long until you are part of daily grind!

If you feel you have tips that you feel have worked for you, please share them in the Comments below for the benefit of other readers.

 

 

 

Mind and Mood

stress-pencil.jpg

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.

 

 

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

law-society-wedding-1001

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).

TG5D7613
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.

TG5D7605
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.

My first week in China

Ni hao! I left the UK about a fortnight ago in search of new and exciting opportunities in China. I was selected and interviewed by a domestic law firm for a role which would require me to offer my knowledge of UK and EU law. One week in and I am absolutely loving it!4

At my firm, I have been put to the task of preparing a report for the client who runs their business in a very complex and highly regulated market. They operate in multiple jurisdictions, and so I have had the responsibility of analysing law from multiple legal systems across Europe. I would love to tell you more about the research I am undertaking, but of course I am bound by a non-disclosure agreement.

My colleagues have been so kind and friendly to me throughout my first week. On my first day, I was taken out for lunch with my colleagues and received one of the firm’s leather note takers. Going to lunch with colleagues is a regular occasion in the business world in China. Already I have tried a number of authentic Sichuan dishes suggested by my colleagues, including (very spicy) pig lung.

313821305034462833I currently share an office with my supervisor who I am yet to meet. As the firm has offices across the country, I have been anticipating his return from Beijing this past week. We speak frequently on WeChat, and he is looking forward to teaching me how to play Majong! One of my other supervisors has brought in gifts to share around the office on numerous occasions, such as mango jelly and mung bean pastry. Sadly, she has now left for her trip to America will be sorely missed by all.

649329003939556951WeChat is such an important social platform for individuals. It is used to communicate with friends, colleagues and potential clients. It is a little bit like Facebook, where you can make pages, groups, post photographs and updates. Also, because many of my colleagues do not speak English, they find it really useful to communicate with me as it allows them to translate from English.

The receptionist has invited me to try a different tea each day, and has shown me how to prepare it the Chinese way. Tea is a valued commodity to the Chinese people, it is the nation’s favourite drink and the Chengdu office is home to a wide variety. It is unusual given the hot and wet climate to be drinking a scalding hot cup of tea, but it does somehow make you feel much more refreshed than bottles of cold water. Tomorrow I will be trying a type of Oolong tea!

721098956538475928So far I am getting on really well with my colleagues. They have said that I am ‘very friendly’ and have been told that the boss has been ‘looking forward to [my] arrival for a long time’. I have found mutuality with my colleagues – they are impressed by my knowledge of Chinese history and politics and they enjoy discussing the BREXIT ordeal. They are also pleased with my open-minded approach to their culture.

InternChina has given me all the materials and support I need for my first week, including a SIM card, a travel card and even a personal introduction to the firm. The orientation was most useful for preparing for those nuances between western and eastern business culture well in advance. You can find out more about the agency and their internship opportunities at www.internchina.com.

There is so much more I want to share about the experiences I have had here already, but there is just too much to do in the little time that I have out here. The agency regularly organises events for us whilst we’re out here, so I am eager to get involved with as much as possible! Meanwhile, I will continue to share photos of this beautiful country on my Instagram account ‘SolicitorToBe’, so please go ahead and follow that. In the meantime, Zai Jian!