‘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.

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!

Business & Law Workshop

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Just as Preston College had thought it had seen the last of me, I returned again this year with long-established friend with whom I had also studied law with at the College. It was all thanks to a fantastic team effort that we managed to successfully deliver a quality workshop in a bid to persuade business students into the legal profession.

The afternoon session took place in the college’s new STEM building. I was camp as pink when I found out that we would be given the opportunity to use the new facilities to deliver this workshop.

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We’ve got some useful brochures courtesy of LawCareers.net

So the plan for the day was to first outline the role of a lawyer, break apart all of the LPC GDL BPTC jargon and then talk a bit about the practice areas. There was a heavy emphasis on the distinction between personal and business services, so as to cater for our students with a particular interest in business.

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What does a lawyer do?

 

We wanted to come up with a practical activity for the students so that they could get a real feel for what being a lawyer or law student is really like. So after hours of brainstorming on all sorts of topics which fall within contract law, we came up with this idea of a ‘frustrated contract’ scenario.

The students were provided with the abstract of some relevant case law, a general outline of the principles of contract law (Offer and Acceptance, Privity and Consideration), a Practical Legal Research template, and a bundle of documents with which we weaved our scenario into. In a nutshell, this was a hypothetical dispute between a college and a supplier as to the sale of furniture which was delivered late.

 

CaptureThe students had to analyse an email from a partner, a telephone attendance note, a letter before action, emails between the claimant and defendant and a purchase order. We wanted the students to use their skills of analysis and work with attention to detail to figure out what exactly had gone on. We moved around the groups to talk about some of the potential legal issues; we helped them to extract the ratio of cases and experiment with the potential outcomes each precedent might manifest.

The students had really engaged with the scenario and cases. In fact, we were so impressed with some of the discussions we had engaged the students in, to the extent that we really could not pick an overall winning team!

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Expecting 30 people at our Business & Law Workshop today!

It was so rewarding to see students engaging in material that I had created for them. They were provided with everything which I felt that I would have needed had I been in their position. We were able to outline LPC, MLaw and GDL routes and provided them with some practice of the basic skills expected of a lawyer.

With the help of multiple organisations, we were able to disseminate leaflets, brochures and information which would really help them to make an informed decision about a career in the legal profession. It was also a pleasure to have students come and talk to us at the end of our workshop.

We received some positive feedback from our liaison – formerly our law tutor (pictured below). We were pleased to receive an email shortly after our departure; “Thank you so much for today, it was wonderful […] I will get you back in next for the next A levels!”.

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Expecting 30 people at our Business & Law Workshop today!

I am hoping now to streamline our workshop, make the necessary improvements now that we move into a BETA stage, and ultimately return next year to deliver our workshop in front of the next cohort of students.

In summary, this has been an experience which has really paid dividends in respect of all the effort that we had collectively put in to the project. We look forward to our return – see you next year Preston College!

A special thanks to Humera Patel for all the support in this endeavour and to Rukhsana Ahmad for facilitating this event.

 

我想去中國

The title reads ‘I want to go to China’10268890_140076496366473_1421773792_n

This is the biggest piece of news I have been looking forward to sharing with you all the most. I am delighted to announce that I have been granted funding for an internship in Chengdu, the business capital of Sichuan province. It has been a month now since I received the good news, and now that most of the reservations have been made I am eager to tell you all the details.

What exactly is the internship?

Generation UK funding, which is awarded by the British Council, is available to UK citizens to complete an eight week internship in their chosen field. However, there are some other eligibility requirements which you should read through on the Generation UK website. There are various seats, from commercial law firms to business consultancy agencies. There are three prime locations where internships are offered – Qingdao, Zhuhai and Chengdu. Interns share apartments during their stay with other interns on the programme, and are provided will full support from the agency. The GUK funding covers some of these costs. As we speak, the agency is currently sourcing firms from their panel for me to complete my internship with, so where I will be next summer I am still not quite sure (Big up Clare Pearson from DLA Piper, Asia!)

Who is Intern China?

AAEAAQAAAAAAAAV_AAAAJGQ2M2Y3MWE5LWU5ZWUtNDIyZC1hOWMzLWZlZjgyNzgxZWU5MgIntern China are one of two agencies (the other is CRCC Asia) selected by the British Council as an Internship provider. Whilst CRCC Asia focuses on the more westernised parts of China, such as Beijing and Hong Kong, Intern China offers opportunities in more cultural parts of China. They have an office in the UK, and an office in each of their destinations.

What is Chengdu like?

Chengdu is famous for three things: spicy food, pandas and rice wine. It has an urban population of eight million people and a suburban population of fourteen million. The economy in Chengdu is attractive; in 2007 Chengdu was surveyed by the World Bank and declared the “benchmark city for investment environment in China”. There are thirty of the Fortune 500 companies present in Chengdu, such as Microsoft, Nokia, Semiens, HP, Intel and IBM. These technology giants give Chengdu its position as a national base for the electronics and IT industry.

What about language barriers?

At present, I am currently using a mixture of textbook and software based learning for Mandarin. I am currently taking advantage of the Worldwise Learning Centre, which offers UCLan students access to Rosetta Stone. Whilst Mandarin is the worlds most natively spoken language, it is not the only language spoken.Man-woman There are many dialects in China, such as Cantonese and ‘Sichuanese’. But, the written language is consistently Simplified Mandarin, and most of the younger generation are fluent in Mandarin.

 

Mandarin is a language which is heavily dependent on context. Words can instantly change their meaning when more words are added to the sentence. As well as this, there are different ‘tones’ which change the meaning of a word. Just like when you ask someone a question, you bring the tone up by the end. There are four tones: mà mǎ mā and má. Note that all these words mean different things because of the tone. The pitch of the tone is the little line above the vowel, so for example ǎ, the pitch drops down and then rises back up again. Yes, it is all very complicated and I am nearly through to Level 2!

Why did you apply?

As a student with not so fantastic academics, I am what I like to call myself a ‘late starter’. Although my grades have been improving as my passion for a career in law grows stronger and stronger, it is because of my average A-Level grades that I am facing significant rejections from law firms for vacation schemes and training contracts. I do not think that rejection means time to quit, but time to find another open door. They say that “people who really want something always find a way to get it”, and I guess this internship opportunity is my way of finding a way around. I am hoping that this opportunity will launch me ahead during the next round of training contract applications, where I will be able to demonstrate to employers: a knowledge of another (and increasingly popular) legal jurisdiction; the soft skills  required of a good lawyer and more importantly my ‘well-rounded’ personality.

How do I apply?

CaptureNow I have recently spoken to the guys at Intern China, and I am informed that a high volume of applications for funding are coming through for the limited funding which is available. It might be a good idea to press on with your application as soon as possible, and if you get cold feet there is always an opportunity to back out before signing the paperwork. There are a few documents you need to have ready, including a reference and a valid UK passport. There are some other requirements and terms and conditions which you should always read through on the Intern China website. Do not forget to mention me in the ‘How did you hear about InternChina?’ section!

Apply here – Best of luck!

Please note that the above should not be construed as an offer and terms are always subject to change. Always to the official guidance notes on the British Council website.

Victim Support: Children & Young People Specialist Training

Hello all – this is my 20th post!

I have recently completed a three day specialist training course with Victim Support. This was a new course focusing on working with CYPs or Children and Young Persons. This was a fantastic opportunity to develop my interpersonal skills and learn about some of the complicated laws regarding CYPs.

On the first day, we looked at the UN Convention on Rights of the child and The Children Acts 1989 and 2004. We look at how Victim Support reflects these legal obligations imposed through its policies and procedures. The biggest topic of conversation was Safeguarding. As one of many services that offers confidential support, there are situations where public bodies are required to disclose information if that body deems that there is a risk to that person. We had to think about how exactly we would explain these legal obligations to children as young as 4 years old.

There are circumstances where children are expected to provide evidence in court proceedings, and part of the service delivery involves providing practical support in these given situations. We looked at the Youth and Criminal Evidence Act 1989 which sets out the special measures in place for children who are witnesses to a crime. These special measures may involve clearing the public gallery, removing wigs and gowns and establishing a video-link based appearance. In situations like this, we as Victim Support have to be prepared to work with multi-agencies such as the Witness Service commissioned by the Citizens Advice Bureau.

Working with multi-agencies can do fantastic things, but we had to take into account the things that hinder multi-agency work. For example, gate-keeping over cases due to interests in funding, dumping cases which may affect departmental targets, bureaucracy and double-tasking. As case workers, we have to be prepared to deal with these Multi-agencies, and know exactly who will jump in and at what stage.

On the second day we looked at social media and the impact it has on a CYPs experience with crime. We considered current issues such as anonymity sites such as ask.fm and formspring, child sexual exploitation on chat room environments such as Habbo Hotel, revenge porn and the coercion of cat-fishing. On the positive side, we considered the ways in which we can protect CYPs online safety by looking security settings and home network restraints. My personal response to this aspect of the course – I wanted to take down my complete digital existence. When it is given much thought, it is too easy to obtain personal information about a person.

On the final day we put the skills into practice by creating action plans after identifying needs from case studies. That did not necessarily mean role-playing, but moreover considering whether we could identify needs from reading the studies and watching reconstruction videos. This proved the most difficult element of the task, but as with anything at Victim Support, it is a skill which can only be developed over time with experience.

I am really glad I attended the training course, I feel more aware about the processing in place for CYPs, and the importance of safeguarding and confidentiality.