Why Law?

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So the other day I decided to give training contract applications a go, just to practice and see what kind of questions they ask. I came across  “Why have you chosen a career in law?” with great difficulty. I thought this was ample opportunity to think about why I wanted to practice law.

Money?

For many, money is the first reason to go into a career in law. However, since I started considering a career in law, I knew just how gloomy the market could be by the time I reach it. Already the paralegals are taking the place of many conventional solicitors, and some are getting paid up and above. Although money should never be the first reason to go into law, you have to work to live, and nearly all firms offer an adequate living wage.

Status?

I suppose this element toys with pride in many respects. I think it is reasonable to say that some people will follow careers that have added social status. But also, many students have an expectation of themselves to please their family and friends. With both of my sisters going to university and doing well, the pressure has always existed for me to go to university. I also suppose that there was also added pressure from being from a working class background.

Do-gooder?

Law and ethics are an uneasy topic, but it is fact that solicitors have to act with integrity, honesty and in upholding the rule of law. I do not want to criminalise myself in saying this, but I was a nasty child when I was younger and didn’t I know it. Throughout high school, I do not struggle to admit that I was a delinquent who never pushed as hard with my GCSEs as I did with my A-Levels. Personally, I feel that a career in law has aided my betterment as a person, makes me more valuable to society, and has done my family proud.

Flexibility?

A career in law can go in any direction because of the industry’s vast landscape of areas in law. I am sure that many like me fear the idea of a ‘quarter-life crisis’, where one finds themselves locked in a job with a degree which is useful for only one thing. Law offers so many fall-back opportunities, which is definitely an attraction in my view.

Helping Others?

Helping others is the cornerstone to my career in law. I’ve always participated in forums and Q&A sites trying to help people find answers to their questions. Since a young child, I was always know to be asking too many questions, and now I want to help answer them. I appreciate that I cant provide the cure for cancer or reform the Civil Procedure Rules, but if I can help and reassure someone in some small way, I would go home feeling accomplished.

I appreciate that this is not the most coherent post on the blog to date, yet I have endeavoured to explain to the best of my ability. Otherwise, I hope this information serves you well in deciding on your career, and possibly one in law.

Why did you choose law? – comment below

The Misconceptions of Aspiring ‘Lawyers’ in the UK

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One thing that really gets on our nerves (collectively as aspiring solicitors) is the misconceptions people have of the legal profession in the UK. This is mainly due to media influence such as television programs and movies, which often overlap the UK and USA legal professions. Let’s set the record straight on the most common misconceptions I have dealt with.

Help! Can you advise me on X and Y legal issue?

Well we are delighted that you came to us for advice, you could have done worse. But please understand this, just because it says ‘Studying LLB Law at University of Central Lancashire’, it does not mean I can get your landlord to see sense, or get your ex-husband to leave you alone. We often feel that people assume that law is just one topic that can be put in one text book, but this is not the case. There are hundreds of areas of law which a person can go on to specialise in, from energy law to property law. We’re like ice cream; available in different flavours.

So do you have to wear a wig?

In terms of law, Section 49 of the Courts and Court Officers Act 1995 abolished the requirement that barristers should wear wigs in court, and solicitors aren’t barristers. A solicitor’s natural habitat is an office or the courts of first instance (if even than). It is very rare that a solicitor is present in court, often because a barrister is instructed to do the dirty work litigation. The solicitor’s responsibility is to get all the facts and evidence together and build the case. The barristers can take it from there and use the information to persuade a court. So in summary, no we wont be wearing wigs, stop watching Law & Order, it’s rubbish and inaccurate!

Will you become a lawyer?

A lawyer is a very generic term, please don’t use it. Because of the tenuous relationship between solicitors and barristers, the professionals don’t like to be chucked into the same box. Yes a lawyer is someone who practices law, but they practice law in different ways. A solicitor is someone who ‘solicits’ with the client, and solicits drawing up wills, contacts, or instructing the barrister. In a medical context, they’re kind of like the GP, and the barrister is the Specialist Doctor. They try to find out what’s best for the client and they do the best they can to prevent a situation from escalating up to the need for litigation. Save for solicitor-advocates (who have done additional training to appear in court).

Why don’t you become a judge when you graduate?

Yes, why didn’t I think of that, a six figure salary sounds perfect! Unfortunately, that’s not how it works. In order to become a judge, you have lots of networking and dogsbody jobs to do. Not only that, but you need to have decades of experience behind you, you need to have been a lawyer (solicitor/barrister ahem), and you need to know the right people. Yes guys, I am afraid REED was lying to you when they implicitly told you that you could become a judge by putting up your CV online.

You’re scum of the earth, how could you represent a crook!

In a perfect world everyone has justice in mind. But in this very gritty industry, the more money you have the greater the injustice you can create. Solicitors are bound by codes of practice (click here if you’re really interested), that obligates them to represent their client to the best of their ability and in their client’s best interest. I suppose solicitors are like parking officers, except they are paid a little bit more. It’s a job that needs doing and it puts food on the table for many families. A good question to ask yourself – if a solicitor was to represent their client with bias, would it then actually be the solicitor doing the injustice, and no longer the client? And of course, everyone has their right to a fair trial. So you see, solicitors are just the messengers doing as they’re asked, so please don’t shoot them.

Summarily

  • They don’t do justice – they do what’s best for their clients.
  • You can’t job search to become a judge.
  • Barristers get called to the bar – Solicitors get admitted to the roll.
  • They don’t have to wear wigs, but they still have the black gowns.
  • Oh, and English Courts do not use gavels, come on we’re better than that.

Thank you Stephanie Lomas for helping me in the draft.

Day One

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Day one with Forster Dean Solicitors. Going on four hours sleep, and being up since five (and still going), I am well and truly shattered.

So the commute was a disaster. All-in-all I spent 5 hours commuting, which is almost as long as the day in the office had lasted. I am still outraged by Virgin Trains for announcing changes to a service while closing the doors. I was within an inch of being decapitated, and I’d rather that than be stuck in lovely Scotland!

Well, I feel that it is fair to say that today had brought events which were not what I expected… just as I expected. From walking through the door, you can really appreciate the different environment a high-street firm has to offer as opposed to a big city firm like Shakespeare Martineau. There were only three people in the office today, and there were roughly 5 or 6 desks. I’m still not sure how I feel about this. Although the big city firm environment brought excitement and curiosity, I realise that I should put my first-impressions aside and keep an open mind. Therefore, I will return to this point later in the week.

For the first time I had the pleasure of figuring out what a case-management system is and how it is used. Peter was a delight, and had spent a lot of his time showing me how the system works. To put it shortly, the case management system allows you to create cases and add information about the client, their witnesses, their insurers, the courts, the defendants etcetera. Even more wonderfully, if you’ve entered the data correctly, the information is mail-merged automatically into whatever forms or documents you need to issue. The system also tracks how much time you spend on each task, and automatically charges it (based on hourly rate) to the client’s account.

A lot of the work that Forster Dean carries out is no win / no fee. I managed to wrap my head around this concept by looking at a standard Conditional Fee Agreement (or CFA) which the firm uses. After a thorough read, I conclude that a CFA is a document which basically allocates who pays what if and when, but it should always be read thoroughly and with a great deal of care!

The final activity to mention, and the most enjoyable activity of today, was having the satisfaction of foreshadowing Peter whilst he dealt with clients face to face. The importance of interpersonal skills were reaffirmed – Peter’s clients were made to feel like friends from the moment they walked in to the moment he showed them to the door. Out of the four visits today, one was most unusual; a drop-in from a woman who had trouble with an executor. The woman was clearly in despair, and I fancied I was observing an appointment with a GP or a therapist of that fashion. With the client going into great deal about her stresses, it had occurred to me that Peter has two jobs; solicitor and counsellor. Am I really prepared to be giving people advice on dealing with personal relationships?

#FDS

Birmingham is MASSIVE

Yesterday was absolute chaos, my train was diverted twice and thus had to change at Preston and Crewe; typical. But I have finally arrived in Birmingham, and I never knew just how large it actually is. My assumption was based on the fact that Manchester and London are the main economic ‘power houses’, but this is simply not true. When I left the train station with heaps of luggage for this one week, I got lost on Navigation Street (irony) while trying to find my lodgings for the evening.

So when I got back and unpacked, me and Alex (a friend from the course also doing the same placement) went out to find somewhere to get a pint in. We stumbled across this very decadent establishment, which charged £5 for a pint of Estrella!

It’s now morning and I feel energetic and ready to start my first day at Shakespeare Martineau! #SHMA

Finding Work Experience

It’s not an easy job coming across a work placement, secondment, ‘vac’ scheme – what with thousands of other like-minded students trying to find just that. I have been so lucky as to secure three placements for summer; and here’s how I did it.

Attending your nearest law fair is absolutely essential; it’s good for getting your name out and getting an idea of the industry you will soon be entering. But it’s also an opportunity for work experience, so turn up prepared. A CV and cover letter to hand will serve you well. If you have the chance, get to know which firms will be exhibiting at the fair and try to get some specific cover letters for those firms showing some background research into what exactly they do. If like me you’re keeping your options open, mail-merge could come in handy for creating personalised cover letters for each firm. You never know, you just might get a phone call a few weeks later with an offer for work! Find out more here.

Get to know the Graduate Retention & Employability Officer for your faculty. Now I don’t mean sitting down to afternoon tea, but know who they are, keep an eye out for their communication, and apply for everything they give you. Any experience is invaluable and will come in handy when you go to apply for training contracts.

Communicate with your faculty staff, especially your module leader and personal tutor. Both of mine are currently practicing solicitors, and I should hope this be the case for most law tutors in the institutions across the country. Point being, they know what they’re talking about and they are a very valuable source of information when it comes to leaping in to the legal sector. If it’s a CV being looked over or just advice about what tie to wear, a little advice can go along way.

Also, don’t be put off by rejection. Rome wasn’t built in a day is the phrase that keeps me going. I wish you all the best!