‘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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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

Vacation Scheme with Shakespeare Martineau

AAEAAQAAAAAAAAOMAAAAJGJlMGVmNGZiLTQ2Y2UtNDQzZS1hZTllLWJlOGY3OGI4ZjM3ZQI have returned from scorching Gran Canaria, and I have turned to jacket jumper and hot water bottle being back in the UK. Nether the less, it’s time to crack on and get one’s foot in the door. I am very excited yet anxious to start my work placement with Shakespeare Martineau. I will be staying in the city of Birmingham by myself for the week.

I plan to keep a regular diary of my time there, and you can follow my updates by searching the tag #SHMA here on my blog. Unfortunately the posts will be very brief as I will be bound by client confidentiality. I hope that you guys can join me on this experience!

Wish me luck! 🙂