Celebrating junior lawyers’ work: My experience of entering the Law Society Excellence Awards
Jonathan Andrews, associate at Reed Smith, shares his experience as a junior lawyer and entering the 2019 Law Society Excellence Awards.
The struggles of being a junior lawyer
I was a trainee at law firm Reed Smith (2017 to 2019), working in the Entertainment and Media, Employment and Transportation teams, with a client secondment to Bauer Media.
Being a trainee or junior lawyer is a great experience, and an opportunity to learn as much as possible about an industry and area, building up your knowledge while working out what avenues interest you and your expertise for the future. It also brings particular challenges.
As a trainee I found each department brought with it a steep learning curve. The amount of marketing and pro bono work you could be entrusted with necessitated juggling this with legal advice, and drafting – which takes longer than it would do for more experienced lawyers, because you’re learning at the same time – meant managing hours and prioritising could be a struggle.
Another difficulty is visibility in the firm, and among clients – but this barrier is surmountable. My advocacy around disability and autism employment made this easier for me personally. I am a member of the Law Society’s Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Committee (EDIC) and Lawyers with Disabilities Division committee, and have been involved in a number of initiatives to level the playing field for disabled applicants to law firms. Being an autistic person, I wanted to apply to EDIC so it would have a chance of having autistic representation.
My advocacy acclimatised me to speaking authoritatively to professional audiences, and provided me with an area to speak about besides work which several clients were interested in. I was asked to help found Bauer Media’s diversity and inclusion forum, Belonging at Bauer, and be on its board. This meant that when I came to present on legal topics to clients – which I was first asked to do when a trainee – I was far better prepared for it.
Why celebrate junior lawyers’ work
It’s important to recognise that lawyers at all levels of a firm or in-house department and, indeed, trainees and support staff, contribute to its financial success and its wider initiatives. In my experience, trainees and junior lawyers often directly lead pro bono work, and trainees in particular often coordinate incredibly valuable marketing and other non-billable initiatives, as well as picking up high-level work which others may not have capacity for.
Yet in the wider profession, the contributions of junior lawyers (and, in particular, trainees) to departments and wider firms can often be less recognised. For example, junior lawyers are more likely to be contributing through long hours spent on black-letter law advice, as opposed to having the opportunity to network with clients to the extent more senior colleagues do.
This is why it’s great that the Law Society Excellence Awards has a specific award to ensure junior lawyers contributing skills, time and energy at the early stages of our career can be recognised alongside established partners and experts.
My awards research – the evidence
I began by researching to determine the most appropriate category and the criteria against which I would be judged. I was a third-seat trainee at the time, and my research indicated no trainees seemed to have won the award before, so I was initially hesitant. The fact that both contribution to legal services, and positive social impact, were key criteria made me more assured that I may be considered.
I had been recognised for diversity initiatives such as working with Reed Smith’s LEADRS disability network to boost the number of trainees and applicants with disabilities, advising clients on diversity and inclusion, and featuring in an Oxford University report as an example of social mobility best practice.
I had also received a particularly strong second-seat appraisal whilst on secondment (shortly followed by an even stronger third-seat appraisal). I had seen that supplying supporting evidence was encouraged as part of the awards, so I decided to submit this appraisal, and accompanying feedback from across the business – figuring this was the most first-hand evidence of legal acumen one could provide. A respected figure in the legal diversity and inclusion sphere also kindly offered to provide a supporting letter attesting to my work in this area, ensuring evidence existed to support both strands.
I ensured my submission was as strong and concise as it could be. Then I waited. I didn’t really expect to win, given the relative seniority of many of those on the shortlist – but clearly, ultimately this didn’t matter, and I was overjoyed to win the category. I was honoured to be recognised as winner of the Law Society Excellence Award for 2019 Junior Lawyer of the Year one month after finally qualifying as a solicitor.
I was very pleased to be recognised because my submission was based on work carried out whilst a trainee. I believe I am the first winner to be recognised solely for this. I hope this encourages other junior lawyers, and especially trainees, who think they have what it takes, to enter the awards.
My tips for Junior Lawyer of the Year 2020 entrants
1 Brevity, precision and clarity are very important
There is a fixed word limit for the submission, and if you’re going to ensure your submission is the best and all criteria are addressed, there are a number of points you’ll want to include.
It may be beneficial to overshoot the word count in the first instance and then condense your draft, through rephrasing and determining what is vital and what can be cut or restated, to trim down to the word limit – this is how I like to draft, and it ensures wording is tight and readable, and covers a wide range of points in good depth.
2 Don’t be fooled into thinking there is a certain ‘mould’ you need to follow in order to be successful
There are, of course, criteria which need to be addressed, but previous winners of the Junior Lawyer of the Year category have been vastly different – in terms of practice area and interests, years of experience, and focus of initiatives. Ultimately, the key criteria is excellence, not having a certain CV, working in a certain part of England and Wales, or knowing certain people.
3 Don’t rule yourself out because you think you don’t have a certain number of years of experience
The category is open to lawyers of up to and including five years' PQE, and also trainee solicitors (as I was when I entered), LPC students and graduates, and registered solicitor apprentices.
Ultimately what matters is the strength of the submission, the range and depth of the achievements in question, and the quality of the supporting evidence.
If you think you have the makings of an excellent submission, you should submit, whether you’ve just started the LPC or your fifth year of PQE!
Views expressed in our blogs are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the Law Society.
Hurry, get your free entries in by midnight Friday 26 June 2020.
Hear from the 2018 winners, watch some myth-busters, and hear what the judges have to say all in our YouTube playlist.
Has your firm been working hard on improving diversity? Enter our Excellence category for diversity and inclusion.
Know a legal aid hero? Nominate them for our Excellence in Access to Justice Award. Shortlisted entries will be gifted with an invite to attend the awards.
With 23 categories available – eight individual awards and 15 team categories – from Sole Practitioner of the Year to Solicitor of the Year – In-house and Promoting, Protecting or Advancing Human Rights, we're celebrating the impact of individuals across the profession.