Age and PQE do not stop you reaching top roles in the profession
Recently I received the honour of being elected president of the Westminster and Holborn Law Society.
One of the questions I've been asked since is how I managed it at three years' qualified and not quite 30 years old.
I am a banking solicitor and, at 18 months qualified, I was seconded to Deutsche Bank for the best part of a year. There I was taught that it does not matter how qualified you are.
Instead, the important things are how well you cope under pressure and the people who can help you.
My boss at the bank told me that most crucial to my career is finding four categories of mentor, being someone:
in my firm and:
- in the same area of law
- in a different practice area
outside of my firm and:
- in the legal profession
- in an entirely different profession
This is great advice. But how does a junior lawyer find external mentors and then persuade them to take you under their wing?
Where can I find a support network?
It was when pondering this question that I began to look for groups in my local area that bring together people who share my professional interests.
A quick search online shows that there are many groups for lawyers practising in specific areas of law or who share common interests.
Top of my list was the international committee of my local law society. I have lived and worked abroad and am keen to meet international lawyers, so this seemed the perfect fit.
I was worried about what I could bring to a committee of senior lawyers, so I offered to take the minutes of their meetings.
I was welcomed with open arms and found several people who now fall in category three of my mentors above (outside my firm but in the legal profession)!
Go where other junior lawyers are not
I soon realised that few junior lawyers had ever been in touch with the local law society for fear that they were too junior.
My best piece of advice is to leave fear to one side and put yourself forward for anything that interests you – you always have something to offer, even if it is just minute taking at the start!
As with many organisations in the legal profession, local law societies view junior members as the future and are desperate to get them involved in their work.
After a short period of minute taking, the members of Westminster and Holborn nominated me to be the honorary secretary of the society.
This was great exposure to all of the senior members of the society (including senior partners of law firms, university professors and leaders of international bar associations).
I attended every event to speak with as many people as possible to learn about their career path: what had they done and what could I learn from them?
Promote the skills that you have
I was amazed that the senior members of the society also wanted my input on their work – in particular the views of junior lawyers on current issues, how we can encourage more to become involved, and what the society should be offering to support those starting their careers.
Soon I realised that I had something else to offer alongside by now well-honed minute-taking skills(!): an insight into life as a junior lawyer in today’s world. This is something that all juniors have to offer.
I also realised that local law societies are not just for lawyers.
Lots of other professional advisers and intermediaries are involved who have an interest in the profession, such as bankers, accountants and estate agents. These have been a great source of mentors that fall into category four above!
When the time came for the society’s next AGM, to my astonishment the senior members were suggesting that I step forward as president to demonstrate that the society represents all lawyers in the area regardless of age, level of qualification or any other characteristic.
You don’t have to wait – step forward now
When the outgoing president passed the president’s medallion to me, she told the AGM that junior lawyers are the future of our profession, that we outnumber all others, and that we have an enormous amount to contribute in what are challenging times.
I hope that all junior lawyers take confidence in this example – find something intimidating that you want to do and offer up the skills you have to work your way to the top.
Find out more
Are you a junior solicitor? Explore our range of resources to get help with progressing in your career, supporting your wellbeing and networking with fellow legal professionals.
A version of this article was first published on 3 December 2018 by Lawyer2b and is reproduced by kind permission.