The real questions – lawyer life

This is part two of the JLD’s three-part mini Q&A series answering your questions about life as a lawyer.

This is part two of the JLD’s three-part mini Q&A series answering your unanswered questions from the JLD’s “Helping you secure a training position” London forum on 5 October 2019.

With the help of our speakers, the JLD Executive Committee share their experiences of the law and “Lawyer Life”.

"Commercial awareness is very much about developments in the business and legal world as they happen each day and the best way to keep on top of these is to read a quality news source and the legal press, and always consider how any such development might affect the work that your target firm is undertaking.

Hot topics at the moment in the legal world (aside from the obvious ones of Brexit, our constitution and lawtech, for example) include the proposed Solicitors Qualification Exam, new SRA Handbook, environment and sustainability (see the Legal Sustainability Alliance, for example) and the Mayson Review of Legal Services.

You can find resources on all of these topics on The Law Society's website. An employer may also expect you to know about big developments in the industries in which their clients operate, for example banking and finance or real estate."

Laura Uberoi – JLD Council Member

"In a variety of different ways. One way would be to specialise in a niche area, becoming the market leaders in a particular area of law.

An alternative to this could be to have higher levels of service. Clients will often want their issues resolved as quickly and hassle free as possible. If you provide a higher level of service than the market, you will move ahead of your competitors. 

Another alternative to the above is to provide the service at a more competitive price than your competitors. If a firm is able to streamline its process in order to reduce its costs, a firm will be able to provide the legal service at a lower cost to the client.

The legal services industry is becoming increasingly more price sensitive and clients may be more attracted to a firm offering their services for less."

Adam Hattersley – JLD Executive Committee Member

"Firms are becoming much more conscious of the environment. Many firms are encouraging employees to print a lot less.

Many documents can be legally signed online through platform providers and this is definitely becoming more popular.

As an example, some firms are starting to be more environmentally friendly through using biodegradable cutlery and plates within the kitchens that staff can use.

Also, many firms are partnering with environmental charities and organising talks with these charities and their own employees to encourage their employees to think more about environmental issues."

Hannah Bignell – JLD Executive Committee Member

"Networking events are a great start, but there’s so much more. Look out for industry conferences; read up on legal publications; get involved in things that interest you.

Staying updated with the latest news in the legal profession will also be a great foundation for building your knowledge and awareness."

Eloise Skinner – Associate, Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton LLP

"It is important to attend the best university and achieve the best result you can because it will ensure you are as well-educated as possible (the whole point of studying), and because if you are being considered for a position and it’s between you and someone else, the quality of your higher education institution might be the deciding factor.

I had an undergraduate professor who told me two really good pieces of advice to keep in mind when you are going for a job:

  1. The interviewer is looking for a new colleague, not just the best paper candidate - try to get on with them!
  2. The reason they want you to get a degree from a decent university with a decent grade is so that they know if they put something into your in-tray at 9am, it will be in your out-tray by 5pm. The more rigorous the university, the more likely they are to believe that is the case for you.”

Jonathan Hodge – JLD Executive Committee Member

"Whilst this is important and a lot of firms will look at the university that you attended, it is certainly not the be-all and end-all. I

attended an ex-polytechnic university not in one of the major cities and I really enjoyed my time there and the quality of the teaching and support was excellent.

Yes, this did then hinder me slightly in training contract applications to the big firms because they were not familiar with my course or my university, but if I had been applying in the area of the university, it wouldn't have mattered.

Ultimately though I found ways of making myself stand out in other ways; I obtained a first class degree, I did a internship in a law firm in China and I stood for the JLD Executive Committee.

I even managed to explain the benefits of my university course to employers and at interviews and push the social mobility agenda.

Make yourself the best candidate you can be and if you think the university you attended is not helpful, find something else to set you apart."

Charlotte Parkinson – JLD Executive Committee, Chair

"Here are my top tips:

  1. Stay interested in what’s going on around you – in the legal world, and in your area of practice more specifically.
  2. Keep learning!  Your legal education doesn’t end after university – it’s only just begun.  Keep researching and reading into things that interest you.
  3. Pace yourself.  You want your career in law to be sustainable, after all – make sure you look after your own mental and physical health as a priority.

Eloise Skinner – Associate, Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton LLP

"The GDL and LLB are both accepted routes to qualification and I do not think that one is favoured over the other by law firms.

However, someone who has done a non-law degree may be able to demonstrate a knowledge of a specific area which could give them the edge in certain circumstances or in certain niche areas of law."

 Manda Banerji – JLD Vice Chair

"Both!  Aim for a balance of putting effort into your work, and putting effort into building good relationships.  It’s only a couple of weeks, after all – might as well give all your energy to it!"

Eloise Skinner – Associate, Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton LLP

"This will ultimately depend on the individuals circumstances. Often this will boil down to someone's legal experience.

Often a larger firm will look at the skill set of a solicitor when they are looking to move, to see if they have sufficient experience to carry out the work required.

This can sometimes be a barrier, as smaller firms will not deal with large corporate or constructions matters for example.

Moving to larger firms also appears to be time sensitive as well. Upon qualifying it appears less important where somebody has trained or paralegaled previously, however the longer qualified a person becomes the more focus on skills and experience there is.”

Adam Hattersley – JLD Executive Committee Member

"When I was at University I didn’t really have any idea. I thought I wanted to work in a magic circle firm because it seemed glamorous to me. Thinking back I can’t see why I thought the prospect of working somewhere with sleeping pods would be glamorous!

"I got a better idea of the sort of firm I wanted to work for once I had paralegalled in a couple of places. This included a number of high street firms.

High street law firms can be a great place to learn and gain experience as you can often be given a significant amount of responsibility (maybe even too much!). In a much larger firm your role could be quite limited as you are one of a large number of junior lawyers.

High street firms can give you a wider ranging experience with good client exposure. You (should) also benefit from shorter working hours, than at a larger firm when the demands may be higher.

However your salary is likely (although not always) to be lower.

At a high street firm you are likely to get to know everyone you work with and this can mean a more friendly experience. You may also benefit from a shorter commute.

At university and law school, the focus can often be on larger regional or city firms. However, you can have an enjoyable, prosperous and fruitful career in a high street practice and shouldn't rule them out. Try and obtain different work experiences to help you decide what's right for you."

Oliver Grech – JLD Executive Committee Member

"Drawing on your professional and personal experiences in an interview will help you to stand out.

We can use your example to demonstrate several skills law firms are looking for:

Start by thinking about what areas of law interest you. Do civil or criminal justice appeal to you? Are you excited by the prospect of helping a business achieve its aims? Or would you prefer to work closely with people on cases personal to them?

Once you have an idea of what sort of areas appeal to you, try to get as much as exposure to them as possible.

This can be exploring the subject at university, volunteering in specific areas (i.e. citizens advice bureau), or getting paid/unpaid experience at a law firm that specialises in the work you’re interested in.

Getting exposure will help you decide not only if that area excites you, but if you can envision a long-term career in the role.”

Callum Reed – Current JLD Student Representative

"It’s important to note first that some firms require you to attend a specific LPC provider and take a certain number of commercial based topics.

The purpose of this format is to prepare you for work at that particular firm. However, most firms do not have requirements about what LPC subjects you take - especially if you have self-funded the LPC. 

Admittedly, some firms may question your commitment to commercial law if you studied unrelated subjects on the LPC. However, you might be able to justify your reasons for why you took a particular subject - which may give the recruiter/interviewer confidence that it was a thought-out decision rather than one concluded from a distaste for commercial law.

For example, you may have found a niche subject too interesting to miss, and therefore studied it to explore your interest. In such a situation, the recruiter is more likely to focus on your passion than the fact you hadn’t studied a commercial topic."

Callum Reed – Current JLD Student Representative

"It is really important to choose firms accordingly if you are particularly interested in a specific specialism.

Therefore, you need to choose firms that particularly pride themselves on the specialism you are interested in, or at the very least have a team in that area and offer trainee seats in that team.

It is advised to add this interest into your answer to the question, why this firm. It is also advised to have three reasons why you are applying to a particular firm and this could be one of your reasons.

Remember to be open minded too though; you may find yourself in a seat doing an area of law you thought you'd hate but then end up wanting to qualify there."

Hannah Bignell – JLD Executive Committee Member

"Obtaining any qualification will impose financial difficulties on a student, because the nature of studying is that it is unpaid and often the course comes at a fee. I wouldn’t call it a barrier, but it will always be a hurdle - and for some people that hurdle will be higher than it is for others.

While there may be scholarships and grants available for students, for which you should apply, don’t assume you will get a helping hand. If you can, consider working alongside studying to make it more affordable, and look at loan options.
I had no financial assistance and so I studied my LLB and LPC part-time while working full-time (trainee salaries are not generally great so I also worked in a supermarket part-time), and took out a loan for the LPC fees from the bank.

At 4 years qualified I have now paid off that loan, but it was tough. You can do it, but you will have to make sacrifices – remember that nothing worth having comes easily."

Jonathan Hodge – JLD Executive Committee Member

"Research, Research, Research.  The only way to understand the different cultures at various firms is to do your homework. 

Look at speaking to people who you may know at various firms to get an insight into what it may be like to work somewhere. 

Legal recruiters are also often a good source of information as to what the different cultures are in different firms or teams. 

It is often important to distinguish what firms you know you wouldn’t like to work at. If for example you really don't want to work in family or personal injury, it is pointless looking at the culture at firms who work exclusively in these areas.

Local JLD or law societies are often a good way of meeting people from various firms and getting an insight into the culture at firms.”

Adam Hattersley – JLD Executive Committee Member

"If you are an LPC student, LPC graduate, solicitor apprentice, trainee solicitor or solicitor up to 5 years PQE you are automatically a member of the JLD.

The JLD runs several events throughout the year, many of which are free to attend. Details of events are posted on our website and social media channels regularly. Members are encouraged to attend events.

The JLD executive committee consists of 10 elected members, presided over by the chair and vice chair, and are responsible for overseeing the work the JLD does.

Elections for executive committee vacancies take place in October of each year and any member of the JLD is eligible to stand for election, so do look out for further details when elections open again if you are passionate about making a difference and want to be involved in the running of the JLD.

In addition, local JLD groups exist all across the country and we encourage you to get involved with your local JLD. The local JLD’s are completely independent of the national JLD but a representative from each local JLD sits on the JLD national committee, meeting 3 times a year to shape and inform the work done by the executive committee so this is another way to get involved with the JLD.

Further details about the JLD and the various ways to get involved can be found here."

Manda Banerji – JLD Vice Chair

"No, however attendance at JLD events gives you the opportunity to network with recruiters, senior lawyers and other junior lawyers.

Meeting these people can help you to build your network and provide an insight into working at different firms, all of which is beneficial to helping tailor your applications for job roles.

Some JLD events, such as the LPC forum, Junior Lawyer Forum and Annual Conference will have panel sessions and guest speakers from the legal profession discussing areas such as applications, Training Contract Assessments and the benefits of networking which will assist in improving your applications.

At these events, the JLD also offer free clinics which will help to provide hints and tips on how to improve your CV."

Sinéad Mcgrath – JLD Council Member

The JLD’s next “Helping you secure a training position” forums will be held on 3 October 2020 in London.

See Part Three – The Paralegal Route for more useful tips.

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