1. PAST EXPERIENCES
At the outset of your career you will not have a complete CV and therefore it is often the case that potential employers will look at the person as a whole and decide if you have the right non-tangible skills that would help you develop into a successful Lawyer. For this reason you should consider your range of experience such as: sporting successes, academic achievements, positions of leadership, time in industry, hobbies and accomplishments as well as interests. What is often forgotten is that whilst grades are important you will be competing with other candidates who are equally as qualified. Employers will therefore be looking for someone with the ‘extra edge’.
An interesting background will help you come across well at an interview as it may give you something extra to discuss that will help you get your personality across, as well as being able to take the core skills from other activities and relate them to the law will demonstrate that you have given serious thought to becoming a Lawyer, what it takes and that you have solid examples on how you believe you can meet the challenges ahead.
2. CONTACT WITH THE PROFESSION
Making formal decisions about your future and career can be a daunting prospect. Therefore it is advantageous to try and obtain work experience (formally or informally) across a range of private practice firms or even the public sector.
Often the larger firms will run vacation schemes for which you will have to apply. These provide both work experience and shadowing opportunities, together with a formal application assessment. These are becoming increasingly important for anyone wishing to obtain a training contract and often trainees will be selected from those who have undertaken a vacation scheme.
Smaller firms may be willing to offer part-time or vacation work to those willing to apply; however, again it should be noted that smaller firms will also receive a large number of requests and therefore you will have to be competitive when making the application.
If the Bar is your route of choice then mini-pupillages are a must; here you will spend time in Chambers shadowing a Barrister for a set amount of time.
The advantage of having obtained some practical experience/exposure in law is that it will provide an insight into the different types of practice and areas of law. This will assist in formal applications and will be helpful during any interviews you may obtain. It will also put you in close proximity to practicing Lawyers, which will enable you to understand more about the culture and the non-tangible skills required.
3. KEY SKILLS
Whilst this is a non-exhaustive list, the below skills are thought to be an additional requirement in becoming a successful Lawyer:
- Lateral Thinking: Whilst there is certainly routine within any transaction or litigation, often a case can rely on tactics and/or structure. There is little point in knowing the law inside and out if you are not about to relate the law to the facts and consider alternative approaches.
- Attention to Detail: As a Lawyer you will often have to serve papers in a prescribed form and know when forms you receive are invalid, equally the law may turn on a particularly small point that is easily overlooked in the grand scheme of things. Law is about being exact and this is achieved through attention to detail.
- Communication/Negotiation: Once you have your advice or argument it will be necessary to communicate this efficiently and effectively and make your point so that your client gets the best deal possible. As such excellent spoken and written communication skills are vital.
- Work Ethic: No matter what size firm you work for you will have late nights in the office, tight deadlines to meet, be expected to juggle numerous files and meet both time and financial targets. A strong work ethic is a requirement as is the willingness to put in the hours.
- Team Working: Increasingly Lawyers specialise in one aspect of the law, but often deals span a number of specialism or may involve more than one person handling a file. As such the ability to work in a team environment is important for successfully completing a matter.
- Social Responsibility: Whilst the law is a business there is also the ethics and pursuit of justice which is worked into our professional regulations and the spirit of what we do. Many legal practices are keen for their Lawyers to be seen to give something back to the community and/or the profession with many firms having committees set up to get involved in pro bono activities[A1].
A career within the legal profession is no longer just about pure law. Increasingly, Lawyers are expected to take part in business development activities and sell their firm’s service. As such, attending networking events will assist in developing relationships with other Lawyers and potential clients, in order to market yourself and make vital connections.
Despite the branch you go into networking remains a key skill of any Lawyer. As a general description Lawyers are client facing and often have to explain complicated or sensitive information to a client; you will have to conduct difficult and delicate negotiations with the other side, co-ordinate different teams or Lawyers and bring in new work.
Within Birmingham there are three main groups that will organise networking events: Birmingham Law Society, Birmingham Solicitors’ Group and Birmingham Trainee Solicitors Society. Equally, many firms and chambers organise their own networking groups as do many professional (non-Lawyer specific) groups. All of these give the young professional the chance to develop networking and social skills that will be needed throughout their career.
[A1]Should we also include Commercial Awareness, since this is commonly cited as a key attribute by firms?