Navigating the jobs market has never been easy, especially for those just starting to break into their field of choice. Now, with the country labouring under a historic pandemic, the prospect of kicking off a career seems daunting.
But what can aspiring legal practitioners still do to increase their chances of finding a fulfilling role? In partnership with Lawyer Monthly, Simply Law Jobs hears below from a range of professionals in the legal sector offering their advice to those looking to make their start in 2021.
“Break out of the mindset that there is only one right way to get started”
Catherine Wasilewski, Principal Consultant – Legal at Sellick Partnership
I think it is important to start by reassuring those about to begin their legal career that there is still a market for entry level roles within the sector. With so many traditional networking opportunities on hold because of the pandemic, a strong social media presence has never been so important. LinkedIn and Twitter are fantastic places to connect with others in the field and keep across industry developments.
Law has always been competitive, but today there are so many different ways to gain the experience needed to build a successful career. If I had to share my biggest piece of advice, it would be to break out of the mindset that there is only one right way to get started.
“Keeping an open mind is an essential part of the role”
Nick Titchener, Director and Solicitor Advocate at Lawtons Law, Criminal Solicitors:
It is important to do your research to ensure you understand the qualifications required for the specific position you are striving for. As well as this, identify any relevant work experience opportunities that will help you emphasise your commitment to a career in law, such as holiday schemes, mini-pupillages, marshalling or pro bono work. There is also a new route into legal practice that you can consider – a legal apprenticeship.
Before embarking on your pursuit of becoming a lawyer, reflect on the range of required traits to ensure you are a good fit for the role. Firstly, being able to swiftly read, digest and retain large amounts of information while upholding attention to detail is key, as even the smallest oversight could negatively impact a case.
Also, the ability to communicate verbally and in writing with a wide range of people is an important skill for a lawyer to have, as well as the resilience to thrive under the pressure of long hours and a heavy workload. Additionally, keeping an open mind is an essential part of the role. Sometimes you may be required to represent individuals who have been accused of severe crimes, and you must assist them so that they can have a fair trial without your personal morals affecting this.
“We’d take political passion over apathy any day”
Chris Bishop, managing partner at Slater Heelis
The prevailing belief within professional services has long been that to kickstart your career, you must rid of your political convictions, avoid controversy, and not rock the boat. Complacency around real issues like climate change and Black Lives Matter is palatable for many in law, because it’s safer to be “inoffensive” than it is opinionated.
Playing it safe may have its appeal – especially given the competitiveness of law. But being energised about social issues is not incompatible with a successful law career. I’d argue the opposite. It’s worth remembering that being able to set aside opinions is a privilege. Many individuals who feel the impact of social injustices can’t afford apathy, but may also feel like they can’t afford controversy either.
Let me offer the following advice, and hopefully reassurance, to anyone launching their law career: don’t shy away from having your voice heard. It’s the individuals who show provocative thought who will bring the transformational change that the sector so needs. The legal world has much to learn from this young generation of motivated campaigners.
Law needs young minds who are willing to challenge the status quo. At Slater Heelis, we’d take political passion over apathy any day.
“Focus on where your passion lies”
Sophia Damshenas, specialist legal recruiter for Cathedral Appointments
The legal jobs market is extremely competitive and because of this, qualifications are crucial. Employers are looking for entry level candidates to either be Law/LPC graduates, or be interested in pursuing the CILEX (Chartered Institute of Legal Executives) route whilst on the job.
Employers also expect entry level candidates to be passionate and knowledgeable about the area of law that they are applying for. Therefore, candidates need to consider their options when it comes to specialisms and be able to demonstrate in-depth and relevant understanding gained whilst at University or during any time spent involved volunteering in the sector, in the form of work experience or law clinics (which are still taking place remotely at this time).
I would advise any candidate looking to start their legal career to proactively research different specialisms and explore how these actually translate in the working world, as the majority of the time, this is very different to studying the subject whilst at University.
In terms of picking your specialism early on, this is extremely important as, more often than not, this will be the area of law that you will be tied to for the foreseeable future. Focus on where your passion lies.
“Keep your eyes open for new opportunities”
Jessica Hampson, Owner and Managing Director of CEL Solicitors
The new generation of solicitors are much more diverse. They no longer fit into the traditional mould and I think it’s really important for those starting a new career in law to embrace this. My own personal path wasn’t via the conventional route. After finding it hard to get a training contract in a big Top 50 firm, I did the Period of Recognised Training to qualify and now I run my own successful law firm.
I faced challenges, but my journey shaped my path and inspired me to disrupt the legal sector by starting a firm with a ‘people before profits’ culture, which ensures a happy workforce is central to success. Selecting a firm with the right values and culture for you is essential, after all we spend most of our time at work – so it’s important to love what you do.
My other big tip is to believe in yourself, because throughout your journey you’re going to have knock backs and having that determination to succeed is what gets you through. The problem sometimes is we’re all so eager to get to the top of the mountain and have everything instantly that we forget it is a mountain. Don’t just automatically think your law career is mapped out or that there is only one route to get to where you want to be. Keep your eyes open for new opportunities; you just don’t know what’s around the corner.
“Find a way to stand out from the crowd”
Dottie Fairbrother, HR Business Partner & Head of People Management at Hampson Hughes:
When considering a career in law, it’s essential to remain open-minded about where you would like your career path to take you and what is required of you to get there. While you may enter into your studies or first role having a clear idea of the practice area you’d like to focus on, you should ensure you get as much experience across various areas of the law as possible.
Grab any opportunity to try your hand at something outside your comfort zone before you commit to specialising – many skills are transferrable, with completely different practice areas complementing each other. The legal sector is constantly evolving too, so self-development never stops, whether that’s through new ways of working, new legislation or simply fresh approaches to client handling.
Those starting their careers should also be 100% prepared to find a way to stand out from the crowd – it’s an incredibly competitive industry so anything you can do to put your own stamp on things will set you in good stead. This could be anything from implementing new processes to make communications slicker, to keeping fully abreast of the latest changes to a specific type of legislation and sharing best practice with colleagues – it’s all about making your mark!”
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