In this blog post, you will find a list of the questions that I have had from twitter users in response to my #askasolicitor campaign. I have given brief responses below but will cover my answers in more detail in separate blog posts as soon as I can. If I have finished the detailed blog post for a question, I will post the link back here so that you know where to find it! I will also include links to my solicitor interviews where other qualified solicitors have answered those questions. If you have a question that you would like to be answered by a qualified solicitor, please comment below, send me a tweet to @RyanLegalEagles with the hashtag #askasolicitor or post on my facebook page.
“What’s the most valuable thing you have learnt which you can’t find in a textbook? That, or can I have a job please?” from @SamAArnold”
I would say that the most important lesson that I have learnt since university that I wasn’t taught there is that the legal knowledge is really only a third of what you need to succeed. You also need sales & marketing skills and people skills.
Sales & marketing is vital because if you ever want to progress as a solicitor you will eventually need to start bringing in your own clients. As a trainee and NQ, you may be able to skate by on the work brought in by the firm for you, but eventually your employers will look to you to start bringing in new clients yourself. This was certainly a shock to the system for me as a new solicitor, as I had no sales experience and had never been taught it at school or university.
People skills are also crucial to gain new clients and retain existing ones. If you do not form a good relationship with your clients and referrers, they will have no reason to trust you or return to you when they or someone they know needs your help.
Luckily, these skills can be learnt from books to an extent. I have a list of books that cover these subjects on my “recommended reading” list but in particular, I would suggest the PSYCHOLOGY OF SELLING by Brian Tracy, The 25 Sales Habits of Highly Successful Salespeople by Stephen Covey, How To Win Friends And Influence People by Dale Carneige and How to Speak, How to Listen by Mortimer Adler. Practically speaking, these skills will need to be honed with real experience and this will come with time. To get a head start, I suggest attending networking events, functions and perhaps take up a part-time job in retail/sales to work on your marketing skills.
As for the second part of your question, I’m afraid I have no recruitment power at the moment but if I did, I’d be happy to consider you!
“What is your one regret in your career?” by @Gabbyhay
I have spent a lot of time thinking about this question in an attempt to provide you with an answer less corny than “I don’t have any”. But the reality is, I really don’t! Yes, I have made mistakes in my time and yes, I have faced many challenges (like finding a training contract, looking for a job as a NQ solicitor in a recession and my job relocating over an hour away) but if none of those things had happened, I wouldn’t be the solicitor, or person, that I am today!
If I was really pushed for an answer, I guess that I wished I had learnt the importance of selling & marketing (see the above question) at an earlier stage because I would have learnt more about them when I was doing my LPC/training contract. This would have made it a lot easier when I qualified and was suddenly expected to bring in new clients myself.
“Knowing all that you know now, would you still want to be a lawyer and why?” from @RemiToyobo
I suspect that my response to this question is not going to be the response that many of you want to read but I do believe in answering questions honestly. If I were to make the decision again, I would probably not choose to be a solicitor because I don’t think I appreciated how long it takes to be rewarded for all of your hard work and I’m not sure I would have been willing to wait that long if I had known that at the time! One thing you should be aware of is that you may not be paid the salary that you feel you deserve at trainee level, or even as a NQ solicitor. I will go into this in more detail in a later blog post.
Having said that, now that I am a qualified solicitor with 2 years PQE, I am pleased and proud of my career choice. Through the last ten years, I have learnt so much and gained such a wealth of experience that even if I did decide to change careers in the future, I would have such a wide range of options open to me. I love being a family law solicitor and find it incredibly rewarding to help people through such a difficult time in their lives – in the end, that was worth all of those hours of studying and free work experience!
“How did you get a job/traineeship in this economy?” from @AhmedJnr
I managed to secure my training contract halfway through my Legal Practice Course. I made between 60-80 applications and went for 2-3 interviews, so it was a difficult, frustrating process. The firm that employed me as a trainee was one that I had written to after finding them via a google search and liked the look of their website. I sent a copy of my CV with a covering letter, which I had personalised to make it stand out. To do this, I put a photo of a local landmark in the letter’s header with my contact details. This helped my application because (a) it was eye-catching to make it stand out and (b) it shows that I am a local applicant, which high street firms tend to like as you are more likely to want to stay in the area so won’t leave them upon qualification after they have invested so much time and money in training you.
I qualified just as the recession was starting in 2010 and this meant that I wasn’t retained by my training firm. I had to find a job as a NQ solicitor, which can be as difficult as finding a training contract. I took a similar approach as I did when I looked for my training contract: (a) preparing well before starting to apply (see here); (b) networking and asking all of my legal contacts for their help; (c) widening my search to neighbouring counties); (d) searching recruitment websites and (e) building an online social media presence on LinkedIn, twitter and WordPress so that I could demonstrate my soft skills (e.g. networking, marketing) to potential interviewers. It definitely helped to be able to demonstrate to my interviewers that I had 750 followers on twitter and a loyal group of readers of my blog.
I will go into this topic in more detail in a later blog.
“What’s the main thing you look for from applications?” from @natalielorna1
I must point out, first of all, that I have not been involved in the recruitment of trainee solicitors, as I have only been qualified for 2 years myself. But, I was consulted by our firm’s Managing Director in the recruitment of legal assistants and work experience students, so have some knowledge on the subject. In my opinion, the most important qualities to highlight to potential employers include: -
- Academic record (as stated in this post, grades are not everything, but getting excellent grades does give you the edge over other applicants so do your best!);
- Both teamwork and an ability to work well alone: Being a trainee solicitor requires both skills so employers will want to see that you can do both.
- Interpersonal skills & communication
- Business knowledge
- Commitment to a legal career
- Attention to detail (i.e. make sure the application contains no spelling mistakes or grammatical errors!)
- Extra-curricular activities
- Work experience
I will go into details on how to demonstrate each of these in a later blog post, but hopefully this will give you an idea of the sort of things an employer would look for. I am also currently looking to interview managing partners of firms that hire trainees so keep watching the blog for those posts!
“Are you still happy in the area of law you qualified into? Would you change given the chance?” from @LegalGeekChic
When I was a trainee solicitor, I loved litigation and was hoping to qualify into this area upon qualification. However, in the end, I wasn’t retained by the firm that trained me and I had to find a job as a NQ solicitor in a recession, which is almost as difficult as finding a training contract! So, I had to compromise in order to qualify and ended up accepting a job as a family law solicitor.
In the end, I got very lucky – family law enabled me to practice litigation and yet still utilise my compassion and kindness to help people on a personal level with their relationships. It turned out that I was more suited to an area of law where I could make a difference to real people, whereas litigation tended to involve working for big corporations in helping them to save money or avoid being sued! Now that I have worked in the area for a while, I wouldn’t change my choice even if I were given the chance to!
The one downside of family law is that it can at times be a little depressing. I got married two months after starting to practice family law and dealing with the darker side of relationships and bitter disputes over children and money can be a bit disenchanting. However, I find that by focusing on the positive and being grateful for my wonderful husband it actually improves my marriage!
“What are the key motivations & qualities required in order to succeed and enjoy a career in law especially?” from @Lisa__Wang
- Passion, enthusiasm & persistence – A law career is a long, hard slog and it does take a while before your hard work is rewarded financially, so in order to be successful, you really need to love the law and be willing to work hard for little reward or recognition for a few years. Know that it is worth it in the end!
- Time management – Being a lawyer is a stressful job and you will get a lot of different tasks thrown at you during the day. It is crucial that you can juggle these tasks, learn to prioritise them and manage your day if you are to enjoy your job.
- Be friendly, sociable and approachable – This will help you to succeed in networking and build relationships with clients.
- Honesty and integrity – Clients expect lawyers to work to a high moral standard, total professional integrity and ethical code, because they will only instruct solicitors they trust.
These are the top qualities that I think are important to be a successful solicitor and enjoy your career. On top of that, it is important that you can demonstrate the skills listed in my answer to @natalielorna1′s question above to employers. I will go into these in more detail and talk about why they are important in a future blog post.
“What should I expect in the first few days of a training contract?” from @danny_naylor
This can vary depending on the type of firm, but I trained in a typical high street firm so can give you an idea of what my first few days were like. The first morning of my training contract was spent with HR running through all of the firm’s policies and my employment & training contracts. After lunch, I was taken round the firm and introduced to the rest of the staff. In the afternoon, I was given IT training on the email & phone system, client management system and dictation software. By 4pm on my first day, I had been given my first piece of research by the litigation partner. On my second day, I was taken to an appointment with a client, was given some employment contracts to review, proof-read and suggest improvements on and received more training on time recording. I was also shown the debt collection files, which the trainee solicitor at the firm was always responsible for. After the first couple of days, I was given new work everyday.
I would say that I hit the ground running with my training and was very lucky to have a lot of responsibility from an early stage, which helped me to learn an incredible amount very quickly. Some firms have a few days of training and start their trainees off with mainly research and drafting.
I will be interviewing other trainee solicitors and qualified solicitors in the near future and will post their answers to this question here once their interviews have been published.
“Do employers look at the GDL qualification any differently from regular law degree?” from @4090ben
Yes, but not necessarily in a negative way! I know some solicitors who see the GDL as a very good thing because it produces a trainee solicitor who has a much wider knowledge base and experience of other things. For example, a trainee solicitor who did a degree in business would excel in commercial law, or if they did a psychology degree, they may excel in family law. A marketing degree would help with promoting the firm and it’s services. From my experience of high street firms, employers do not tend to mind which route the student took to being ready for a training contract, as long as they can demonstrate the right skills (see my answers to @natalielorna1 and @Lisa__Wang’s questions above), show enthusiasm for their business and their personality fits with the ethos of the firm.
I will cover the GDL in more detail in a later post.
“Will only a pass at LPC hinder getting a training contract?” from @4_samm
First of all, there is no such thing as “only a pass” when it comes to the Legal Practice Course. It is a tough course with a high workload and tight deadlines. Many students fail the Legal Practice Course and only a small minority get a commendation or distinction. If you have passed the LPC, you should be incredibly proud and give yourself a huge pat on the back!
In terms of whether this will hinder your chances of getting a training contract, obviously the law students with a distinction or commendation will have a slight edge on you when recruiters are reviewing the applications. This does not mean that you will not be able to get a training contract though! I would focus on increasing the work experience and other interests on your CV to help you stand out and this will improve your chances. For more advice, see my blog post on grades here.
You can find Sheena at Osborne Morris Morgan’s response to some of these questions here.
Don’t forget, if you have a question that you would like to #askasolicitor, either comment below, send me a tweet to @RyanLegalEagles with the hashtag #askasolicitor or write a post on my facebook page. Als, feel free to contact me in the same ways if you are a qualified solicitor and would like to add your answer to any of these questions – we would love your input!