In my capacity as Marketing Manager at Darlingtons law firm I have had the pleasure of visiting and speaking to students at a number of Universities in the last year, including Bradford.
These visits bring back memories of my own time studying law, albeit in a different era. As I often explain to students, I thought little about my future career while studying law and looking back, that was rather naiive.
However, times are very different now – legal practice has radically changed and perhaps most importantly, the legal market has changed hugely. Competition in the legal sector between law firms, lawyers and students looking to pursue a legal career, is at unprecedented levels and this means that students now need to be ahead of the game even whilst at University.
Here are my top tips to maximise your career prospects in law :-
- Being a good technical lawyer is unlikely to be enough – with so many more law students now and with clients generally having the upper hand in the commercial relationship between lawyer and client, business and people skills are now far more important than ever before. Developing your non-academic skills and the right mindset are really important now.
- Be adaptable and open – working environments, cultures and clients are all different. Being adaptable to different situations is really important. With clients tending to self diagnose their legal issues and problems, demanding certainty on costs and tight timescales, client management skills are now really important.
- Understand how clients think – this comes within the overall topic of “commercial awareness”. In previous eras, where lawyers were considered more as pure professionals rather than professional service providers, lawyers did not have to think like clients. Now clients expect and demand that you understand them, their businesses, their markets and demonstrate an appreciation of cost/benefit/risk and not just the professional duty to advise and represent thoroughly, perhaps without a keen eye on costs.
- Be a genuine team player – in less competitive times, there was a tendency for lawyers, even working within law firms, to only concern themselves with their own billings and clients. Future success and potentially even survival of individual law firms is now closely linked to whether the lawyers and staff within the firm behave as a team, seeking at all opportunities to help each other for the success of the firm. Assisting clients, wherever possible, not just with legal advice, thereby creating a team approach with clients is also a key differentiator.
- Embrace digital – clients will invariably look online at lawyers and law firms as part of their appraisal and buying process. A strong and attractive presence online is now essential for law firms and lawyers. Without this, you will look old fashioned. In the case of students, law firms, just like other employers, may well take a look at you online. Students who are active digitally, in a good way, already demonstrating online that they have the attributes mentioned in my other points, often stand out. Having a good digital presence can result in applications to law firms failing or succeeding. Embracing digital also means stepping out side of your comfort zone and being willing to adapt and work with marketing people on things such as creating videos and other content.
- The trend towards risk assessment – bearing in mind that based on supply and demand, clients tend to now have the upper hand in selecting lawyers, the relationship has changed from profession only to profession and service. Clients are increasingly now expecting lawyers to accept at least a degree of risk in a way that previously was not the case. So, lawyers now need to think a lot more like business people. An example of this, relating to bigger law firms, is where large businesses are seeking lawyers who will share some of the risk on litigation matters. Being able to demonstrate good business awareness and skills will help students impress potential employers. The biggest firms would generally classify this as “commercial awareness”
- Understand that law firms are all different – different sizes and types of law firms are very different from each other. Common to almost all though is feeling then pressure and stresses of a much more competitive profession. Understanding that for smaller law firms, where the majority of lawyers end up working, junior staff members are really important and need to contribute to some of the non-legal activities described in this note, is imperative.
- Stay positive and determined – students reading these tips and those who have researched prospects from training contract applications my feel downhearted. However, a key attribute for all lawyers is determination. If you stay positive and embrace the changes in the legal market you stand a much better chance than other applicants. By being creative you may find a way to impress a prospective law firm employer. Most law firms are feeling the strain so they are seeking all rounders who can do more than law, have a positive, creative and determined approach!
Craig Sharpe is Marketing Manager at Darlingtons and previously practised as a solicitor for a number of years.