Ask A Lawyer – Careers in Law
I have recently been working with Shrewsbury Colleges Group to answer some key questions that students have about careers in law. I was grateful for the thought-provoking questions posed by their students as outlined below.
What Is the Most Important Thing You Have Learnt from Your Experience in Law?
I think the most important thing is perseverance and being able to roll with the punches. There are days when things just do not go to plan and you have to really push to make sure you have done all that you can. Sometimes that means putting in extra hours to get the job done and sometimes it means taking a step back and adapting to new information and changing your strategy. It is really important to be able to provide a service to clients where they can be confident that whatever comes up, you will be able to handle it and protect their best interests to the best of your ability. COVID-19 has been a great example of this where we have all had to learn how to work virtually and to utilise new technologies to get the job done.
Is the Role of Solicitors Similar in All Law Firms?
In a nutshell, a solicitor’s role is to assist in preparing a legal case and to provide legal advice to clients. However, what this means in terms of your day-to-day role can be really varied depending on the firm, the work you do, what kind of clients you are working with and your role within that firm. Different firms have different set ups – some where work is done collaboratively within a team of people & some where you are more of a lone wolf. Equally, different types of clients will mean that you will have to adapt and deal with them differently – the role of someone who works in a corporate department dealing with businesses is quite different from the role of someone who works in a family law department dealing with individuals. In addition, your own role may be varied depending on whether you are a team leader as well as a solicitor and whether you are responsible for any specific additional tasks or projects within the firm (e.g. we often have one person who is responsible for keeping our precedents updated as well as their day job). As well as solicitors, there are other roles within law, such as legal executives, paralegals or assistants and secretaries. All have slightly different responsibilities and are a vital part of the team.
The variation in roles and duties within a firm is part of the reason why it is important to properly research the firm you are thinking of applying to, and to try and get a good idea of their culture and whether you feel you are a good fit.
What Professional and Personal Skills Do You Need to Succeed in This Field?
Good communication skills – particularly the ability to listen to others. This is really important as you need to be able to communicate well will clients, your supervisor, junior members of your team and third parties.
Attention to detail – clients and colleagues rely on you reading everything carefully with an analytical approach. You need to be meticulous with your work so that everyone, including yourself, can be confident that if you say the answer is "X", that it is the case.
A solution-orientated approach to problems.
Why Did You Choose a Career in Law?
It ticked two important boxes for me in terms of what I felt I needed to have as a fulfilling job. The first one is I have always enjoyed working with people and I felt that law would give me good opportunities for that level of interaction and client care. I enjoy speaking to my clients and helping them wherever I can. I also enjoy working with my colleagues and the team-orientated approach we have towards work. It is a really enjoyable and supportive environment to work within.
The second is that I have always loved to learn new things. I never really liked the concept of doing a job that would be the same day in and day out. Law is never like that. The law itself is constantly changing. The clients and the difficulties they are facing are always unique, albeit sometimes there are recurring themes. As a consequence, I am always challenged and interested by my work.
What Is a Typical Work Day Like?
Depending which area of law you specialise in, your day will really vary. I specialise in personal injury and, in particular, catastrophic accidents resulting in serious injuries such as amputations or brain injuries or even death. There is no real ‘typical’ day as what I do is very varied each day. Sometimes I will be taking witness statements, sometimes I will be scrutinising reports we have had from experts and sometimes I will be preparing legal documents related to the cases.
How Demanding Is a Career in Law? Do Different Areas Require You to Work More Hours than Others?
I would say it is a demanding career. It is not something that is a 9 to 5 job. As I have already mentioned it is quite challenging at times, both due to pressing deadlines and the fact the work in itself can be complex and difficult. That said, I think it is a very rewarding career and one that is stimulating and interesting. One of the difficulties is that if you want to offer a good service to clients, it often means that you have to be flexible and prepared to do extra work when needed. For instance, I have had times when I have spoken to witnesses or clients in the evening or the weekend because that was the only time they weren’t working. Equally I have had times where something urgent has come up and had to be dealt with there and then.
Different areas do have different demands and different firms have different expectations. For instance, in a regional firm such as Lanyon Bowdler, the hours are not as extensive as those in London. Some departments do have a culture of more late nights, but generally speaking I would say most areas of law are pretty demanding. I would always advise looking into the areas you are interested in; doing work experience in those areas if at all possible and also investigating the firm that you are applying to. Most firms are fairly open about their requirements and should be able to give you a good steer on this.