From Durham to Bristol: the advantages of being a future lawyer outside London

Burges Salmon trainee Sarah Carter has found high quality work and a really nice lifestyle in the South West

Brandon Hill and houses, from Ashton Court

When Sarah Carter (pictured) secured her training contract with Bristol-based national firm Burges Salmon at the end of her Durham University history degree, she decided to head to the South West to do her Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) and Legal Practice Course (LPC).

Despite hardly knowing anyone in Bristol when she arrived, the move has worked out well, with Sarah scooping this year’s Bristol Law Society’s Law Student of the Year award.

This week Legal Cheek Careers caught up with Sarah — who started her training contract in August — to hear about her decision not to follow the crowds of graduates to London.

Legal Cheek Careers: It’s interesting that you moved to a city that you had no previous ties with to do law school and begin your career.

Sarah Carter: Initially when I was applying I thought that I was going to go to London. Obviously a lot of people from university tended to go there, and a lot of the firms which came to see us in Durham were from London.

However, having researched firms and met them on campus, Burges Salmon was the one that I was most interested in. I did three vacation schemes — one at a large City firm, one at a niche firm in the South East and one at Burges Salmon in Bristol.

They were all good experiences but Burges Salmon stood out and I was fortunate enough to secure a training contract with them. When it came to deciding where to go to law school, I could have moved back home to my parents in Hampshire and studied in Guildford, but I preferred the idea of starting to put down roots in Bristol. First, though, I went to work in Paris as an au pair for the year as I was keen to improve my French.

Legal Cheek Careers: Given that you won Bristol Law Student of the Year, we’re assuming that law school went well.

Sarah Carter: Winning the award was fantastic but definitely a surprise given the calibre of the other candidates shortlisted. I was put forward for it by ULaw because I had good grades on my LPC and I was involved in quite a few things at the centre — I did pro bono work at St Mungo’s, a local homelessness charity, I was a student ambassador at the university, helping with law fairs and networking events, and I ran the netball team.

It was a very sociable couple of years, and I made some really close friends on the GDL and LPC. It helps that a lot of the law students in Bristol live close by and are within walking distance from the law school, and obviously Bristol is a great city for doing stuff and going out. Plus, with Bristol being less expensive than London, and the smaller size meaning there is less need for public transport, the financial pressure on students is a bit easier to manage.

Legal Cheek Careers: How is life as a trainee treating you?

Sarah Carter: So far my first seat in International Tax in the Private Client department has been really exciting, and it’s nice to finally put those years of hard work into practice! As with law school, it has been quite sociable, with the 28 of us in my intake bonding well in our first couple of weeks of training.

What attracted me to Burges Salmon was its culture — it’s a very friendly and inclusive firm — and that has been evident throughout these last couple of months. This isn’t to say that it isn’t hard work. With Bristol being the firm’s headquarters, it means that you are getting exposure to high quality and high priority work — and that means sometimes you have to work a bit later to ensure that everything gets done. But the environment you are in means that you are keen to do that.

Legal Cheek Careers: What is your advice to students currently looking for training contracts?

Sarah: The first thing would be to take your degree course seriously from day one — law firms want to know every grade you got in your first year as well as your third year. So it’s important to be motivated right at the beginning.

I’d also encourage people to go to as many law fairs and law firm presentations as possible. There’s only so much you can get from websites and brochures; you find out a lot more about how law firms work, and how their recruitment processes operate, when you listen to lawyers and graduate recruitment staff in person. It’s only then that you can differentiate between firms.

Finally, I’d advise students to do as much work experience as possible. There is no substitute for spending time at a firm, and the vac scheme that I did at Burges Salmon was what made me realise this was the place for me. Everything I have been doing since has been building on that.

Burges Salmon firm profile [Legal Cheek]

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