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What Will Replace The Fading Dreams Of City Law Megabucks And Criminal Bar Glamour?

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This is the central question that the panel will be discussing at Legal Cheek‘s Google Campus event this evening.

The boom era narratives that attracted students to the law are fading. City law salaries are no longer spiralling; instead they’re stagnant, with trainee numbers falling and many corporate firms desperately scouring the horizon for merger candidates.

Meanwhile, the Inns of Court-related glamour that has traditionally drawn students to the publicly-funded Bar is giving way to a sense that the hardship involved just isn’t worth it.

Amid the gloom, however, there are some interesting new legal career options developing…

The prospect of being involved in the development of a legal frameworks to regulate social media and other online innovations will surely prove a big draw to wannabe lawyers over the next few years.

As will the opportunity to write about it, as part of the ongoing fusion between lawyering and legal journalism we’re seeing – with this new willingness to mix and match also extending to other areas like academia.

Then there’s the opportunity for entrepreneurship – facilitated by the internet – as existing business models come under ever more strain. At a talk recently Helena Kennedy QC spoke about how she and a group of colleagues founded their own chambers when they were straight out of pupillage. Why? Because there was no set out there which did the sort of work they wanted to do, in the way they wanted to. Have we reached a similar point in time again?

Below are some questions we’ve had submitted in advance for discussion by the panel – which includes New Statesman legal correspondent David Allen Green, UK Human Rights Blog editor and practising barrister Adam Wagner, magic circle lawyer-turned-Queen Mary University of London academic Jill Marshall, Accutrainee founder Susan Cooper, Seed Academy organiser and trainee solicitor Mark Needham, Artesian Law co-founder Jonathan Rose, and social media journalist Emily Jupp of The Independent.

1. Can law students and junior lawyers tap into the wave of optimism and energy you see around the London tech scene, or is being a lawyer at odds with the start-up mentality? (This question follows the story of a 19 year-old Londoner who sold his start-up to a Californian company for £500,000 and did all the legal work on the deal himself using information he’d found online.)

2. How viable is it for lawyers to be entrepreneurial at an early stage of their careers? What’s realistic – and what’s not?

3. Could a new, low overhead online model help mitigate the cuts to legal aid – and make it viable to be a junior lawyer specialising in publicly funded work?

4. Where next for law blogging/legal journalism? (As David Allen Green has pointed out in the past, Fleet Street newspapers originally arose out of the legal publishing industry. Are we going full circle? Will, for example, pupil barristers of the future be expected to serve time working as reporters on UK Human Rights Blog-style websites?)

5. Will legal careers become more flexible? i.e. Is it possible to be a lawyer/legal journalist/legal academic at the same time – or at least jump around much more in your career?

6. How should law students approach mediums like social media, blogging and YouTube? Many are petrified about saying something that offends a potential employer. How much risk should they take?

This evening’s event, which is sponsored by Kaplan Law School, is fully booked, but there may be chance to get in on the night if there are last minute cancellations. Keep an eye on the Legal Cheek Twitter feed for more details. The Google Campus is on 4-5 Bonhill Street, London, EC2A 4BX.

4 Comments

Ems

The profession has tried to glam up over the last twenty years – job satisfaction though is in actually helping people –

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Sue

In the real world neither of those options ever represented any more than a very few legal careers. The majority plug on doing the work clients need without paying any attention to the shysters in the golden circle. The reality is that most peoples interaction with lawyers is with those of us at the “fish and chips ” end of the market and frankly we are doing a better job of it than those at the so called top end. We may not make the mega bucks but we provide a service our clients need and we do it well. The disdain that we get from the “big boys” is just a joke. And heres a hint, we are not all second or third tier, there are a lot of us who chose to leave the circle., all too often because we realised that as women we were handicapped right from the start at those firms. Sure they all have a few “picture window” women as partners but that is as far as it goes.

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Sarah

There are some questions left unsaid by this debate (and my view was of working with a top 5 law firm so is biased towards the high end firms). But central to these are two threads

1. Why do law require a lawyer to work 7 days a week to show commitment to clients and the firm (which leads to poor productivity, burn-out and a wish to leave the law)?
2. Why do law firms measure staff “success” based on hours and fees rather than business development, referrals, mentoring of younger staff, passing on knowledge, writing articles, creating new businesses (which in turn become clients if successful), innovation etc? What better way to stifle innovation than to only measure strict inputs.

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Uncle Solicitor

You make some good observations. These large firms have been transformed from what were once centers of professional excellence to centers of professional excellence with more of an emphasis upon profit. You are not a solicitor at these firms, you are a solicitor and a battery hen. The number of eggs you lay, feed you eat, and other things you do must be measured, otherwise it’s very difficult to work out how much profit is made.

Of course if you want to practice law like in the movies/tv, then you must aim for a smaller firm where you can undertake the work of lawyering without having to be a battery hen (and that applies to men and women – yes men solicitors at these large firms are hens too).

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