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Uni law degrees don’t prepare grads for law firm life, report claims

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Bosses bemoan ‘basic grammatical mistakes’ and lack of commercial awareness

Undergrad law degrees aren’t much good at teaching people how to lawyer.

That’s the finding of research carried out with ten different sized law firms, which concludes that new grads come into the office with a “notable gap of essential skills”.

Kiel Consulting says that unis “tend not to prepare their students” for a working life in professional services and that the industry feels “there is a requirement for change”.

The research involved interviews with partners and recruiters at firms ranging from high street to international. It comes with a disclaimer that it represents Kiel Consulting’s interpretation of those conversations rather than the opinions of the firms themselves.

But it seems pretty clear that partners aren’t blown away by the office-readiness of their new recruits.

Over 90% of those interviewed gave “improved attention to detail” as their biggest ask for trainees. This was mostly to do with their written output, which tends to lack structure and include too much technical language and even Latin phrases (malum in se).

Bosses also bemoaned “basic grammatical mistakes such as the use of apostrophes or the correct use of Yours Sincerely and Yours Faithfully”.

Another 83% wanted junior lawyers to be better able to handle the “hostile environment” of a law firm by building up “resilience and perseverance”. The report points out that, quite apart from demanding clients and aggressive opponents, “there can also be hostility internally, amongst colleagues”.

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So if you really want to practice for your first year on the job, ask your lecturer to send you a sarky email from time to time.

The firms fed back that grads with work experience as well as a degree under their belt tend to have more resilience — and to be quicker at building up it as a trainee.

The third most common complaint was our old friend commercial awareness. Respondents wanted newbies to understand the financial mechanics of a law firm, including “accounting mechanics such as WIP, Lock Up, P&L [and] billability targets”.

Seventy-one precent even claimed that superior commercial awareness would put a 2.1 student ahead of a rival with a first in the training contract hunt.

And the firms also want their juniors to work like dogs. Partners want their billing fodder to be “proactively asking for work” and “working long hours to meet deadlines”. The report says that asking about billing targets at interview comes across well (and at least you’ll know what you’re in for).

The report draws on interviews with senior staff at Ashfords, Browne Jacobson, Coodes, GA Solicitors, Michelmores, Nash & Co, Trowers & Hamlins, WBW Solicitors, Wollens and Womble Bond Dickinson.

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