Hogan Lovells financial services litigation partner Louise Lamb — who’ll be speaking at ‘How to survive in a changing legal market — Legal Cheek at Gray’s Inn’ — shares some legal life hacks
When I was applying for training contracts, firms did not have graduate recruitment websites or Facebook pages, email was very new (and rarely used) and nobody at university had a mobile telephone (it wasn’t that long ago, I promise!).
At most, you could send off for a glossy brochure, but it was difficult to tell firms apart. I was lucky. I came into a career which I thoroughly enjoy (most days!) — but I have learned a lot along the way and, if I had my time again, there is no doubt that I would do some things differently.
1. IT’S WISE TO BE OPEN-MINDED — AND HONEST WITH YOURSELF
There are so many different areas of law in which to practise (many of which you will never touch on at university or law school) and so many different types of firms at which to develop your career. Trying to decide which path to follow may appear daunting at first, but the task will be much easier if you are honest from the start about what you want, what interests you and what you are good or bad at.
So do your research and don’t dismiss anything out of hand. You could easily be working for the next fifty years or more; that’s a long time to be doing something which you don’t really enjoy. Try to set up as much work experience as you can to help you to understand what it really means to be a lawyer. Being a City solicitor is a very rewarding career — but it is not for everyone and so you should be honest about whether or not you have what it takes.
2. DEVELOP YOUR COMMERCIAL AWARENESS EARLY ON
Most clients are not interested in the finer details of the law — which comes as a terrible shock to many of us! A major corporate client will look to its legal team to advise it on how it can achieve its business goals lawfully, and to help it when things go wrong. You have to be technically excellent but the law does not operate in a vacuum; you also have to understand your client’s commercial objectives so that you can apply the law to achieve a solution which works for the business.
If you are not interested in what is happening in the business world or in global events more generally, and how they impact what your clients are doing, then being a City solicitor probably is not the right career for you. Commercial awareness is not something you can learn overnight. But if you take time to read a quality newspaper or listen to the business segments on Radio 4 regularly, you will, over time, develop an appreciation of what is happening in the world (including the business world) which will be of immense benefit.
3. LEARN TO NETWORK
Building strong and lasting relationships with others is a key skill for a lawyer. You need to be the sort of person who is happy working in teams, who can put clients at their ease in stressful circumstances, who can get on with a wide variety of people from all walks of life, and who is comfortable in social situations. In short, the sort of person clients will want to spend time with. Of course it is important to focus on technical skills early in your career, but don’t overlook the need to start building your contacts from the outset. Your fellow students today will be the industry leaders of tomorrow.
4. THINGS DON’T ALWAYS GO ACCORDING TO PLAN
I always have a plan. I know how I want things to play out. But this is real life and things do not always follow the plan. That’s fine. Being a good lawyer is not about everything going to plan all the time. It’s about being flexible and creative and knowing what to do when the plan falls apart. You have to learn how to roll with the punches and think on your feet, but that is what makes the job exciting and helps make you more resilient.
5. YOU CAN’T BE ALL THINGS TO ALL PEOPLE ALL OF THE TIME
Law is a service industry. It is a great career, but it is demanding. Deadlines are often tight, finding solutions to client problems is not always easy, and the job will take up a lot of your time and energy. So you have to be resilient and prepared to work hard, but you also have to learn to take advantage of the less busy times and take time off whenever the opportunity arises, even if it’s mid-week. Make sure that you have good support structures around you so that you can keep all the balls in the air. And be good to your friends and family because you will need them to be very understanding at times.
Louise Lamb is a partner in Hogan Lovells‘ financial services litigation team in London. She will be speaking at Legal Cheek‘s latest free careers advice event, ‘How to survive — and even thrive — in a changing legal market’, on the evening of Tuesday 21 October. Reserve your place here.
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