The panel of leading lawyers at Monday’s ‘If I knew then what I know now’ Q&A at Inner Temple offered students some thought-provoking and often unconventional pieces of advice.
Here are seven notable insights from the session, with the full video of the discussion below.
Fiona Scolding, social welfare and human rights barrister at Hardwicke: Think carefully about which area of civil law you specialise in
“What’s boom time at the Bar can change rapidly. 15 years ago it was planning. Now IP and international human rights work are being tipped as the top up-and-coming areas. Currently the golden age for the publicly-funded Bar is fading, while the commercial Bar is booming.”
“There is not civil legal aid anymore for the vast majority of work because it was abolished in April last year. The courts are seeing the effects — judges in County Courts will tell you that the majority of people they see are litigants-in-person. There is about to be a fresh round of cuts that will make it much more difficult to bring judicial review claims.”
“You can have a career in civil legal aid if you specialise in certain areas where it is unlikely that public funding can be cut any more. For example, care, mental health, education, some aspects of housing work, but other than that there is no legal aid available anymore. It doesn’t exist.”
Chris Stoakes, director of legal projects at Hogan Lovells: Legal Education and Training Review set to open up legal profession
“Law will always be there. It is one of the big forces in society. There will always be a demand. You can’t look at big firms to drive change. Look at the other end of the profession.
“I see lots of things happening, especially with the Legal Education and Training Review at the moment. First of all there is the drive for diversity. We need a profession that reflects the society it serves. We don’t have that. Then there are the different types of lawyer you can be these days. The old model was solicitor or barrister or nothing. Now you can do loads of things. The Chartered Institute of Legal Executives (CILEx) route is a great way to become a lawyer. What I see happening is actually a whole opening up of the legal profession to different ways of working. It is an incredibly exciting time. There are opportunities out there for those who are keen and dynamic. But you’ve got to be prepared to change and drive change.”
Nigel Savage, president of the University of Law: Fracking will be the next big thing in law
“The solicitors’ profession grew out of the boom in the railway industry in Victorian times: real estate, land disputes…they acted for the landed gentry when they were putting railway lines down. Now you see the beginnings of this process in US litigation relating to energy. Fracking is going to cover all sorts of disputes in terms of land ownership, rights and settlement problems. It’ll be a boom time…I am being quite serious, it will be a goldmine for lawyers.
“In the meantime, we are seeing a lot of innovation…I was a judge at the Manchester Law Society Awards and I was astonished by the amount of innovation coming through some small and medium-sized firms in the regions. Don’t be obsessed about working for a global firm. There are some fantastic new legal businesses emerging run by young people who actually understand how to run a business — not for maintaining profit per partner next year, but to build sustainable businesses — so broaden your net and look at some of these commercial firms that are emerging, particularly in the north.”
Dominic Griffiths, head of banking and finance at Mayer Brown: Expect international law firms to make a big diversity push over the coming years
“[In terms of graduate recruitment] it’s very easy to just pick the cream of the crop. And I’ve heard it said many times across the City: ‘It’s amazing these days you can just pick the Oxbridge firsts.’ I think that we run a big risk of ending up with just middle class white males from Oxbridge — there’s nothing wrong with Oxbridge whatsoever, by the way — but I think it’s really incumbent on us to make sure we throw out the net much further and really appreciate people’s innate talents. There’s a lot of lip service paid to this in the legal community but very little action.”
“This applies also to work experience, where there is too much unconscious bias when people look at CVs in relation to law-related work experience. It is sometimes quite interesting to do something a bit different and go out in the real world before joining the legal profession.”
Mukul Chawla QC, criminal barrister and head of 9-12 Bell Yard: Consider becoming a solicitor-advocate rather than a barrister
“The criminal Bar is great fun. It is the best job in the world. But I have been lucky. The reality now is that it can be hard to make a living at the criminal Bar. If you are passionate, and have looked at and discounted every other possibility, and have some independent means, then it might be for you.
“There are circuits now which are pupillage deserts. You cannot get a pupillage in Wales or in Birmingham or the Midlands, because there are no pupillages going…But there are lots of opportunities in different areas of law to be an advocate. Don’t think that the Bar is your only route to be an advocate. There are some fantastic solicitor-advocates out there.”
Stephen Gowland, president of the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives: The effect of legal apprenticeships will be felt all the way up to the judiciary
“It goes in cycles. I remember the early 90s when legal jobs were hard to come by. You have to take the opportunities where they are, and if that means taking a crappy job in a law firm where you are gaining experience it may be worth it. Certainly it will mean that when you come to then apply for a training contract you have an advantage. I wouldn’t turn your nose up at something that you didn’t imagine initially. It’s a start.
“The way the CILEx route works is that you start at the bottom and work your way up. I myself started as an apprentice on the Employment Training Scheme on £35 a week in a badly-pressed suit, with my long hair. I started working on reception, photocopying and doing exams. And, as we have heard from the other panelists, if you start at that ground level it can make some of best lawyers you come across.
“Finally, on the point of diversity, Lord Neuberger recently praised CILEx for this. We have the greatest proportion of female members and the greatest proportion of ethnic minority members. Things are changing. Hopefully, over time the Judicial Appointments Commission will see some of that diversity filtering through.”
Madhavi Gosavi, projects and infrastructure partner at Norton Rose Fulbright: It’s OK to start out as a paralegal
“Last year Norton Rose Fulbright received around 4,000 applications for between 70-80 training contracts…There isn’t a formula that we use, there isn’t a list of universities that we select from because then everyone would all be the same. We are looking for the individual who will make the difference. That is why partners spend time looking at CVs.
“If they are good enough they fall into the right stream, be it a barrister or solicitor, a big City law firm or a smaller law firm in the regions…I started off as a paralegal 20 years ago. And I did make cups of tea, pick up dry cleaning and babysat.”
The Q&A, which was sponsored by the Incorporated Council of Law Reporting (ICLR) and hosted by Inner Temple, can be viewed in full below:
ICLR kindly donated an iPad for the occasion, with Tanfield Chambers pupil barrister Jeff Hardman (pictured below with ICLR’s Rebecca Herle) the lucky winner. It was provided to celebrate the launch of their new fully-optimised service, ICLR Online: On Tablet. On Mobile. Online. It can be trialled, for free, at Iclr.co.uk.