Incoming ULaw MD & Chief Executive Dr Stelios Platis on how students can best position themselves in a changing legal market
With a background in academia and business, The University of Law’s (ULaw) new non-lawyer Managing Director and Chief Executive Dr Stelios Platis is well-positioned to give a fresh view on legal education.
Legal Cheek Careers caught up with the Cambridge-educated entrepreneur to gauge his views on, among other things, the proposed new Solicitors Qualifying Examination, growth areas for lawyers like the booming fintech scene, and the transferability of a law degree.
Legal Cheek Careers: As an academic but also a successful businessman, it would be interesting to hear your views on the future of the legal market — which has gone through a lot change over recent years with the rise of the global mega law firm, the Legal Services Act and increasingly commoditisation of low level work. Where do you see the profession 5-10 years from now?
Dr Stelios Platis: “This is not something which is unique to the legal market, actually. Over the last ten years we have seen the pace of change increase in many sectors mainly due to technology, ever-changing regulation, and also global demographics and innovation. In fact, one could argue that the areas where there has been no change are the ones that have struggled and some ultimately failed. The University of Law (ULaw), as the longest-established provider of professional legal education in the UK, has a history of innovating, and adapting to market forces.
Our aim, and my personal goal in leading this historic institution, is to align our efforts to actual business needs. This will provide our students with the best opportunities to boost their employability prospects, so that they can be confident that they are equipped to enter the legal profession and thrive in today’s dynamic and global legal market.
With regard to the future of the legal profession, one can be sure that it will be different than today’s, as the market and the economy it serves evolves over the next 5, 10, 15 years. But even in the shorter-term, there are several changes which are being discussed at the moment, such as the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA)’s proposed new Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE), and these could have a significant impact in shaping the future of the profession.
As the leading UK education provider in the field, our priority is to ensure that we continue to deliver world-class education to the legal players of tomorrow, so that they are prepared to deal with any challenges and changes that may happen in the industry in the future. As you would expect we are watching developments very closely and actively involved in helping to shape any decisions for the benefit of students.”
What do you think non-lawyers like yourself can bring to the legal profession?
“The consultancy group I founded and led for a decade, in fact includes a very successful and specialised legal arm, as well as one of the strongest regulatory compliance teams for financial services in Europe. I have therefore become deeply aware of the challenges the legal and compliance profession, and particularly the firms, are facing today.
I am confident that my experience in this regard renders my presence at the helm of ULaw quite timely. My wish is to enhance the leading role this historic institution has had in training the UK legal profession for almost 150 years now. Through its talented, committed and experienced team we can ensure the provision of high quality legal education services by leveraging on the accumulated knowledge, expertise and superior quality that defines The University of Law.”
Did you ever consider studying law?
“One lawyer in a household is usually enough, some people say :-). My wife, is a qualified lawyer and holds a PhD in law. I have always been drawn to law, you see, and hold the utmost respect for the profession. Perhaps this is why professionally, early on I moved from economics to regulatory compliance, which is in fact the application and implementation of law in the financial and banking sectors.
As regards me studying law, I guess it is never too late. I am after all in the best academic institute in the country for legal education and legal professional training.”
During your career, what has been your experience of law graduates? Related to this, do you think studying law — and not necessarily becoming a lawyer — is a good grounding for a wide range of careers?
“Most certainly! I personally hired a number of law graduates for this exact reason. In my view, a legal background constitutes an excellent foundation for any business function, including the highest leadership roles. And even more so, for ULaw graduates. Employers know ULaw graduates will have been trained to think and act like lawyers and will have learnt and practised essential practical and commercial skills to help them hit the ground running. Employability statistics prove so.
And if, further to their studies, they decide to not pursue a career in law, which many do, they will have gained a range of transferrable skills (e.g. communication, analysis, attention to detail, etc.) that can be applied and adapted in any professional setting, making them hugely employable in a wide variety of sectors such as in business, finance, banking, politics, media.
Indeed many of our alumni have become successful politicians such as Sadiq Khan, business leaders such as Nick Connors the MD of Volvo UK, or entrepreneurs like Eliot Chalmers who set up the first independent music law site for musicians in the UK. A University of Law degree sets you up and sets you apart.”
Currently there is a lot of chatter among wannabe corporate lawyers about fintech. The tech-led upheavals in the banking sector seem to offer a lot of possibilities for future lawyers, with regulation having to be reinterpreted and even re-written in order to accommodate new methods of finance. As founder of MAP FinTech, how do you see the opportunities in this area for those entering the legal profession?
“MAP FinTech is in fact a specialised financial regulation technology provider and has developed cutting-edge technology that allows immediate and seamless compliance to the financial services legal framework. The size of the market and opportunities that exist in this relatively new domain, in my view, are indeed re-shaping finance and compliance as well as financial services and banking law.
The demand for trained and qualified lawyers in this field has already begun and is certainly not expected to diminish any time soon. So much so that in 10 years’ time, the legal profession will most likely transform as a result. It is our mission as The University of Law, to prepare and train tomorrow’s leaders of the legal profession for exactly this type of change and opportunity.”
The trebling of undergraduate fees in 2012 has changed the rules of higher education for students. How can institutions like ULaw help to ensure becoming a solicitor or barrister remains open to all?
“At ULaw we have a tradition of widening access and support for those whose ambition it is to work in the legal profession. Through our apprenticeship programme, we have been leading the way in developing legal apprenticeships, a new route that allows students to earn whilst they learn.
We have launched several schemes with leading firms such as Mayer Brown and Fletchers Solicitors, and we have established a close partnership with Damar Training. We are also very proud of our generous scholarship and bursary programme with a fund of more than £400,000, which strengthens our aim to support those talented legal stars who otherwise may not be able to study law.”
About Legal Cheek Careers articles.