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COVID-19: What it means for aspiring lawyers

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Commercial insights and careers advice courtesy of four experts

At the Norwich edition of Legal Cheek‘s Secrets to Success events series — held in association with The University of Law (ULaw) — a panel of lawyers from Mills & Reeve, Birketts and Howes Percival discussed the impact of the coronavirus pandemic and postponing of vacation schemes, as well as dished out careers advice.

On the panel were Caroline Dean, training principal and partner, Mills & Reeve; Laura Brown, senior associate, Birketts; Simon Murphy, training principal and partner, Howes Percival; and Nick Ross, academic manager and associate professor at ULaw. Here are some of the key takeaways from the event, which took place in early March and prior to the lockdown.

Law firms will be hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic — but they are resilient and should be able to bounce back within several months, the panel members agreed.

They explained that law firms are well hedged. Most cover a range of disciplines, and a boost in employment law activity for example, as companies seek advice on the impact of the novel virus on staffing, could help to see them through the possible decline in corporate work, explained Birketts’ Laura Brown.

Law students alarmed by the postponing of spring vacation schemes were given reassurance by the panel that long-term recruitment processes may not be affected as badly as they fear. “Firms would be reticent to change the recruitment numbers on the basis of what we hope to be a relatively short-term economic shock — we recruit long-term — two years ahead,” Mills & Reeve’s Caroline Dean explained.

“The University of Law has everything from lectures to tutorials shifting online,” said ULaw’s Nick Ross and plans are being put in place to ensure that all examinations go ahead in a manner which is compliant with the Solicitors Regulation Authority and Bar Standards Board — and will be taking place as planned so students will not be prejudiced.

Firms are facing challenges in ensuring that lawyers are equipped to work from home. There are questions as to whether online systems can cope with everyone working remotely, as well as more basic issues such as sourcing enough laptops in place of desktop computers.

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There are also questions as to how the courts and employment tribunals will function without a physical presence, added Howes Percival’s Simon Murphy.

Once logistical issues surrounding remote working are resolved, there is likely to be a massive increase in the uptake post-coronavirus. “Many of us have children, and we do need agile working. This will show everyone that agile working is an option,” said Brown.

The panel ended the discussion with careers advice focused on becoming a lawyer in the regions. Build relevant commercial awareness by focusing on local news, Brown advised. “Set Google alerts for key businesses in your local area — work out what is going on around you, not just the wider economy.”

“You can secure a TC based on your pro bono experience,” Nick Ross told the audience of students. “You get to meet real clients and learn valuable skills when dealing with their case. In housing law, for example, clients will bring Tesco bags-full of paperwork, expecting to give it to you to find a solution. Wading through this, and coping with the expectations of the client, is fantastic training for practice,” he added.

What advice would you give to your younger self?

What makes a good lawyer? Self-belief and honesty, says Nick Ross, former criminal lawyer turned associate professor at The University of Law. ‘Never think that you don’t have the ability, because you do’ #LCCareers

Posted by Legal Cheek on Monday, 6 April 2020

“I went in on Monday, came back on Wednesday, and I got three hours of sleep on a couch near the office,” recounted Dean about one of her many late nights whilst training at a magic circle law firm. “There aren’t many stories like that in regional firms,” she added. It’s important to find the culture that is right for you — some people love the adrenaline and the rush of the deadline, while others may prefer a better work-life balance.

“Don’t be afraid of re-applying to the same firm for TCs,” was Murphy’s advice. A colleague he knew applied three times for the firm, got accepted, and has now been promoted and is flourishing, he explained. It’s a numbers game, don’t take it personally, and be resilient.

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