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‘Don’t underestimate open-mindedness when it comes to securing a training contract’

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By The Careers Team on

ULaw Campus Dean Matthew Tomlinson offers his insights into the Leeds legal market and the differences between global and regional law firms

Matthew Tomlinson trained and practised as a restructuring and insolvency lawyer for a number of years, before deciding to move into legal education. Now Campus Dean of The University of Law’s Leeds, Sheffield and Newcastle campuses, a key priority of his is ensuring accessibility to the legal profession.

Ahead of his appearance at today’s in-person event in Leeds, Tomlinson sat down with Legal Cheek Careers to discuss his time in practice, the challenges he faced and his advice for those seeking that elusive training contract.

Can you tell us a little bit about your role as Campus Dean at ULaw Leeds?

As Campus Dean, I am the head of the Leeds campus, in addition to our satellite campuses in Newcastle and Sheffield. My role is pretty multifaceted and no one day is ever the same. Ultimately, I am responsible for ensuring that our students have a great experience when studying with us and this involves working closely with programme teams, student support services and faculty to achieve this. I also play an important role in the strategic development of the University in respect to my campuses.

I do a lot of work engaging law firms, businesses, and other universities in the region to look at opportunities for us to work together. My role gives me a lot of scope to lead new initiatives and development projects that drive change and this is an element of the job I particularly enjoy. A key passion of mine is ensuring that the legal profession is accessible to all and that students see themselves represented in the profession and this is another area that I put a lot of time into.

What would you say is a standout feature of the Leeds legal market, and why would you encourage students to explore the possibility of starting their career in this city?

Five years ago, I came to Leeds to assume the role as Dean. I had no connection to this city at all, however I could never have anticipated the warmth of reception that I have had here. The legal sector is very friendly, it is collaborative and it is brim full of outstanding talent. Lawyers practice in Leeds because they want to be here and they love the region. Over the past decade there has been a real surge in new firms opening offices in Leeds and existing firms expanding their practice areas, there has also been an expansion of in-house offering. There is also a significant about of London work now being undertaken in Leeds, which demonstrates the variety of opportunity available in the city.  

 You trained and practised as a solicitor for a number of years. Having worked in both global and regional outfits, what would you say are the main differences between the two, for those wondering what kind of firm is right for them?

I think the main difference is size – global firms have big populations of lawyers and support staff, spread across many different offices all over world. Whilst each office will have its own local culture, you will still feel part of a very big organisation. The type of work you will undertake at a global firm is also going to be large as well – transactions and litigation on a really large scale. This will often mean that you are working on a specific part of something much bigger, however you will be part of a team with layers of experience and this is an excellent training.

Find out more about studying for the SQE at ULaw

Regional firms are comparatively smaller and in my experience are more familial. The work is also on a smaller scale and this can give you a more holistic experience of the instruction you are working on and also greater involvement.

As a lawyer, you worked in restructuring and insolvency. What did you enjoy about this area of law?

Restructuring is an area that transcends multiple practice disciplines. When a company becomes insolvent it often involves property assets being sold, sometimes the business can be sold as a going concern and sometimes there is litigation from creditors. I think this makes it a varied practice area that keeps you exposed to different areas of law and I enjoyed this and found it interesting.

When you started out in legal practice, what was your biggest challenge?

I think like any graduate starting out, the biggest challenge is transitioning into professional life. At the outset it can be very overwhelming trying to make a good impression, trying to work out how things work, who does what and also not wanting to ask too many questions and appear daft. I think every trainee puts an unrealistic amount of expectation on themselves at the outset and forgets that their title is ‘trainee’ and therefore they are there to be trained.

What prompted your move from legal practice to education?

I always enjoyed the training aspect of law. When I was in practice, I was always involved in supporting trainees. I also really enjoyed delivering training, whether that was to look into a particular development in an area of law that I could research and then provide an update training to the team, or whether it was a training session for a client.

I guess this got me thinking about how I could make a career out of this. As it happened, The University of Law’s Manchester campus had not long been established, and the University had only recently received its university status and had started to offer undergraduate degree programmes and was expanding. I saw an opportunity that looked really attractive and I jumped at it. The rest is history, as they say, and I’ve never looked back.

What commercial awareness topics should be on students’ radars for the upcoming season of assessment centres and interviews?

I think AI and the future of technology in law has become a particularly hot topic. Having an understanding of how technology is being used within legal services, particularly in the areas of law practiced by the firm you are interviewing with is a good think to research ahead of your interview.

Lastly, what is one piece of careers advice you think all students should hear?

My best advice to students is not be fixated on one particular area of law that they want to practice to the extent they narrow their applications to only a few firms. Whilst it is great to have areas of practice that you find particularly interesting, there will be lots of areas you have never thought about or have no insight into. Therefore, I’d always encourage students to think about the type of firms that they’d like to work for and to explore a variety of firms. Maximising your opportunities by being open-minded is, in my view, key when it comes to securing a training contract.

Hear from Matthew Tomlinson today at ‘ In-person workshops and networking in Leeds — with Addleshaw Goddard, Pinsent Masons, Womble Bond Dickinson and ULaw’. This event is fully booked, but check out our upcoming events here.

Find out more about studying for the SQE at ULaw

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