Get out there and meet lawyers, there is no better preparation
Ahead of ‘How to make it as a City lawyer’, Hogan Lovells partner Chris Hutton recalls how a teacher who “pushed us to apply to places we had never dreamed of applying to” helped put him on the right track
“The only real test of whether the law is for you is to talk to the people that practice it,” says Chris Hutton, a regulatory lawyer based in Hogan Lovells’ London office.
Chris, who studied law at Clare College, Cambridge, didn’t have a clue whether he wanted to be a solicitor or barrister, and certainly wasn’t sure what kind of law would interest him. So he spent a lot of time whilst at university talking to practising lawyers at careers fairs and drinks receptions. He recalls:
I couldn’t afford to do a vacation scheme because I needed to earn enough money in the holidays to support me through university. But I took every opportunity to get out there and meet trainees and lawyers and to find out everything I could. It was through these conversations that I worked out what environment I felt more comfortable in, and whose values I thought might suit me.
To make the most of these meetings, you have to keep an open mind. “You have a lot of options at sixth form or as an undergraduate so you really need to cast your net widely,” Hutton continues. “You may think IP law is the only thing for you but until you really talk to IP lawyers — or try it yourself — you may be completely wrong.”
Chris did not have the kind of background where he might have met lawyers through family connections. His father was an electronic engineer, his mother a housewife.
He went to a normal state school near Sheffield, but was lucky to have a head of sixth form who was ambitious for his pupils and “pushed many of us to apply to places we had never dreamed of applying to”.
Now as a highly successful partner and regulatory lawyer in the City, Chris is an active participant in Hogan Lovells’ graduate recruitment, and does a lot of work doing what he feels is so important: meeting prospective candidates.
This might be through outreach programmes to encourage pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds to apply to the firm, through careers fairs, as well as being a mentor on the Ladder to Law work experience programme, and the DiversCity in Law LGBT event.
Chris also stresses the need to be able to get to grips with the very first step: a university or job interview, something for which his background left him unprepared. He explains:
For many, these are the first formal occasions when you will be asked to speak articulately about your academic achievements, your interests and your opinions. You have to know how to behave, how to present yourself.
Fortunately for Chris, his head of sixth form put him in front of teachers from other schools so that he got some practice at it as well as being exposed to some useful feedback: “I have a soft voice and people assume it is shyness but it is not. It’s just the way my voice is — so I have to factor that in,” he says.
Clearly, Chris interviewed well for Hogan Lovells (Lovell White Durrant as it was then) and gained a training contract there. On qualification, Chris had his first setback when the firm did not have any positions in the competition department where he wanted to qualify. “It felt like end of the world,” he says.
However, the firm helped him find a new role, and he secured a position at the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) where he stayed for two-and-a-half years. Subsequently, he joined an American firm, Wilmer Hale, before re-joining Hogan Lovells where he became a partner in 2014. He advises those in a similar situation:
For anyone who does not get the job they want at the end of a training contract, it is understandable to see it as a setback but try not to. It may be the best thing that ever happened to you. The OFT for me was really great and has helped in my career. Try not be blinkered: there are lots of opportunities, including at other law firms, working for government or regulators, or working in-house. All have a lot to offer.
He is in no doubt that life as a City lawyer is “challenging”. He sums it up: “It is a constant challenge: intellectually, managing client relationships, managing staff. The role of a lawyer changes as you progress in seniority; it also changes because the world changes. So you need to be up for those challenges and always be adaptable.”
Chris Hutton will be speaking at ‘How to make it as a City lawyer’ in London on Thursday 6 July. Apply to attend.
Hogan Lovells’ training contract application deadline is on Friday 30 June. Find out more.
About Legal Cheek Careers posts.