Dean of ULaw in the North, Matthew Tomlinson offers his careers advice for trainee hopefuls
Ahead of this Thursday’s Secrets to Success Newcastle in-person event, in partnership with The University of Law (ULaw), we sat down with ULaw’s Dean of Newcastle, Sheffield and Leeds, Matthew Tomlinson to discuss skills, commercial awareness and more.
You’ve had a varied career, working at both global and regional outfits before taking on a career in education. What catalysed your move away from private practice into education, and what do you find is the most rewarding aspect of working in education?
Whilst I thoroughly enjoyed my time in practice, I ultimately wanted to pursue something that enabled me to be more creative. Legal education is an exciting space that is constantly evolving, and it felt like an exciting opportunity to be able to help shape and support the next generation of aspiring lawyers. ULaw has had an incredible journey of success over the past 10 years, and it has been a real privilege to have been part of that.
What do you miss the most about working in private practice, if anything?
I think my favourite aspect of practice was when a new instruction came in; I always found it interesting to learn about new businesses and their needs. As a transactional lawyer, you could commonly work on the same transaction for six months or more which meant working with the same colleagues. So, there was a real sense of teamwork up until the point of completion — which was always a cause for celebration!
What sets The University of Law (ULaw) apart from other universities?
ULaw has a rich heritage as a leader in postgraduate legal education. I personally came through this institution when it was the College of Law, and I had a first-class student experience that prepared me exceptionally well for practice. The University programmes all offer a practice based learning experience, that focuses on applying the law to real-life scenarios. In whatever context of law you are studying, the lecturers delivering the programmes in the main are experienced practitioners. So, students are led by lecturers who are able to draw upon their experiences in practice to enrich the learning experience of ULaw students and to provide expert employability advice.
You must have seen many students come and go throughout your time at ULaw, progressing onto careers in the law. What are your key tips to students hoping to obtain a training contract?
My best advice to students is not to be fixated on one particular area of law to the extent of narrowing applications down to only a few firms who deal well in that practice area. Whilst it is great to have areas of practice that you find particularly interesting, there will be lots of areas that students have never thought about or have had no previous 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 opportunity and being open minded is in my view key when it comes to securing a training contract.
What would you say is a standout feature of the Newcastle legal market, and why would you encourage students to explore the possibility of starting their career in this city?
Newcastle boasts an impressive legal sector for a city of its size. You have a real spectrum of firms, from the full-service corporate to smaller high street and boutique outfits. There are also numerous in-house teams as well. This all means that you can find a great quality training where you’ll be exposed to varied work, whilst getting to enjoy the benefits of living in a really vibrant city with an abundance of stunning countryside and coastline on its doorstep. In my opinion, this lends itself to achieving a true work/life balance. Further, the cost of living is undeniably cheaper than London and other large cities in the UK which presents an attractive opportunity for those looking, perhaps, to get on the property ladder.
What commercial awareness topics do you believe applicants should have on their radar ahead of potential training contract and vacation scheme 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 is an important aspect to research ahead of interviews, particularly in the areas of law practiced by the firm to which students are applying.
To finish off, what advice would you give to law students considering a move into academia or education?
If a student is interested in a career in academia, my advice would be to get some experience guest lecturing throughout a postgraduate degree or part-time whilst working in the legal industry. This will give an insight into whether academia is the right fit as well as providing valuable experience to draw upon if they do decide to make a wholesale move later down the line.
The Legal Cheek in-person event ‘Secrets to Success Newcastle’, run in partnership with The University of Law (ULaw), takes place this Thursday (1 February). Apply now for one of the final few spots.
About Legal Cheek Careers posts.